Why Rebooting Helps

Most of us know that rebooting, resetting, or power-cycling, any piece of technology has a good chance of fixing whatever technical issue you may be facing … but not everyone knows why.

There are two main reasons why rebooting can help: it can get the device out of a bad “state”, and it can clear up memory issues.

Technological devices are, in the simplest terms, state machines. Just like washing machines that go sequentially through different wash cycles, computers, smartphones, routers and other devices are running processes. As a result of conflicting software, hardware glitches, or outside interferences, devices can get into invalid states: infinite loops, or reading/writing/running in invalid areas of memory. A reboot or reset typically puts the processes back at the start, into a valid state.

Computer programs often dynamically allocate memory as needed. Whenever a process needs memory, it allocates a certain amount for itself. When it is finished with that memory, it is supposed to deallocate or release the same amount of memory. In the case of a glitch or bug, memory may not get released, which results in a “memory leak”. Over time, small leaks can add up and use all available memory. A reboot starts the memory allocation process from zero, and so clears the issue. That’s why so many devices respond well to being rebooted from time to time.

There are computer chips in so many devices now, that rebooting has become second nature to us. Before you spend too much time on a tech problem, or call for help, be sure to reboot!

There are issues, of course, that aren’t fixed by a simple reboot. If there is a faulty line of code, piece of hardware, or power source, a reboot won’t fix the issue, although it may avoid it long enough to find a pattern or otherwise help you troubleshoot the problem. We don’t have the ability to dig in and fix programs, so the best things we can do are reboot, reset, power-cycle, or update.