[Numpy-discussion] Alternate C-only array protocol for speed?

David M. Cooke cookedm at physics.mcmaster.ca
Fri Apr 8 01:22:09 EDT 2005

It seems that people are worried about speed of the attribute-based
array interface when using small arrays in C.

Here's an alternative: Define some attribute (for now, call it
__array_c__), which returns a CObject whose value (which you get with
PyCObject_GetVoidPtr) would be a pointer to a struct describing the
array. It would look something like

typedef struct {
    int version;
    int nd;
    Py_LONG_LONG *shape;
    char typecode;
    Py_LONG_LONG *strides;
    Py_LONG_LONG offset;
    void *data;
} SimpleCArray;

(The order here follows that of the array interface spec; if somebody's
got any comments on what mixing int's, Py_LONG_LONG, and char's in a
struct does to the packing and potential alignment problems I'd like to

version is there as a sanity check: I'd say for this version it's
something like 0xDECAF ('cause it's lightweight, see ;-). It's primarily
a check that you've got the right thing (sinc CObjects are
intrinsically opaque types).

- the array object guarantees that the data, etc. remains alive,
  probably by passing itself as the desc parameter to the CObject.
  The array data would have to stay at the same location and the same
  size while the reference is held.

- typecode follows that of the __array_typestr__ attribute

- shape and strides are pointers to arrays of at least nd elements.

- this doesn't handle byteswapped as-is. Maybe a flags, or endian,
  attribute could be added.

- you can still have the full attribute-base array interface
  (__array_strides__, etc.) to fall back on. If the typecode is 'V',
  you'll have to look at __array_descr__.

Creating one from a Numeric PyArrayObject would go like this:

PyObject *create_SimpleCArray(PyArrayObject *a)
    SimpleCArray *ca = PyMem_New(SimpleCArray, 1);
    ca->version = 0xDECAF;
    ca->nd = a->nd;
    ca->shape = PyMem_New(Py_LONG_LONG, ca->nd);
    for (i = 0; i < ca->nd; i++) {
        ca->shape[i] = a->dimensions[i];
    ca->strides = PyMem_New(Py_LONG_LONG, ca->nd);
    for (i = 0; i < ca->nd; i++) {
        ca->strides[i] = a->strides[i];
    ca->offset = 0;
    ca->data = &my_data;

    PyObject *co = PyCObject_FromVoidPtrAndDesc(ca, a, free_numeric_simplecarray);
    return co;

void free_numeric_simplecarray(SimpleCArray *ca, PyArrayObject *a)

Some points:
- you have to keep the CObject around: destroying it will potentially
  destroy the array you're looking at.
- I was thinking that maybe adding a PyObject *owner could make it
  easier to keep track of the owner; I'm not sure, as the descr argument
  in CObjects can easily play that role.
- The creator of the SimpleCArray is free to add elements to the end
  (as long as they don't affect the padding/alignment of the previous
  ones: haven't thought about this). You could put the real owner of the
  array data there, for example (say, if it was wrapping a Blitz++
  array). Or have a small _strides[30] array at the end, and strides
  would point to that (saving you a memory allocation).

This simple C interface would, I think, alleviate much worries about
speed for small arrays, and even for large arrays.

|David M. Cooke                      http://arbutus.physics.mcmaster.ca/dmc/
|cookedm at physics.mcmaster.ca

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