Dissecting Python List allocator (CPython)

List is one of the most frequently used data structure in Python applications. The code for Python list object allocator is present in Python-2.7.5/Objects/listobject.c.

Python allocates list objects in heap and uses underlying malloc based APIs. List is a container of Python object references. In plain C terminology. it is a dynamic array of pointers.

Let’s understand basic creation and insertion APIs.

  • list_resize(): A list is of type PyListObject and is equivalent to PyObject. Every resize request allocates more than asked size.

Allocation unit size is : (size_requested + (size_requested << 3 + (size_requested < 9 : 3 or 6) ).

It gives a growth pattern of (0, 4, 8, 16, 25, 35, 46, 58, 72, 88).

  • free_list: Python keeps PyList_MAXFREELIST (defined to value 80) of free lists to save on lists allocation and deallocation.
  • PyList_New(): A new list allocation requests is served from either a free list or a new GC tracked object creation of type PyListObject. Next, a malloc request is made for requested list size.

Size calculated: nbytes = size * sizeof(PyObject *);

Object allocation: PyListObject *op = free_list[numfree] OR PyObject_GC_New(PyListObject, &PyList_Type);

Memory allocation for references: op->ob_item = (PyObject **) PyMem_MALLOC(nbytes);

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