PyTopo and PyGTK pixbuf memory leakage (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 12 Oct 2007

PyTopo and PyGTK pixbuf memory leakage

On a recent Mojave desert trip, we tried to follow a minor dirt road that wasn't mapped correctly on any of the maps we had, and eventually had to retrace our steps. Back at the hotel, I fired up my trusty PyTopo on the East Mojave map set and tried to trace the road. But I found that as I scrolled along the road, things got slower and slower until it just wasn't usable any more.

PyTopo was taking up all of my poor laptop's memory. Why? Python is garbage collected -- you're not supposed to have to manage memory explicitly, like freeing pixbufs. I poked around in all the sample code and man pages I had available but couldn't find any pygtk examples that seemed to be doing any explicit freeing.

When we got back to civilization (read: internet access) I did some searching and found the key. It's even in the PyGTK Image FAQ, and there's also some discussion in a mailing list thread from 2003.

Turns out that although Python is supposed to handle its own garbage collection, the Python interpreter doesn't grok the size of a pixbuf object; in particular, it doesn't see the image bits as part of the object's size. So dereferencing lots of pixbuf objects doesn't trigger any "enough memory has been freed that it's time to run the garbage collector" actions.

The solution is easy enough: call gc.collect() explicitly after drawing a map (or any other time a bunch of pixbufs have been dereferenced).

So there's a new version of PyTopo, 0.6 that should run a lot better on small memory machines, plus a new collection format (yet another format from the packaged Topo! map sets) courtesy of Tom Trebisky.

Oh ... in case you're wondering, the ancient USGS maps from Topo! didn't show the road correctly either.

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[ 21:21 Oct 12, 2007    More programming | permalink to this entry ]