Down the rabbit hole, profiling your Python code - Remco Wendt

Tags: python, django, pun

(Talk at the April 2012 Dutch Django meeting)

There’s a lot happening between an incoming request and an outgoing response. Part of it is your code, part is in libraries. You don’t care about most of those parts, as you probably mostly care about the resulting end product for the customer.

There is a lot of interest in scaling, but not so much in profiling your performance. Profiling means running your code in such a way that Python’s interpreter gathers statistics on all the calls you make. This has a huge performance impact, so don’t use it in production. But it gives you invaluable data on what’s actually happening in your code.

The most interesting thing about profiling is the low hanging fruit. Often there are two or three expensive functions that you can easily improve: with a limited effort you get a lot of extra performance. It is not effective to focus on a hard problem that you can only improve 2%.

Python has lots of tools. The most well-known is cProfile (profile is not that good; hotspot seems deprecated). Line profiler looks at the number of times a line is executed.

Run cProfile like this:

import cProfile'your_method()')

An alternative is:

python -m cProfile -o your_script.profile

With that -o option you get an output file that you can run through Python’s pstats to get the actual statistics.

A very handy visualizer is run snake run that displays the profiling information as a “tree map”. An alternative is kcachegrind, but you need to call pyprof2calltree to convert Python’s profiling information to kcachegrind’s.

What to look for:

  • Things you didn’t expect. Perhaps you spot something sub-obtimal or strange that needs investigating.

  • If there’s much time spend in just one single function. This is possible low-hanging fruit.

  • Lots of calls to the same function.

Some things you can do to improve your performance:

  • Caching

  • Get stuff out of inner loops.

  • Remove logging. And especially watch out when logging database objects in Django: your objects’s __unicode__() might call more than you want, like

    Regarding debug logging: you can make them conditional with if __debug__:. Running python with -O optimizes them away.

Apart from code profiling (cpu/IO) there’s also memory profiling for looking at memory usage. Small note on Django: it has an (intended) memory leak in debug mode (the query cache). No real problem, but keep it in mind when doing memory profiling.

Tools for memory profiling: heapy and meliea. Meliea is nice as you can run it on your server (ahem) and then copy it to your local machine for evaluation with, again, run snake run.

Profiling is all good and fun, but the environment is different on your production server. How to do profiling there? You might have one of several wsgi process that runs in profiling mode, for instance, with a load balancer that only trickles a few results to that single wsgi process.

Or you can use Boaz Leskes’ pycounters, “instrumenting production code”.

To close off: you should know about this. It should be part of your professional toolkit. And… it should be in IDEs. Several of them already have it. Komodo already has it, but what about PyCharm? Remco hopes that this blog entry sparks IDE vendors into action when needed :-)

Some input from the questions:

  • Django has profiling middleware that you can switch on for a specific request with a GET parameter.

  • There’s WSGI middleware (like dozer).

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About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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