What is a Runtime Error?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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A runtime error is an error that occurs when a program is being executed. In some cases, the error might be caused by a computer virus, a flaw or bug in the program or an incompatibility between different computer programs. In contrast to a computer crash, it is often possible to recover from a runtime error without having to close the program or restart the computer.

The term runtime, or execution time, refers to a single instance of a program being run on one computer. After a program is installed, it operates in what is known as a runtime environment. This term refers to the software and the functionality it provides after installation. A runtime error can occur at any time after a program is executed, but there are certain times at which these errors are more likely to occur. For example, running multiple computer programs at once, especially on an older machine, increases the risk of runtime errors.

Most runtime errors are caused by arithmetical or logical mistakes made by a program during its execution. For example, a runtime error can occur if the program attempts to divide by zero during the execution of a mathematical script. It is not possible to divide by zero, so the attempt can cause an error.


One of the most common causes of runtime errors is insufficient memory. A computer can run out of memory when it is running multiple programs at once or even when running just one or two memory-intensive programs. Running out of available memory causes an error because the computer cannot continue running all of the programs until free memory is available.

Computer viruses and other types of malicious software are another common cause of runtime errors. In this case, the error typically occurs because the virus has altered some of the computer’s settings, leading to an increased risk of runtime errors. Installing a good security program and keeping it updated reduces the risk of virus infection and protects the computer from errors caused by malicious software.

Because a runtime error can occur only when a program is being used, the possibility of an error occurring cannot be detected or anticipated when the program is not in use. The risk of runtime errors can be reduced in several ways. One simple way is to reduce the number of programs running on the computer. This can help reduce errors caused by insufficient memory and conflicts between different programs. Another way to reduce errors is to ensure that all software used on the computer is up to date by checking with software manufacturers for software upgrades or patches.


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