[Python-ideas] Exposing CPython's subinterpreter C-API in the stdlib.

Nick Coghlan ncoghlan at gmail.com
Fri May 26 09:17:42 EDT 2017

On 26 May 2017 at 22:08, Stephan Houben <stephanh42 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi all,
> Personally I feel that the current subinterpreter support falls short
> in the sense that it still requires
> a single GIL across interpreters.
> If interpreters would have their own individual GIL,
> we could have true shared-nothing multi-threaded support similar to
> Javascript's "Web Workers".
> Here is a point-wise overview of what I am imagining.
> I realize the following is very ambitious, but I would like to bring
> it to your consideration.
> 1. Multiple interpreters can be instantiated, each of which is
> completely independent.
>    To this end, all  global interpreter state needs to go into an
> interpreter strucutre, including the GIL
>     (which becomes per-interpreter)
>    Interpreters share no state whatsoever.

There'd still be true process global state (i.e. anything managed by
the C runtime), so this would be a tiered setup with a read/write GIL
and multiple SILs. For the time being though, a single GIL remains
much easier to manage.

> 2. PyObject's are tied to a particular interpreter and cannot be
> shared between interpreters.
>    (This is because each interpreter now has its own GIL.)
>    I imagine a special debug build would actually store the
> interpreter pointer in the PyObject and would assert everywhere
>    that the PyObject is only manipulated by its owning interpreter.

Yes, something like Rust's ownership model is the gist of what we had
in mind (i.e. allowing zero-copy transfer of ownership between
subinterpreters, but only the owning interpreter is allowed to do
anything else with the object).

> 3. Practically all existing APIs, including Py_INCREF and Py_DECREF,
> need to get an additional explicit interpreter argument.
>     I imagine that we would have a new prefix, say MPy_, because the
> existing APIs must be left for backward compatibility.

This isn't necessary, as the active interpreter is already tracked as
part of the thread local state (otherwise mod_wsgi et al wouldn't work
at all).

> 4. At most one interpreter can be designated the "main" interpreter.
>     This is for backward compatibility of existing extension modules ONLY.
>     All the existing Py_* APIs operate implicitly on this main interpreter.

Yep, this is part of the concept. The PEP 432 draft has more details
on that: https://www.python.org/dev/peps/pep-0432/#interpreter-initialization-phases

> 5. Extension modules need to explicitly advertise multiple interpreter support.
>     If they don't, they can only be imported in the main interpreter.
>     However, in that case they can safely use the existing Py_ APIs.

This is the direction we started moving the with multi-phase
initialisation PEP for extension modules:

As Petr noted, the main missing piece there now is the fact that
object methods (as opposed to module level functions) implemented in C
currently don't have ready access to the module level state for the
modules where they're defined.

> 6. Since PyObject's cannot be shared across interpreters, there needs to be an
>     explicit function which takes a PyObject in interpreter A and constructs a
>     similar object in interpreter B.
>     Conceptually this would be equivalent to pickling in A and
> unpickling in B, but presumably more efficient.
>     It would use the copyreg registry in a similar way to pickle.

This would be an ownership transfer rather than a copy (which carries
the implication that all the subinterpreters would still need to share
a common memory allocator)

> 7.    Extension modules would also be able to register their function
> for copying custom types across interpreters .
>       That would allow extension modules to provide custom types where
> the underlying C object is in fact not copied
>       but shared between interpreters.
>       I would imagine we would have a"shared memory" memoryview object
>       and also Mutex and other locking constructs which would work
> across interpreters.

We generally don't expect this to be needed given an ownership focused
approach. Instead, the focus would be on enabling efficient channel
based communication models that are cost-prohibitive when object
serialisation is involved.

> 8. Finally, the main application: functionality similar to the current
> `multiprocessing'  module, but with
>     multiple interpreters on multiple threads in a single process.
>     This would presumably be more efficient than `multiprocessing' and
> also allow extra functionality, since the underlying C objects
>     can in fact be shared.
>     (Imagine two interpreters operating in parallel on a single OpenCL context.)

We're not sure how feasible it will be to enable this in general, but
even without it, zero-copy ownership transfers enable a *lot* of
interest concurrency models that Python doesn't currently offer great
primitives to support (they're mainly a matter of using threads in
certain ways, which means they not only run afoul of the GIL, but you
also don't get any assistance from the interpreter in strictly
enforcing object ownership rules).


Nick Coghlan   |   ncoghlan at gmail.com   |   Brisbane, Australia

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