real-time monitoring of propriety system: embedding python in C or embedding C in python?

Bas wegwerp at
Tue Feb 5 16:10:43 CET 2013

Hi Group,

at work, we are thinking to replace some legacy application, which is a home-grown scripting language for monitoring and controlling a large experiment. It is able to read live data from sensors, do some simple logic and calculations, send commands to other subsystems and finally generate some new signals. The way it is implemented is that it gets a chunk of 1 second of data (thousands of signals at sample rates from 1Hz to several kHz), does some simple calculations on selected signals, does some simple logic, sends some commands and finally computes some 1Hz output signals, all before the next chunk of data arrives. The purpose is mainly to monitor other fast processes and adjust things like process gains and set-points, like in a SCADA system. (I know about systems like Epics and Tango, but I cannot use those in the near future.) It can be considered soft-real time: it is desirable that the computation finishes within the next second most of the time, but if the deadline is missed occasionally, nothing bad should happen. The current system is hard to maintain and is limited in capabilities (no advanced math, no sub-functions, ...).

I hope I don't have to convince you that python would be the perfect language to replace such a home-grown scripting language, especially since you than get all the power of tools like numpy, logging and interface to databases for free. Convincing my colleagues might cost some more effort, so I want to write a quick (and dirty?) demonstration project. Since all the functions I have to interface with (read and write of live data, sending commands, ...) are implemented in C, the solution will require writing both C and python. I have to choose between two architectures:

A) Implement the main program in C. In a loop, get a chunk of data using direct call of C functions, convert data to python variables and call an embedded python interpreter that runs one iteration of the user's algorithm. When the script finishes, you read some variables from the interpreter and then call some other C-function to write the results.

B) Implement the main loop in python. At the beginning of the loop, you call an embedded C function to get new data (using ctypes?), make the result readable from python (memoryview?), do the user's calculation and finally call another C function to write the result.

Are there any advantages for using one method over the other? Note that I have more experience with python than with C.


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