[Python-Dev] The Trick (was Re: copysort patch, was Re: inline sort option)

Alex Martelli aleaxit at yahoo.com
Sat Oct 18 08:26:39 EDT 2003

Wondering about the trick of copysort not copying a singly-referenced list I 
decided to try it out in a tiny extension module, and, yes,  it is just as 
trivial as one might wish (haven't dealt with optional args to sort, just 
wanting to check performance &c):

static PyObject*
copysort(PyObject* self, PyObject* args)
   PyObject *sequence, *listresult;

   if(!PyArg_ParseTuple(args, "O", &sequence))
       return 0;
   if(PyList_CheckExact(sequence) && sequence->ob_refcnt==1) {
       listresult = sequence;
   } else {
       listresult = PySequence_List(sequence);
   if(listresult) {
       if(PyList_Sort(listresult) == -1) {
           listresult = 0;
   return listresult;

and performance on an equally trivial testcase:

x = dict.fromkeys(range(99999))

def looponsorted1(x):
    keys = x.keys()
    for k in keys: pass

def looponsorted2(x, c=copysort.copysort):
    for k in c(x.keys()): pass

turns out to be identical between the two _with_ The Trick (4.4e+04 usec with 
timeit.py -c on my box) while without The Trick copysort would slow down to
about 5.5e+04 usec.

But, this reminds me -- function filter, in bltinmodule.c, uses just about the 
same trick too (to modify in-place when possible rather than making a new 
list -- even though when it does make a new list it's an empty one, not a
copy, so the gain is less).  There must be other cases of applicability which
just haven't been considered.  So...

Shouldn't The Trick be embodied in PySequence_List itself...?  So, the whole 
small tricky part above:
   if(PyList_CheckExact(sequence) && sequence->ob_refcnt==1) {
       listresult = sequence;
   } else {
       listresult = PySequence_List(sequence);
would collapse to a single PySequence_List call -- *AND* potential calls from
Python code such as "x=list(somedict.keys())" might also be speeded up 
[Such a call looks silly when shown like this, but in some cases one might not 
know, in polymorphic use, whether a method returns a new or potentially 
shared list, or other sequence, and a call to list() on the method's result 
then may be needed to ensure the right semantics in all cases].

Is there any hidden trap in The Trick that makes it unadvisable to insert it 
in PySequence_List?  Can't think of any, but I'm sure y'all will let me know 
ASAP what if anything I have overlooked...;-).

One might even be tempted to reach down all the way to PyList_GetSlice, 
placing THERE The Trick in cases of all-list slicing of a singly-referenced 
list (PyList_GetSlice is what PySequence_List uses, so it would also get the 
benefit), but that might be overdoing it -- and encouraging list(xxx) instead
of xxx[:], by making the former a bit faster in some cases, would be no bad 
thing IMHO (already I'm teaching newbies to prefer using list(...) rather 
than ...[:] strictly for legibility and clarity, being able to mention 
possible future performance benefits might well reinforce the habit...;-).


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