[Tutor] managing memory large dictionaries in python

Prasad, Ramit ramit.prasad at jpmorgan.com
Tue Oct 16 22:03:22 CEST 2012

Abhishek Pratap wrote:
> Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 11:57 AM
> To: tutor at python.org
> Subject: [Tutor] managing memory large dictionaries in python
> Hi Guys
> For my problem I need to store 400-800 million 20 characters keys in a
> dictionary and do counting. This data structure takes about 60-100 Gb
> of RAM.
> I am wondering if there are slick ways to map the dictionary to a file
> on disk and not store it in memory but still access it as dictionary
> object. Speed is not the main concern in this problem and persistence
> is not needed as the counting will only be done once on the data. We
> want the script to run on smaller memory machines if possible.
> I did think about databases for this but intuitively it looks like a
> overkill coz for each key you have to first check whether it is
> already present and increase the count by 1  and if not then insert
> the key into dbase.
> Just want to take your opinion on this.
> Thanks!
> -Abhi

I do not think that a database would be overkill for this type of task.
Your process may be trivial but the amount of data it has manage is not trivial. You can use a simple database like SQLite. Otherwise, you 
could create a file for each key and update the count in there. It will
run on a small amount of memory but will be slower than using a db.

# Pseudocode
key = get_key()
filename = os.path.join(directory, key)
if os.path.exists(filename):
    # read and update count
    with open(os.path.join(directory, key), 'w') as f:

Given that SQLite is included in Python and is easy to use, I would just
use that.


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