Date Tags python

The Usenix security deadline is quickly approaching, and that means finalizing everything on my research project. Therefore, today I wanted to quickly parallelize some of my analysis code to take advantage of the eight virtual processors on my machine. I previously wrote about python multiprocessing and keyboard interrupts, so the task of converting my code seemed pretty trivial. Unfortunately, my analysis code deals with large amounts of data which when passed to processes using the multiprocessing queue class, produced unexpected results. Thus the sample I originally used in my previous post, isn’t as robust as I hoped. It will soon be updated. The post has been updated with a reference to this post.

The issue is that when pushing large items onto the queue, the items are essentially buffered, despite the immediate return of the queue’s put function [endnote 1]. Therefore, the queue may have not yet completely added an item by the time a subsequent non-blocking call to the queue’s get function is made. This delay explains why such a non-blocking call to queue.get may return a Queue.Empty error and is the exact problem I encountered in my analysis code.

As usual, I have provided some code demonstrating the problem and a solution.

#!/usr/bin/env python
import multiprocessing, Queue

def worker_bad(jobs):
    while True:
            tmp = jobs.get(block=False)
        except Queue.Empty:

def worker_good(jobs):
    while True:
        tmp = jobs.get()
        if tmp == None:

def main(items, size, num_workers, good_test):
    if good_test:
        func = worker_good
        func = worker_bad
    jobs = multiprocessing.Queue()
    for i in range(items):
    workers = []
    for i in range(num_workers):
        if good_test:
        tmp = multiprocessing.Process(target=func, args=(jobs,))
    for worker in workers:
    return jobs.empty()

if __name__ == '__main__':
    workers = 4
    items = workers * 2
    size = 10000

    for good_test in [False, True]:
        passed = 0
        for i in range(100):
            passed += main(items, size, workers, good_test=good_test)
        print '%d%% passed (Good Test: %s)' % (passed, good_test)

This code provides a simple test framework to compare two methods for completing tasks in a job queue. The actual workers are virtually identical as they simply continue to pull items off the job queue, until there are no more jobs. An individual test is considered passed when the number of jobs remaining after the workers terminate is zero. When running this script, you should notice that the first group has fewer than 100% of the tests pass, and more importantly that the second group has a 100% pass rate. If your output shows the first with a 100% pass rate, try doubling or further increasing the value of the variable size on line 39. Additionally you may notice I/O errors. These errors likely represent a bug in the multiprocessing queue and further demonstrate that a call to queue.get immediately after queue.put will not always succeed.

I arrived at the solution to this problem, in the response to a slightly similar stackoverflow question titled, Dumping a multiprocessing.Queue into a list. The solution recommended by the stackoverflow response is to enqueue a sentinel after all data in order to clearly delineate the end of the queue rather than utilizing the empty state of the queue. However, a single sentinel will not work in a case where there are multiple worker processes as only one worker can receive the sentinel. Thus the intuitive solution is to enqueue as many sentinels as there are workers on the queue following the data. I chose to represent these sentinels by the value None shown on line 28.

Now I can get back to speeding up my data analysis. Happy coding!

Endnote 1: Observant readers might notice that the queue’s put function has a block argument, however that argument, true by default, is for cases when the queue has a maximum size.


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