general protection fault (GPF)

General protection fault (GPF, sometimes seen as general protection error) the name of an error caused when an application program (for example, Microsoft Word or the Netscape Web browser) tries to access storage that is not designated for its use. An operating system (such as Windows 95) manages the use of random access memory (RAM) for its own needs and for those of the application programs that it manages. The application programs are actually managed as task. When a task attempts to write to a place in RAM that is outside its assigned storage area, the operating system requires that the task or application be closed. Users usually get a message that tells you this is happening, but there isn't much you can do about it other than to restart the program and hope it will run successfully the next time.

If an application program were to be able to write outside of its assigned storage area, it could overwrite other applications' or the operating system's instructions and data. (If that should happen, the operating system would "crash" or close down in some way and you would have to reboot the operating system.) Closing down the errant application protects other applications and the operating system.

A general protection fault is more likely to occur when you are trying out beta test-version software. However, even well-seasoned applications can cause a general protection fault because a user hits some combination of keys in quick succession that the programmer could not easily anticipate. A general protection fault can also occur because a system setting is wrong. If you repeatedly encounter the same general protection fault message, record the details (you are usually given a string of digits that identify exactly where in storage the error is occurring) and call the company that makes the software that seems to be causing the message.

The Windows GPF error display is commonly referred to as the blue screen of death.

This was last updated in June 2007

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