[Numpy-discussion] Make array uncopyable

Dag Sverre Seljebotn d.s.seljebotn at astro.uio.no
Wed Mar 23 16:36:11 EDT 2011

On 03/23/2011 09:24 PM, Daniel Lepage wrote:
> On Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 3:54 PM, Dag Sverre Seljebotn
> <d.s.seljebotn at astro.uio.no>  wrote:
>> On 03/23/2011 08:05 PM, Daniel Lepage wrote:
>>> Hi all,
>>>      Is there a way to mark an array as uncopyable? If you have very
>>> large data arrays some numpy functions will cause MemoryErrors because
>>> behind the scenes they e.g. transpose the arrays into Fortran order to
>>> feed them into Fortran libraries (numpy.linalg.svd is an example of
>>> this). It would be great if there were a way to mark an array as "too
>>> big to copy" so that an attempt to call transpose() or astype() would
>>> raise an exception immediately instead of clobbering the machine's
>>> memory first, but I don't know of any flag that does this.
>>> I suppose I could always subclass ndarray and redefine transpose(),
>>> astype(), etc., but it'd be nice if there were an easier way.
>> This is a bit OT, but if your problem is simply wanting to fail hard
>> when using too much memory instead of swapping to disk, then on Unix
>> systems you can use "ulimit -v" to limit how much memory your
>> application can use. When I do this the MemoryError is quick and painless.
> Ah, I'd completely forgotten that I could do that. That'll help a lot, thanks!
> That said, it'd still be cool if there were a way to have numpy warn
> me of these things, so that I tell the difference between "I ran out
> of memory because I did something stupid" and "I ran out of memory
> because numpy was doubling things behind the scenes".
> What would be *really* cool is if I could get error messages telling
> me why something wanted to copy my array (e.g.
> UncopyableException("This function requires Fortran-style arrays")) so
> that I'd know what I'd need to do to my arrays if I wanted the
> function to work, but I'm sure applying that to all of numpy would be
> a gargantuan undertaking.

Well, most such copies happen in the same NumPy C API function, so a 
global flag there would go a long way (put perhaps disable the 
possibility of explicit copying as well...). But I don't think it is 
implemented. And yes, doing it in any nice way would likely be a major 

For a quicker workaround that doesn't touch NumPy, you could also 
implement a context manager in Cython that temporarily sets the ulimit 
("man setrlimit", and use the soft limits), and wrap your calls to NumPy 
in that.

Dag Sverre

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