Parsing a serial stream too slowly

Cameron Simpson cs at
Mon Jan 23 18:49:41 EST 2012

On 23Jan2012 13:48, M.Pekala <mcdpekala at> wrote:
| Hello, I am having some trouble with a serial stream on a project I am
| working on. I have an external board that is attached to a set of
| sensors. The board polls the sensors, filters them, formats the
| values, and sends the formatted values over a serial bus. The serial
| stream comes out like $A1234$$B-10$$C987$,  where "$A.*$" is a sensor
| value, "$B.*$" is a sensor value, "$C.*$" is a sensor value, ect...
| When one sensor is running my python script grabs the data just fine,
| removes the formatting, and throws it into a text control box. However
| when 3 or more sensors are running, I get output like the following:
| Sensor 1: 373
| Sensor 2: 112$$M-160$G373
| Sensor 3: 763$$A892$
| I am fairly certain this means that my code is running too slow to
| catch all the '$' markers. Below is the snippet of code I believe is
| the cause of this problem...

Your code _is_ slow, but as you can see above you're not missing data,
you're gathering too much data.

Some point by point remarks below. The actual _bug_ is your use of ".*"
in your regexps. Some change suggestions below the code.

| def OnSerialRead(self, event):
| 	text =
| 	self.sensorabuffer = self.sensorabuffer + text
| 	self.sensorbbuffer = self.sensorbbuffer + text
| 	self.sensorcbuffer = self.sensorcbuffer + text

Slow and memory wasteful. Supposing a sensor never reports? You will
accumulate an ever growing buffer string. And extending a string gets
expensive as it grows.

| 	if sensoraenable:
| 		sensorresult ='\$A.*\$.*', self.sensorabuffer )

Slow and buggy.

The slow: You're compiling the regular expression _every_ time you come
here (unless the re module caches things, which I seem to recall it may.
But that efficiency is only luck.

The bug: supposing you get multiple sensor reports, like this:


Your regexp matches the whole thing! Because ".*" is greedy.
You want "[^$]*" - characters that are not a "$".

| 			if sensorresult:
| 				s =
| 				s = s[2:-1]
| 				if self.sensor_enable_chkbox.GetValue():
| 					self.SensorAValue = s
| 				self.sensorabuffer = ''

What if there are multiple values in the buffer? After fixing your
regexp you will now be throwing them away. Better to go:

  self.sensorabuffer = self.sensorabuffer[sensorresult.end():]

| I think that regex is too slow for this operation, but I'm uncertain
| of another method in python that could be faster. A little help would
| be appreciated.

Regex _is_ slow. It is good for flexible lexing, but generally Not
Fast. It can be faster than in-Python lexing because the inner
interpreation of the regex is C code, but is often overkill when speed
matters. (Which you may find it does not for your app - fix the bugs
first and see how it behaves).

I would be making the following changes if it were me:

  - keep only one buffer, and parse it into sensor "tokens"
    pass each token to the right sensor as needed

  - don't use regexps
    this is a speed thing; if you code is more readable with regexps and
    still faster enough you may not do this

To these ends, untested attempt 1 (one buffer, lex into tokens, still
using regexps):

    re_token = re.compile( r'\$([A-Z])([^$]*)\$' )

    def OnSerialRead(self, event):
        # accessing a local var is quicker and more readable
        buffer = self.buffer

        text =
        buffer += text

        m =
        while m:
            sensor, value =,
            buffer = buffer[m.end():]
            if sensor == 'A':
                # ...
            elif sensor == 'B':
                # ...
                warning("unsupported sensor: %s", sensor)

        # stash the updated buffer for later
        self.buffer = buffer

I'm assuming here that you can get noise in the serial stream. If you
are certain to get only clean "$Ax$" sequences and nothing else you can
make the code much simpler. And faster again.

Pretending clean data and no regexps:

    def OnSerialRead(self, event):
        # accessing a local var is quicker and more readable
        buffer = self.buffer

        text =
        buffer += text

        while buffer:
            if not buffer.startswith('$'):
                raise ValueError("bad data in buffer! code rewrite needed!")
            mark2 = buffer.find('$', 1)
            if mark2 < 0:
                # end of token not present
                # look again later
            token = buffer[1:mark2]
            buffer = buffer[mark2+1:]

            if not token:
                raise ValueError("no data in packet!")
            sensorm value = token[1], token[1:]

            ... hand off to sensors as above ...

Cameron Simpson <cs at> DoD#743

If your new theorem can be stated with great simplicity, then there
will exist a pathological exception.    - Adrian Mathesis

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