There are many different types of dumps. There are memory dumps, process dumps, system state dumps, etc. A "dump" is nothing more than taking the contents of memory, or a process, or the state of the system and putting them into a file. This is done so that an analyst can try to figure out what went wrong. For instance, multiple memory dumps can show changes to the data in memory through a period of time. By examining these changes, one can see exactly what went on, as opposed to what was supposed to go on.
Oracle databases produce other types of dumps as well. These dump files are placed into directories specified by the USER_DUMP_DEST, BACKGROUND_DUMP_DEST, and CORE_DUMP_DEST parameters. If a user process has a certain type of error, it may force a dump into the USER_DUMP_DEST directory.
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This was first published in October 2002