The Purpose of Windows Dump Files and How They Work

Have you ever encountered the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) when using a Windows PC? While Microsoft has vastly improved its Windows architecture in recent decades, the operating system isn’t immune to technical- or software-related problems. If Windows encounters a serious problem, it may crash while simultaneously displaying the BSOD. Thankfully, Windows will also create a dump file that can help you and your team troubleshoot it.

Overview of Windows Dump Files

Also known as a memory dump file or a crash dump file, a dump file is a digital record of information related to a specific crash. Among other things, it shows what processes and drivers that were running at the time of the crash as well as the Kernel-mode stack that stopped.

The 3 Types of Windows Dump Files

While all dump files contain information about a crash, there are several different types of them. A complete memory dump, for instance, contains the most information. It’s the largest type of dump file supported by Windows, with complete dump files reflecting the size of the random access memory (RAM) used at the time of the crash. If your PC was using 6 GB of RAM when it crashed, the complete dump file will be 6 GB.

Windows also supports kernel memory dump files. Kernel memory dump files are smaller than complete memory dump files, making them easier to transfer when troubleshooting a BSOD.

A third type of Windows dump file is a small dump file. They are only 256 KB in size, making them the smallest. Small dump files don’t contain as much information as complete or kernel dump files, but they still have basic information about the respective crash.

Troubleshooting a BSOD With Dump Files

Dump files, of course, are used primarily for troubleshooting a BSOD. The BSOD is relatively generic and doesn’t provide much insight into what caused Windows to crash. As a result, you’ll need to dig a little deeper by assessing the dump file.

When Windows crashes and triggers a BSOD, it will automatically create a dump file with the DMP extension. You can then use a program, such as Windows Debugger or Kernel Debugger to analyze the dump file. Maybe your PC has faulty RAM, or perhaps it’s using an outdated video display driver. Regardless, the dump file will allow you to further investigate the crash so that you can identify, as well as fix, what caused it.