What’s the difference between SoftReference and WeakReference in Java?

From Understanding Weak References, by Ethan Nicholas:

Weak references

A weak reference, simply put, is a
reference that isn’t strong enough to
force an object to remain in memory.
Weak references allow you to leverage
the garbage collector’s ability to
determine reachability for you, so you
don’t have to do it yourself. You
create a weak reference like this:

WeakReference weakWidget = new WeakReference(widget);

and then
elsewhere in the code you can use
weakWidget.get() to get the actual
Widget object. Of course the weak
reference isn’t strong enough to
prevent garbage collection, so you may
find (if there are no strong
references to the widget) that
weakWidget.get() suddenly starts
returning null.

Soft references

A soft reference is exactly like a
weak reference, except that it is less
eager to throw away the object to
which it refers. An object which is
only weakly reachable (the strongest
references to it are WeakReferences)
will be discarded at the next garbage
collection cycle, but an object which
is softly reachable will generally
stick around for a while.

SoftReferences aren’t required to
behave any differently than
WeakReferences, but in practice softly
reachable objects are generally
retained as long as memory is in
plentiful supply. This makes them an
excellent foundation for a cache, such
as the image cache described above,
since you can let the garbage
collector worry about both how
reachable the objects are (a strongly
reachable object will never be removed
from the cache) and how badly it needs
the memory they are consuming.

And Peter Kessler added in a comment:

The Sun JRE does treat SoftReferences differently from WeakReferences. We attempt to hold on to object referenced by a SoftReference if there isn’t pressure on the available memory. One detail: the policy for the “-client” and “-server” JRE’s are different: the -client JRE tries to keep your footprint small by preferring to clear SoftReferences rather than expand the heap, whereas the -server JRE tries to keep your performance high by preferring to expand the heap (if possible) rather than clear SoftReferences. One size does not fit all.

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