[Numpy-discussion] Numpy arrays shareable among related processes (PR #7533)

Matěj Týč matej.tyc at gmail.com
Mon Apr 11 08:39:41 EDT 2016

Dear Numpy developers,
I propose a pull request https://github.com/numpy/numpy/pull/7533 that
features numpy arrays that can be shared among processes (with some

In CPython, multiprocessing is the only way of how to exploit
multi-core CPUs if your parallel code can't avoid creating Python
objects. In that case, CPython's GIL makes threads unusable. However,
unlike with threading, sharing data among processes is something that
is non-trivial and platform-dependent.

Although numpy (and certainly some other packages) implement some
operations in a way that GIL is not a concern, consider another case:
You have a large amount of data in a form of a numpy array and you
want to pass it to a function of an arbitrary Python module that also
expects numpy array (e.g. list of vertices coordinates as an input and
array of the corresponding polygon as an output). Here, it is clear
GIL is an issue you and since you want a numpy array on both ends, now
you would have to copy your numpy array to a multiprocessing.Array (to
pass the data) and then to convert it back to ndarray in the worker
This contribution would streamline it a bit - you would create an
array as you are used to, pass it to the subprocess as you would do
with the multiprocessing.Array, and the process can work with a numpy
array right away.

The idea is to create a numpy array in a buffer that can be shared
among processes. Python has support for this in its standard library,
so the current solution creates a multiprocessing.Array and then
passes it as the "buffer" to the ndarray.__new__. That would be it on
Unixes, but on Windows, there has to be a a custom pickle method,
otherwise the array "forgets" that its buffer is that special and the
sharing doesn't work.

Some of what has been said in the pull request & my answer to that:

* ... I do see some value in providing a canonical right way to
construct shared memory arrays in NumPy, but I'm not very happy with
this solution, ... terrible code organization (with the global
* I understand that, however this is a pattern of Python
multiprocessing and everybody who wants to use the Pool and shared
data either is familiar with this approach or has to become familiar
with[2, 3]. The good compromise is to have a separate module for each
parallel calculation, so global variables are not a problem.

* Can you explain why the ndarray subclass is needed? Subclasses can
be rather annoying to get right, and also for other reasons.
* The shmarray class needs the custom pickler (but only on Windows).

* If there's some way to we can paper over the boilerplate such that
users can use it without understanding the arcana of multiprocessing,
then yes, that would be great. But otherwise I'm not sure there's
anything to be gained by putting it in a library rather than referring
users to the examples on StackOverflow [1] [2].
* What about telling users: "You can use numpy with multiprocessing.
Remeber the multiprocessing.Value and multiprocessing.Aray classes?
numpy.shm works exactly the same way, which means that it shares their
limitations. Refer to an example: <link to numpy doc>." Notice that
although those SO links contain all of the information, it is very
difficult to get it up and running for a newcomer like me few years

* This needs tests and justification for custom pickling methods,
which are not used in any of the current examples. ...
* I am sorry, but don't fully understand that point. The custom
pickling method of shmarray has to be there on Windows, but users
don't have to know about it at all. As noted earlier, the global
variable is the only way of using standard Python multiprocessing.Pool
with shared objects.

[1]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/10721915/shared-memory-objects-in-python-multiprocessing
[2]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/7894791/use-numpy-array-in-shared-memory-for-multiprocessing
[3]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1675766/how-to-combine-pool-map-with-array-shared-memory-in-python-multiprocessing

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