Debugging a leaky Python

Posted on Apr 3

Python 2.6, the one that’s probably sitting in your hard disk, has a reference counting garbage collector. That means that objects are removed from memory right away if there is no object that is referencing them any more.

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To avoid leaks, you should be aware of a couple of things when coding.

Cyclic references and destructors do not play well together Cyclic reference are also detected, but the objects are deleted only if there is no del statement (Python’s destructor) in any of the objects of the cycle.

So, take special care if you ever use del somewhere in your code.


import gc

class ClassyClass(object):

    def __init__(self):
        print "I live!"

    def __del__(self):
        print "I have been garbage collected"

    def make_a_self_reference(self):
        self.self = self
        print "I point to myself"

def no_self_reference():

def self_reference():

if __name__ == "__main__":
    print "\n== Without self reference =="
    print "Uncollectable garbage", gc.garbage
    print "\n== With self reference =="
    print "Uncollectable garbage", gc.garbage
    print "= Forcing full collection ="
    print "Uncollectable garbage", gc.garbage


== Without self reference ==
I live!
I have been garbage collected
Uncollectable garbage []

== With self reference ==
I live!
I point to myself
Uncollectable garbage []
= Forcing full collection =
gc: uncollectable <classyclass 0x7f1b477f1f90="">
gc: uncollectable <dict 0x1e1d2d0="">
Uncollectable garbage [<__main__.ClassyClass object at 0x7f1b477f1f90>, {'self': <__main__.ClassyClass object at 0x7f1b477f1f90>}]

There is no guarantee that destructors will be called at the end of the program: You have to delete objects yourself, if you want to make sure your destructors are called.

Discovering leaks

So, what to do if your code is leaky? I have found Python’s gc module to be extremely handy for that.

import gc
#prints out leaky references as they are discovered
#In the previous example:
#gc: uncollectable <classyclass 0x7f1b477f1f90="">


import gc

#more detailed stats about each collection
#In the previous example:
#gc: collecting generation 2... -- is a full collection
#gc: objects in each generation: 2 0 4109
#gc: uncollectable <classyclass 0x7f5ee2599f90="">
#gc: uncollectable <dict 0x1cdf2d0="">
#gc: done, 2 unreachable, 2 uncollectable, 0.0012s elapsed.

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