Heapmonitor Documentation


The Heapmonitor is a facility delivering insight into the memory distribution of SCons. It provides facilities to size individual objects and can track all objects of certain classes. The Heapmonitor is developed in a dedicated SCons Subversion branch as part of a Google Summer of Code project.

The Heapmonitor and the associated facilities described herein are not part of the official SCons distribution.


The Heapmonitor can be activated by passing the associated debug flag. The gathered data will be shown after the build is complete:

scons-hm --debug=heapmonitor

In this operation mode, Heapmonitor will track a set of pre-configured SCons classes. Per-instance statistics will be printed to the standard output after SCons has finished building the targets.

scons-hm --debug=heapmonitor --debug=memory

When used in conjunction with --debug=memory, snapshots of all tracked objects will be taken at four pre-defined instants.

Basic Functionality

Instance Tracking

The purpose of instance tracking is to observe the size and lifetime of an object of interest. Creation and destruction timestamps are recorded and the size of the object is sampled when taking a snapshot.

To track the size of an individual object:

   1 import SCons.Heapmonitor
   2 env = Environment()
   3 SCons.Heapmonitor.track_object(env)

Class Tracking

Most of the time, it's cumbersome to manually track individual instances. All instances of a class can automatically be tracked with track_class:

   1 SCons.Heapmonitor.track_class(SCons.Action.CommandAction)

All instances of CommandAction (or a class that inherits from CommandAction) created hereafter are tracked.

Tracked Object Snapshot

Tracking alone will not reveal the size of an object. The idea of the Heapmonitor is to sample the sizes of all tracked objects at configurable instants in time. The create_snapshot function computes the size of all tracked objects:

   1 SCons.Heapmonitor.create_snapshot('Before juggling with tracked objects')
   2 ...
   3 SCons.Heapmonitor.create_snapshot('Juggling aftermath')

With this information, the distribution of the allocated memory can be apportioned to tracked classes and instances.

Advanced Functionality

Per-referent Sizing

It may not be enough to know the total memory consumption of an object. Detailed per-referent statistics can be gathered recursively up to a given resolution level. Resolution level 1 means that all direct referents of an object will be sized. Level 2 also include the referents of the direct referents, and so forth. Note that the member variables of an instance are typically stored in a dictionary and are therefore second order referents.

   1 SCons.Heapmonitor.track_object(obj, resolution_level=2)

The resolution level can be changed if the object is already tracked:

   1 SCons.Heapmonitor.track_change(env, resolution_level=2)

The new setting will become effective for the next snapshot. This can help to raise the level of detail for a specific instance of a tracked class without logging all the class' instances with a high verbosity level. Nevertheless, the resolution level can also be set for all instances of a class:

   1 SCons.Heapmonitor.track_class(SCons.Node.FS.Base, resolution_level=1)

Please note the per-referent sizing is very memory and computationally intensive. The recorded meta-data must be stored for each referent of a tracked object which might easily quadruplicate the memory footprint of the build. Handle with care and don't use too high resolution levels, especially if set via track_class.

Instantiation traces

Sometimes it is not trivial to observe where an object was instantiated. The Heapmonitor can remember the instantiation stack trace for later evaluation.

   1 SCons.Heapmonitor.track_class(SCons.Node.FS.Base, trace=1)

This only works with tracked classes, and not with individual objects.

Background Monitoring

The Heapmonitor can be configured to take periodic snapshots automatically. The following example will take 10 snapshots a second (approximately) until SCons has exited or the periodic snapshots are stopped with stop_periodic_snapshots. Background monitoring also works if --debug=heapmonitor is not passed on the command line. In this mode, SCons will only record the total virtual memory associated with it. This can be useful in combination with background monitoring to detect memory usage which is transient or not associated with any tracked object.

   1 SCons.Heapmonitor.start_periodic_snapshots(interval=0.1)

Take care if you use automatic snapshots with --debug=heapmonitor. The sizing of individual objects might be inconsistent when memory is allocated or freed while the snapshot is being taken. It's safe to use --debug=memory alone, though.

Off-line Analysis

The more data is gathered by the Heapmonitor the more noise is produced on the console. The acquired Heapmonitor log data can also be saved to a file for off-line analysis:

scons-hm --debug=heapmonitor --debug=memory --heapprofile=heap.dat

The MemStats class of the Heapmonitor provides means to evaluate the collected data. The API is inspired by the Stats class of the Python profiler. It is possible to sort the data based on user preferences, filter by class and limit the output noise to a manageable magnitude.

The following example reads the dumped data and prints the ten largest Node objects to the standard output:

   1 from SCons.Heapmonitor import MemStats
   3 stats = MemStats()
   4 stats.load('heap.dat')
   5 stats.sort_stats('size').print_stats(limit=10, filter='Node')

HTML Statistics

The Heapmonitor data can also be emitted in HTML format together with a number of charts (needs python-matplotlib). HTML statistics can be emitted directly, by specifying a file with the extension .html file as the profiling output:

scons-hm --debug=heapmonitor --debug=memory --heapprofile=heap.html

However, you can also read in the file generated with --heapprofile:

   1 from SCons.Heapmonitor import HtmlStats
   3 stats = HtmlStats('heap.dat')
   4 stats.create_html('heap.html')

Tracking Garbage

Garbage occurs if objects refer too each other in a circular fashion. Such reference cycles cannot be freed automatically and must be collected by the garbage collector. While it is sometimes hard to avoid creating reference cycles, preventing such cycles saves garbage collection time and limits the lifetime of objects.

The Heapmonitor provides special flags to analyze reference cycles. If --debug=garbage is passed to SCons, the garbage collector is turned off and the garbage objects are printed:

scons-hm --debug=garbage

Reference cycles can be visualized with graphviz. A graphviz input file is generated when the --garbage=file flag is passed:

scons-hm --debug=garbage --garbage=leakgraph.txt

The graph file can be turned into a PDF with the following commands (Linux):

dot -o leakgraph.dot leakgraph.txt
dot leakgraph.dot -Tps -o leakgraph.eps
epstopdf leakgraph.eps

Limitations and Corner Cases


Class tracking allows to observe multiple classes that might have an inheritance relationship. An object is only tracked once. Thus, the tracking parameters of the most specialized tracked class control the actual tracking of an instance.

Morphing objects

SCons instates the pattern of changing an instance' class at runtime, for example to morph abstract Node objects into File or Directory nodes. The pattern looks like the following in the code:

obj.__class__ = OtherClass

If the instance which is morphed is already tracked, the instance will continue to be tracked by the Heapmonitor. If the target class is tracked but the instance is not, the instance will only be tracked if the constructor of the target class is called as part of the morphing process. The object will not be re-registered to the new class in the tracked object index. However, the new class is stored in the representation of the object as soon as the object is sized.

Shared Data

Data shared between multiple tracked object won't lead to overestimations. Shared data will be assigned to the first (evaluated) tracked object it is referenced from, but is only counted once. Tracked objects are evaluated in the order they were announced to the Heapmonitor. This should make the assignment deterministic from one run to the next, but has two known problems. If the Heapmonitor is used concurrently from multiple threads, the announcement order will likely change and may lead to random assignment of shared data to different objects. Shared data might also be assigned to different objects during its lifetime, see the following example:

   1 class A():
   2   pass
   4 a = A()
   5 Heapmonitor.track_object(a)
   6 b = A()
   7 Heapmonitor.track_object(b)
   8 b.content = range(100000)
   9 Heapmonitor.create_snapshot('#1')
  10 a.notmine = b.content
  11 Heapmonitor.create_snapshot('#2')

In the snapshot #1, bs size will include the size of the large list. Then the list is shared with a. The snapshot #2 will assign the list's footprint to a because it was registered before b.

If a tracked object A is referenced from another tracked object B, As size is not added to Bs size, regardless of the order in which they are sized.


Heapmonitor uses asizeof to gather size informations. Asizeof makes assumptions about the memory footprint of the various data types. As it is implemented in pure Python, there is no way to know how the actual Python implementation allocates data and lays it out in memory. Thus, the size numbers are not really accurate and there will always be a divergence between the virtual size of the SCons process as reported by the OS and the sizes asizeof estimates.

Most recent C/Python versions contain a facility to report accurate size informations of Python objects. If available, asizeof uses it to improve the accuracy.

Download SCons/Heapmonitor Edition

There are two possibilities to get your hands on the Heapmonitor facility. Either grab one of the packages below or fetch the sources with Subversion.


An installation package is available for your convenience. Choose one of the packages below that suits your platform.


Once it has been downloaded, it can be installed with the following commands (Linux):

$ tar xzf scons-hm-08-0.98.5.tar.gz
$ cd scons-hm-08-0.98.5
$ python setup.py install --prefix=/usr/local --record=install.log

This configuration can be safely used without interfering with any already installed SCons version. If you would like to invoke the newly installed branch version, run:

$ scons-hm

To uninstall, use the record-file created on installation:

$ xargs -a install.log rm -f

Development Branch

Check out the development branch with Subversion:

svn co http://scons.tigris.org/svn/scons/branches/heapmonitor --username guest
cd heapmonitor

Set up runtime environment (Unix):

export SCONS_DIR=$PWD/src
export SCONS_LIB_DIR=$SCONS_DIR/engine
export SCONS="python $SCONS_DIR/script/scons.py"

Use the development version to build SCons projects:

cd /home/user/myproject

To get access to the SCons modules outside of SConscripts, for example to import the MemStats class, use this code in your Python scripts:

   1 if 'SCONS_LIB_DIR' in os.environ:
   2     sys.path.insert(1, os.environ['SCONS_LIB_DIR'])


LudwigHaehne/HeapMonitor (last edited 2008-08-17 20:17:09 by LudwigHaehne)