Python Memory Usage

Exploring the memory footprint of different Python data representations.


Recently my colleague and I were using Python to process several GB worth of CSV data. We realised this dataset was big enough for us to be mindful of the overall memory usage of our program. We therefore decided to spend some time measuring the efficiency of the various data representations available.

We considered representing each data item using a:


Very flexible, lacks any explicit expectations around the fields each item should contain.

# Dictionary

fruit_as_dict = dict(name='mango', price=123, colour='red')

Named Tuple

No frills, lightweight, clearly defines field names. A staple of the standard library since Python 2.6.

# Named Tuple

import collections

TupleFruit = collections.namedtuple('TupleFruit', ['name', 'price', 'colour'])

fruit_as_named_tuple = TupleFruit('mango', 123, 'red')

Typed Named Tuple

Named tuple + types. PEP 526 variable annotation syntax makes each field type clear.

# Typed Named Tuple

import typing

class TypedTupleFruit(typing.NamedTuple):
    name: str
    price: int
    colour: str

fruit_as_named_typed_tuple = TypedTupleFruit('mango', 123, 'red')

Data Class

As with the typed named tuple, a data class very clearly lays out the name and type of each field. It has quite a rich API with useful functions for conversion to a tuple or dictionary.

# Data Class

from dataclasses import dataclass

class DataClassFruit:
    name: str
    price: int
    colour: str

fruit_as_dataclass = DataClassFruit('mango', 123, 'red')

Data Class (Slots)

All the advantages of a data class, but consuming less memory by storing value references in slots instead of __dict__.

# Slot Data Class

from dataclasses import dataclass

class SlotDataClassFruit:
    __slots__ = ('name', 'price', 'colour')
    name: str
    price: int
    colour: str

fruit_as_slot_dataclass = SlotDataClassFruit('mango', 123, 'red')


Fully customisable, but potentially requires lots of boilerplate to bring it up to feature parity with a data class.

# Class

class ClassFruit(object):
    def __init__(self, name, price, colour): = name
        self.price = price
        self.colour = colour

fruit_as_class = ClassFruit('mango', 123, 'red')

Class (Slots)

Again, we can use slots to reduce memory consumption.

# Slot Class

class SlotClassFruit(object):
    __slots__ = ('name', 'price', 'colour')
    def __init__(self, name, price, colour): = name
        self.price = price
        self.colour = colour

fruit_as_slotclass = SlotClassFruit('mango', 123, 'red')

Measuring Size

Calling sys.getsizeof with any given object will return its size. However, only memory directly used by the object is returned, not the memory usage of objects it refers to. We can solve this by walking each object's referents, calling getsizeof, until all objects have been measured. The following implementation is specifically designed to work for our examples and therefore quite simplistic. It does not deal with all types of object and doesn't handle cyclical data structures.

import sys

def get_size(root_obj):
    size = 0
    to_explore = [root_obj]
    while len(to_explore) > 0:
        obj = to_explore.pop()
        size += sys.getsizeof(obj)
        if isinstance(obj, tuple):
        if isinstance(obj, Mapping):
        if hasattr(obj, '__dict__'):
        if hasattr(obj, '__slots__'):
            to_explore.extend([getattr(obj, s) for s in obj.__slots__])
    return size


These results were obtained with Python 3.7.4. Full code is available here.

Before looking at the size of a compound data type, it's useful to know how much memory the primitive data types alone consume.

DataSize (Bytes)

We can then measure the size of each representation and calculate the overhead added by each.

RepresentationSize (Bytes)Overhead (Bytes)
Data class480346
Data class (slots)20672
Class (slots)20672
Named tuple21480
Typed named tuple21480

A bigger test: Benchmarking a million fruits

While it's informative to measure the bytes consumed by a single data item, a more realistic benchmark would be to see how memory usage adds up as multiple items are processed.

So instead lets create a small script that grow a list of items and print the sum of the price field.

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import sys
from dataclasses import dataclass

count = int(sys.argv[1])

class DataClassFruit:
    name: str
    price: int
    colour: str

def fruit_as_dataclass():
    return DataClassFruit('mango', 123, 'red')

basket = [fruit_as_dataclass() for _ in range(count)]

total_price = sum((f.price for f in basket))


We can then invoke this script using the time utility and measure the "maximum resident set size" value. This tells us the maximum number of bytes of memory used simultaneously.

/usr/bin/time -l 1000000
        1.22 real         1.14 user         0.07 sys
 227151872  maximum resident set size
         0  average shared memory size
         0  average unshared data size
         0  average unshared stack size
     64116  page reclaims
         0  page faults
         0  swaps
         0  block input operations
         0  block output operations
         0  messages sent
         0  messages received
         0  signals received
         9  voluntary context switches
       288  involuntary context switches

Given a similar program for each of the representations, we can see how they compare.

Here are the results for a count of 1000000:

RepresentationMax RSS (Bytes)
Data class226988032
Data class (slots)113152000
Class (slots)111427584
Named tuple127430656
Typed named tuple128278528


We settled on using typing.NamedTuple to represent high volume data, and to use the richer DataClass for the lower volume collections.

Whatever your use case, I hope the above measurements help you make an informed choice.

Bonus: Comparing with Pympler

To validate our findings, let's perform the same analysis using asizeof from the pympler package.

DataSize (Bytes)

Interestingly, pyampler reports the strings 'mango' and 'red' as consuming the same memory, despite being different lengths.

This is because by default asizeof will return size measurements aligned to multiples of 8. I suspect this is due to assumptions about byte aligned memory access.

RepresentationSize (Bytes)Overhead (Bytes)
Data class496352
Data class (slots)21672
Class (slots)21672
Named tuple22480
Typed named tuple22480

If we disable this behaviour, then pympler returns the exact same measurements as our home made get_size function.