For each variable in a table request, PROC FREQ stores all of the levels in memory. If all variables are numeric and not formatted, this requires about 84 bytes for each variable level. When there are character variables or formatted numeric variables, the memory that is required depends on the formatted variable lengths, with longer formatted lengths requiring more memory. The number of levels for each variable is limited only by the largest integer that your operating environment can store.
For any single crosstabulation table requested, PROC FREQ builds the entire table in memory, regardless of whether the table has zero cell counts. Thus, if the numeric variables A, B, and C each have 10 levels, PROC FREQ requires 2520 bytes to store the variable levels for the table request A*B*C, as follows:
3 variables * 10 levels/variable * 84 bytes/level
In addition, PROC FREQ requires 8000 bytes to store the table cell frequencies
1000 cells * 8 bytes/cell
even though there might be only 10 observations.
When the variables have many levels or when there are many multiway tables, your computer might not have enough memory to construct the tables. If PROC FREQ runs out of memory while constructing tables, it stops collecting levels for the variable with the most levels and returns the memory that is used by that variable. The procedure then builds the tables that do not contain the disabled variables.
If there is not enough memory for your table request and if increasing the available memory is impractical, you can reduce the number of multiway tables or variable levels. If you are not using the CMH or AGREE option in the TABLES statement to compute statistics across strata, reduce the number of multiway tables by using PROC SORT to sort the data set by one or more of the variables or by using the DATA step to create an index for the variables. Then remove the sorted or indexed variables from the TABLES statement and include a BY statement that uses these variables. You can also reduce memory requirements by using a FORMAT statement in the PROC FREQ step to reduce the number of levels. Additionally, reducing the formatted variable lengths reduces the amount of memory that is needed to store the variable levels. For more information about using formats, see the section Grouping with Formats.