Fragmentation in OS

Fragmentation is an undesirable condition that occurs in an operating system when a process is unloaded and loaded from memory, causing the free memory space to become fragmented. As a result, the process cannot be assigned to the memory blocks since they are so small.

In the area of operating systems, fragmentation is a phenomena that affects storage space efficiency, limiting both capacity and performance. Fragmentation frequently occurs when blocks of storage capacity are spread, resulting in potential waste.

In the below PDF we discuss about Fragmentation  in detail in simple language, Hope this will help in better understanding.

Operating System

Types of Fragmentation

1. External Fragmentation:

External fragmentation is a result of free space being dispersed in a non-contiguous manner. As files are added or removed, small pockets of unused space accumulate, making it challenging to allocate large, contiguous spaces for new files. This can lead to inefficient use of storage resources and a slowdown in performance.

2. Internal Fragmentation:

Internal fragmentation occurs within allocated storage blocks. When a file does not perfectly fit into a given block, the remaining space is wasted. Over time, this can accumulate, leading to a considerable amount of storage being underutilized.

Causes of Fragmentation:

  1. File Deletion and Modification: As files are deleted or modified, gaps or fragments of free space are left behind. These fragments may not be large enough to accommodate new files, contributing to external fragmentation.
  2. Dynamic Memory Allocation: In systems where memory allocation is dynamic, internal fragmentation can occur as processes request and release memory. Small gaps may be left between allocated memory blocks, wasting space over time.
  3. Drive Capacity and File Size Mismatch: If the storage medium has limited free space, it may be challenging to find contiguous blocks large enough for larger files, leading to external fragmentation.

Advantages of Fragmentation in OS:

  • Flexible Memory Allocation: Fragmentation allows for dynamic allocation and deallocation of memory, accommodating varying sizes of processes.
  • Efficient Space Utilization: In some cases, small-sized memory fragments can be efficiently utilized, preventing unnecessary wastage.
  • Adaptability to Changing Workloads: Fragmentation allows the OS to adapt to changing workloads by allocating memory based on the size of incoming processes.

Disadvantages of Fragmentation in OS:

  • Reduced Performance: Fragmentation can lead to slower access times, as the OS may struggle to find contiguous blocks of memory for processes.
  • Resource Wastage: Both internal and external fragmentation result in wasted memory, reducing the overall efficiency of resource utilization.
  • Increased Complexity: Managing fragmentation requires additional algorithms and strategies, adding complexity to the OS design and maintenance.
  • Risk of Memory Exhaustion: Over time, fragmentation can lead to a situation where although there is enough free memory, it is not contiguous, making it challenging to allocate large chunks when needed. This can potentially lead to memory exhaustion issues.
  • Difficulty in Memory Allocation: Allocating contiguous blocks becomes challenging as free memory is scattered, leading to inefficient use of available resources.


Fragmentation in operating systems is an intricate challenge that demands attention for optimal system performance and resource utilization. As technology evolves, understanding and addressing fragmentation becomes increasingly important to ensure a seamless and efficient computing experience. By employing proactive strategies and utilizing modern storage solutions, users can navigate through the complexities of fragmentation, ensuring their operating systems operate at peak efficiency.

Related Question

Fragmentation refers to the phenomenon where files or free space on a storage device become scattered or fragmented over time, leading to inefficiencies in data storage and retrieval.

The two main types of fragmentation are external fragmentation and internal fragmentation. External fragmentation occurs when free space is scattered throughout the storage medium, while internal fragmentation happens when allocated memory blocks have unused space within them.

External fragmentation occurs as a result of allocating and deallocating memory blocks, leaving free spaces scattered across the storage medium. Over time, these scattered free spaces may not be large enough to accommodate new data, leading to inefficient use of storage.

Internal fragmentation occurs when allocated memory blocks have unused or wasted space within them. This wasted space is part of the allocated block but is not utilized for storing useful data, reducing the overall efficiency of memory utilization.

Operating systems employ various techniques to manage fragmentation. Examples include compaction, where free space is consolidated to reduce external fragmentation, and dynamic memory allocation algorithms that attempt to minimize both external and internal fragmentation.


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