Author nascheme
Recipients Mark.Shannon, carljm, corona10, dino.viehland, eelizondo, gregory.p.smith, nascheme, pablogsal, pitrou, shihai1991, steve.dower, tim.peters, vstinner
Date 2020-04-16.20:51:57
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A few thoughts

First, the PR is well done.  The changes are pretty minimal and are well localized.  Thanks Eddie for writing clean code and responding to review requests.

My feeling is that, in current state, this still should not get merged or at least not get enabled by default.  The main consideration is what is the cost of this new feature vs what is the benefit.

If the immortalize heap function is not called by default, all Python users pay a performance hit for this feature.  Even after recent PR improvements, if you don't immortalize the heap, Python is slower. 

Only a small fraction of Python users will benefit from this feature.  I think the "pre-fork, CoW exploiting" application architecture is more common than some people would realize (it is a successful way to achieve multi-processing with CPython, making good use of multiple CPU cores).  However, I'm pretty sure it is used by a very tiny fraction of all Python programs.

If we do immortalize by default (e.g. on Python startup), the semantics of the refcnt field are subtly changed.  I suspect some programs will be broken as a result of this change.  A clue about what might go wrong comes from the unicode object code.  E.g. the resize_inplace() function in unicodeobject.c.  It is possible that a non-trivial amount of other 3rd party code will make assumptions about refcnt that will be broken by this change.  That code could be fixed but it is a matter of cost vs benefit.

If it is disabled by default with a build flag we have an ABI compatibility problem.  I.e. incref/decref are inlined functions/macros.  Also, as mentioned above, these kinds of build options tend to make maintenance and testing harder.

The frozen GC generation did not have these kinds of issues.  If people don't use it, there is basically no cost.  I think it was a good idea to merge the frozen generation feature.  There is a small amount of ongoing maintenance cost but that's acceptable.

Regarding Mark's comment about immutability vs immutable object headers, I would frame the goal of the PR differently.  Like the GC frozen generation, this immutable instance change is about providing a way to opt-out of Python's default garbage collection mechanism.  The frozen generation was to opt-out of the mark-and-sweep style cyclic collection.  This PR is about opting-out of the default Python reference counting.  

Put that way, could we consider this PR as an incremental step in a process of making it possible to have a non-reference count based GC for CPython?  E.g. perhaps we could eventually have a mixture of mark-and-sweep and reference counted GC, in order to support the handle (HPy) API.  If we want to move towards that, we want CPython code to stop making assumptions about the refcnt field, like the unicodeobject.c file currently does.

I think pitching the PR in that way makes it more compelling.  Merge it not because it helps a tiny class of Python applications.  Instead, merge it because it helps find unwarranted assumptions about how the Python GC works.  Once we get bad assumptions cleaned up in 3rd party code, we have more of chance of pursuing an alternative GC strategy for CPython.
Date User Action Args
2020-04-16 20:51:57naschemesetrecipients: + nascheme, tim.peters, gregory.p.smith, pitrou, vstinner, carljm, dino.viehland, Mark.Shannon, steve.dower, corona10, pablogsal, eelizondo, shihai1991
2020-04-16 20:51:57naschemesetmessageid: <>
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