when does the GIL really block?

John Krukoff jkrukoff at ltgc.com
Sat Aug 2 02:28:47 CEST 2008

On Thu, 2008-07-31 at 18:27 -0700, Craig Allen wrote:
> I have followed the GIL debate in python for some time.  I don't want
> to get into the regular debate about if it should be gotten rid of
> (though I am curious about the status of that for Python 3)...
> personally I think I can do multi-threaded programming well, but I
> also see the benefits of a multiprocess approach. I'm not so
> egotistical that I don't realize perhaps my mt programming has not
> been "right" (though it worked and was debuggable) or more likely that
> doing it right I have avoided even trying some things people want mt
> programming to do... i.e. to do mt programming right you start to use
> queues a lot, inter-thread asynchronous, non-blocking, communication,
> which is essentially the multi-process approach, using IPC (except
> that the threads can see the same memory when, in your special case,
> you know that's ok. Given something like a reader-writer lock, this
> can have benefits... but again, whatever.
> My question is that given this problem, years ago before I started
> writing in python I wrote some short programs in python which could,
> in fact, busy both my CPUs.  In retrospect I assume I did not have
> code in my run function that causes a GIL lock... so I have done this
> again.
> I start two threads... I use gkrellm to watch my processors (dual
> processor machine).  If I merely print a number... both CPUS are
> getting 90% simultaneous loads. If I increment a counter and print it
> too, the same, and if I create a small list and sort it, the same. I
> did not expect this... I expected to see one processor pegged at
> around 100%, which should sometimes switch to the other processor.
> Granted, the same program in C/C++ would peg both processors at
> 100%... but given that the overhead in the interpreter cannot explain
> the extra usage, I assume the code in my thread's run functions is
> actually executing non-serially.
> I assume this is because what I am doing does not require the GIL to
> be locked for a significant part of the time my code is running...
> what code could I put in my run function to see the behavior I
> expected?  What code could I put there to take advantage of the
> possibility that really the GIL is not locked enough to cause actual
> serialization of the threads...  anyone care to explain?
> --
> http://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/python-list

It's worth mentioning that the most common place for the python
interpreter to release the GIL is during I/O, which printing a number to
the screen certainly counts as. You might try again with a set of loops
that only increment, and don't print, and you may more obviously see the
GIL in action.
John Krukoff <jkrukoff at ltgc.com>
Land Title Guarantee Company

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