PEP 554: Multiple Interpreters in the Stdlib

I got shared this: GitHub - ChillFish8/python12-subinterpreters: Some simple and hopefully safe-ish bindings to Python 3.12's sub-interpreters. , which someone seems to have made to get access to subinterpreters from python before an official implementation exists It might give you an idea of how lightweight it is internally.

2 Likes

Thanks! I was thinking about this; a compiled extension would be all that’s needed to implement a working version of PEP 554 in Python 3.12.

This one seems to be passing Python objects, though:

new: SubInterpreter = create_interpreter()
new.run_code(
    """
    import random
    print(random.randint(1, 10))
    """,
    globals=globals(),
    locals=locals(),
)

Maybe globals() and locals() are sent through pickle or are otherwise deep-copied?

If not, it could explain why the author is seeing segfaults: both interpreters may be attempting to delete these objects.

Edit: I don’t know; even when I pass globals=None, locals=None, it always reports memory errors on shutdown. There is something wrong with this implementation, but it’s probably correct enough to do a scaling test.

Although this subinterpreters-from-Python module is pretty glitchy (can’t call shutdown on them without crashing Python), I’ve seen enough to know that starting a subinterpreter is not lightweight compared with starting a thread.

This thread-running code:

thread = threading.Thread(target=run)   # run does something trivial
thread.start()
thread.join()

takes 30 μs per thread, while this subinterpreter-running code:

interp = create_interpreter()
interp.run_code("2 + 2")   # same trivial work
# interp.shutdown()   # this crashes

takes 6000 μs per subinterpreter.

So ultimately, we’re going to want something like a InterpreterPoolExecutor, and data lifetime can’t be bound to subinterpreter lifetime. There will have to be a way to get notified when a task is done inside a subinterpreter so that its data can be released outside of the subinterpreter.

Edit: and I forgot to mention that NumPy can’t be used in subinterpreters yet:

ImportError: 

IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ THIS FOR ADVICE ON HOW TO SOLVE THIS ISSUE!

Importing the numpy C-extensions failed. This error can happen for
many reasons, often due to issues with your setup or how NumPy was
installed.

We have compiled some common reasons and troubleshooting tips at:

    https://numpy.org/devdocs/user/troubleshooting-importerror.html

Please note and check the following:

  * The Python version is: Python3.12 from "/home/jpivarski/mambaforge/envs/py312/bin/python"
  * The NumPy version is: "1.26.0"

and make sure that they are the versions you expect.
Please carefully study the documentation linked above for further help.

Original error was: module numpy.core._multiarray_umath does not support loading in subinterpreters

(Presumably, that’s in development.)

Hi Jim,

Note that there is already a way to share array-like or table-like data accross runtimes (even non-Python), with proper lifetime management: it’s the C Data Interface for the Apache Arrow format.

What’s more, we are working on a Python protocol for the C Data Interface based on capsule objects, so that third-party libraries can easily expose their data in the Arrow format, and so that it can be easily consumed by other third-party code, without any dependencing on PyArrow:

Our hope is that libraries relying on Arrow-compatible data representations such as Numpy, Pandas, Polars and others still, implement this protocol both as producers and consumers.

So, once this protocol is standardized and implemented, the last remaining building block should be to allow transferring a PyCapsule object from one interpreter to another. @eric.snow

9 Likes

Yep, that’s by design to let the community to create and try out various APIs and provide feedback on what they think a good API might be.

Correct, but it should still be much faster than a subprocess.

I would assume any stdlib API would also include updating concurrent.futures.

New PEP Version

I’ve made one last update to PEP 554. Given the low level of discussion the last few times, I’m hopeful this is the last round before I submit the proposal to the Steering Council.

You can find the updated PEP at PEP 554 – Multiple Interpreters in the Stdlib | peps.python.org and I’ve included the text below.

The most notable changes:

  • added channels back in
  • added Interpreter.set_main_attrs() (and Interpreter.get_main_attr())
  • renamed Interpreter.run() to Interpreter.exec()

I decided against adding any new C-API to the proposal though. I’m going to do that in a separate PEP.

Note that the changes are in response to real world experience I had using the proposed API, writing some concurrency benchmarks. I’m happy with where things are at.

Also note that I’m still trying to limit the amount of functionality in the proposal. My goal continues to be a minimal foundation to which we can add functionality as needed.

Open Questions

  • will is be too confusing that interp.exec() runs in the current thread?

With the change of name from interp.run(), I’m hoping it’s less of an issue. I expect that we should be able to provide enough clarity through the docs to avoid confusion.

  • should we add pickling fallbacks right now for interp.exec(), and/or
    Interpreter.set_main_attrs() and Interpreter.get_main_attr()?

This is something that might reduce friction for folks using the new module. It certainly isn’t necessary and runs counter to my “minimal” goal. However, practicality beats purity. If it’s clear that we’ll end up adding something like this, I’m not opposed to doing so immediately. It doesn’t have to be in the PEP though.

  • similarly, should we some a limited set of functions in interp.exec()?

From a usability standpoint, passing a string to interp.exec() is a bit clunky, even if it does stay true to the basic functionality. It isn’t actually that hard to support functions that aren’t closures and don’t take arguments. I’ve tried it out and even with those restrictions its a big improvement. This doesn’t strictly need to be part of the PEP, though.

  • rename Interpreter.close() to Interpreter.destroy()?

“close” matches the same function on a variety of other similar-ish classes, but isn’t nearly as clear as “destroy”. At the moment I’m leaning toward “close”, but I’m open to persuasion.

  • drop Interpreter.get_main_attr(), since we have channels?

interp.get_main_attr() could be an attractive nuisance, a clunky solution for getting data back from an interpreter. In the absence of alternatives, it’s probably fine as a low-level tool. However, the PEP currently includes channels, which are a much more elegant approach. I’m leaning toward dropping Interpreter.get_main_attr() if channels stick around.

  • should channels be its own PEP?

I just don’t see the value in that. The capability is relatively small and straight-forward, but useful enough to pay for itself. It doesn’t seem that controversial as (effectively) an appendage to PEP 554. The extra functionality would hardly be enough to warrant it’s own proposal. I’d rather it not make a separate PEP for channels.

4 Likes
The latest text of the PEP
PEP: 554
Title: Multiple Interpreters in the Stdlib
Author: Eric Snow <ericsnowcurrently@gmail.com>
Discussions-To: https://discuss.python.org/t/pep-554-multiple-interpreters-in-the-stdlib/24855
Status: Draft
Type: Standards Track
Content-Type: text/x-rst
Created: 05-Sep-2017
Python-Version: 3.13
Post-History: `07-Sep-2017 <https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-ideas@python.org/thread/HQQWEE527HG3ILJVKQTXVSJIQO6NUSIA/>`__,
              `08-Sep-2017 <https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-dev@python.org/thread/NBWMA6LVD22XOUYC5ZMPBFWDQOECRP77/>`__,
              `13-Sep-2017 <https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-dev@python.org/thread/EG4FSFG5E3O22FTIUQOXMQ6X6B5X3DP7/>`__,
              `05-Dec-2017 <https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-dev@python.org/thread/BCSRGAMCYB3NGXNU42U66J56XNZVMQP2/>`__,
              `04-May-2020 <https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-dev@python.org/thread/X2KPCSRVBD2QD5GP5IMXXZTGZ46OXD3D/>`__,
              `14-Mar-2023 <https://discuss.python.org/t/pep-554-multiple-interpreters-in-the-stdlib/24855/2/>`__,


Abstract
========

CPython has supported multiple interpreters in the same process (AKA
"subinterpreters") since version 1.5 (1997).  The feature has been
available via the C-API. [c-api]_  Multiple interpreters operate in
`relative isolation from one another <Interpreter Isolation_>`_, which
facilitates novel alternative approaches to
`concurrency <Concurrency_>`_.

This proposal introduces the stdlib ``interpreters`` module.  It exposes
the basic functionality of multiple interpreters already provided by the
C-API, along with basic support for communicating between interpreters.
This module is especially relevant since :pep:`684` introduced a
per-interpreter GIL in Python 3.12.


Proposal
========

Summary:

* add a new stdlib module: "interpreters"
* add concurrent.futures.InterpreterPoolExecutor
* help for extension module maintainers


The "interpreters" Module
-------------------------

The ``interpreters`` module will provide a high-level interface
to the multiple interpreter functionality, and wrap a new low-level
``_interpreters`` (in the same way as the ``threading`` module).
See the `Examples`_ section for concrete usage and use cases.

Along with exposing the existing (in CPython) multiple interpreter
support, the module will also support a basic mechanism for
passing data between interpreters.  That involves setting "shareable"
objects in the ``__main__`` module of a target subinterpreter.  Some
such objects, like  ``os.pipe()``, may be used to communicate further.
The module will also provide a minimal implementation of "channels"
as a demonstration of cross-interpreter communication.

Note that *objects* are not shared between interpreters since they are
tied to the interpreter in which they were created.  Instead, the
objects' *data* is passed between interpreters.  See the `Shared Data`_
and `API For Communication`_ sections for more details about
sharing/communicating between interpreters.

API summary for interpreters module
-----------------------------------

Here is a summary of the API for the ``interpreters`` module.  For a
more in-depth explanation of the proposed classes and functions, see
the `"interpreters" Module API`_ section below.

For creating and using interpreters:

+----------------------------------+----------------------------------------------+
| signature                        | description                                  |
+==================================+==============================================+
| ``list_all() -> [Interpreter]``  | Get all existing interpreters.               |
+----------------------------------+----------------------------------------------+
| ``get_current() -> Interpreter`` | Get the currently running interpreter.       |
+----------------------------------+----------------------------------------------+
| ``get_main() -> Interpreter``    | Get the main interpreter.                    |
+----------------------------------+----------------------------------------------+
| ``create() -> Interpreter``      | Initialize a new (idle) Python interpreter.  |
+----------------------------------+----------------------------------------------+

|

+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+
| signature                        | description                                       |
+==================================+===================================================+
| ``class Interpreter``            | A single interpreter.                             |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+
| ``.id``                          | The interpreter's ID (read-only).                 |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+
| ``.is_running() -> bool``        | Is the interpreter currently executing code?      |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+
| ``.close()``                     | Finalize and destroy the interpreter.             |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+
| ``.set_main_attrs(**kwargs)``    | Bind "shareable" objects in ``__main__``.         |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+
| ``.get_main_attr(name)``         | Get a "shareable" object from ``__main__``.       |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+
| ``.exec(src_str, /)``            | | Run the given source code in the interpreter    |
|                                  | | (in the current thread).                        |
+----------------------------------+---------------------------------------------------+

.. XXX Support blocking interp.exec() until the interpreter
   finishes its current work.

For communicating between interpreters:

+---------------------------------------------------------+--------------------------------------------+
| signature                                               | description                                |
+=========================================================+============================================+
| ``is_shareable(obj) -> Bool``                           | | Can the object's data be passed          |
|                                                         | | between interpreters?                    |
+---------------------------------------------------------+--------------------------------------------+
| ``create_channel() -> (RecvChannel, SendChannel)``      | | Create a new channel for passing         |
|                                                         | | data between interpreters.               |
+---------------------------------------------------------+--------------------------------------------+

concurrent.futures.InterpreterPoolExecutor
------------------------------------------

An executor will be added that extends ``ThreadPoolExecutor`` to run
per-thread tasks in subinterpreters.  Initially, the only supported
tasks will be whatever ``Interpreter.exec()`` takes (e.g. a ``str``
script).  However, we may also support some functions, as well as
eventually a separate method for pickling the task and arguments,
to reduce friction (at the expense of performance
for short-running tasks).

Help for Extension Module Maintainers
-------------------------------------

In practice, an extension that implements multi-phase init (:pep:`489`)
is considered isolated and thus compatible with multiple interpreters.
Otherwise it is "incompatible".

Many extension modules are still incompatible.  The maintainers and
users of such extension modules will both benefit when they are updated
to support multiple interpreters.  In the meantime, users may become
confused by failures when using multiple interpreters, which could
negatively impact extension maintainers.  See `Concerns`_ below.

To mitigate that impact and accelerate compatibility, we will do the
following:

* be clear that extension modules are *not* required to support use in
  multiple interpreters
* raise ``ImportError`` when an incompatible module is imported
  in a subinterpreter
* provide resources (e.g. docs) to help maintainers reach compatibility
* reach out to the maintainers of Cython and of the most used extension
  modules (on PyPI) to get feedback and possibly provide assistance


Examples
========

Run isolated code in current OS thread
--------------------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   print('before')
   interp.exec('print("during")')
   print('after')

Run in a different thread
-------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   def run():
       interp.exec('print("during")')
   t = threading.Thread(target=run)
   print('before')
   t.start()
   t.join()
   print('after')

Pre-populate an interpreter
---------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
       import some_lib
       import an_expensive_module
       some_lib.set_up()
       """))
   wait_for_request()
   interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
       some_lib.handle_request()
       """))

Handling an exception
---------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   try:
       interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
           raise KeyError
           """))
   except interpreters.RunFailedError as exc:
       print(f"got the error from the subinterpreter: {exc}")

Re-raising an exception
-----------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   try:
       try:
           interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
               raise KeyError
               """))
       except interpreters.RunFailedError as exc:
           raise exc.__cause__
   except KeyError:
       print("got a KeyError from the subinterpreter")

Note that this pattern is a candidate for later improvement.

Interact with the __main__ namespace
------------------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   interp.set_main_attrs(a=1, b=2)
   interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
       res = do_something(a, b)
       """))
   res = interp.get_main_attr('res')

Synchronize using an OS pipe
----------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   r1, s1 = os.pipe()
   r2, s2 = os.pipe()

   def task():
       interp.exec(tw.dedent(f"""
           import os
           os.read({r1}, 1)
           print('during B')
           os.write({s2}, '')
           """))

   t = threading.thread(target=task)
   t.start()
   print('before')
   os.write(s1, '')
   print('during A')
   os.read(r2, 1)
   print('after')
   t.join()

Sharing a file descriptor
-------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   with open('spamspamspam') as infile:
       interp.set_main_attrs(fd=infile.fileno())
       interp.exec(tw.dedent(f"""
           import os
           for line in os.fdopen(fd):
               print(line)
           """))

Passing objects via pickle
--------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   r, s = os.pipe()
   interp.exec(tw.dedent(f"""
       import os
       import pickle
       reader = {r}
       """))
   interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
           data = b''
           c = os.read(reader, 1)
           while c != b'\x00':
               while c != b'\x00':
                   data += c
                   c = os.read(reader, 1)
               obj = pickle.loads(data)
               do_something(obj)
               c = os.read(reader, 1)
           """))
   for obj in input:
       data = pickle.dumps(obj)
       os.write(s, data)
       os.write(s, b'\x00')
   os.write(s, b'\x00')

Capturing an interpreter's stdout
---------------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   stdout = io.StringIO()
   with contextlib.redirect_stdout(stdout):
       interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
           print('spam!')
           """))
   assert(stdout.getvalue() == 'spam!')

   # alternately:
   interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
       import contextlib, io
       stdout = io.StringIO()
       with contextlib.redirect_stdout(stdout):
           print('spam!')
       captured = stdout.getvalue()
       """))
   captured = interp.get_main_attr('captured')
   assert(captured == 'spam!')

A pipe (``os.pipe()``) could be used similarly.

Running a module
----------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   main_module = mod_name
   interp.exec(f'import runpy; runpy.run_module({main_module!r})')

Running as script (including zip archives & directories)
--------------------------------------------------------

::

   interp = interpreters.create()
   main_script = path_name
   interp.exec(f"import runpy; runpy.run_path({main_script!r})")

Using a channel to communicate
------------------------------

::

   tasks_recv, tasks = interpreters.create_channel()
   results, results_send = interpreters.create_channel()

   def worker():
       interp = interpreters.create()
       interp.set_main_attrs(tasks=tasks_recv, results=results_send)
       interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
           def handle_request(req):
               ...

           def capture_exception(exc):
               ...

           while True:
               try:
                   req = tasks.recv()
               except Exception:
                   # channel closed
                   break
               try:
                   res = handle_request(req)
               except Exception as exc:
                   res = capture_exception(exc)
               results.send_nowait(res)
           """))
   threads = [threading.Thread(target=worker) for _ in range(20)]
   for t in threads:
       t.start()

   requests = ...
   for req in requests:
       tasks.send(req)
   tasks.close()

   for t in threads:
       t.join()

Sharing a memoryview (imagine map-reduce)
-----------------------------------------

::

   data, chunksize = read_large_data_set()
   buf = memoryview(data)
   numchunks = (len(buf) + 1) / chunksize
   results = memoryview(b'\0' * numchunks)

   tasks_recv, tasks = interpreters.create_channel()

   def worker():
       interp = interpreters.create()
       interp.set_main_attrs(data=buf, results=results, tasks=tasks_recv)
       interp.exec(tw.dedent("""
           while True:
               try:
                   req = tasks.recv()
               except Exception:
                   # channel closed
                   break
               resindex, start, end = req
               chunk = data[start: end]
               res = reduce_chunk(chunk)
               results[resindex] = res
           """))
   t = threading.Thread(target=worker)
   t.start()

   for i in range(numchunks):
       if not workers_running():
           raise ...
       start = i * chunksize
       end = start + chunksize
       if end > len(buf):
           end = len(buf)
       tasks.send((start, end, i))
   tasks.close()
   t.join()

   use_results(results)


Rationale
=========

Running code in multiple interpreters provides a useful level of
isolation within the same process.  This can be leveraged in a number
of ways.  Furthermore, subinterpreters provide a well-defined framework
in which such isolation may extended.  (See :pep:`684`.)

Alyssa (Nick) Coghlan explained some of the benefits through a comparison with
multi-processing [benefits]_::

   [I] expect that communicating between subinterpreters is going
   to end up looking an awful lot like communicating between
   subprocesses via shared memory.

   The trade-off between the two models will then be that one still
   just looks like a single process from the point of view of the
   outside world, and hence doesn't place any extra demands on the
   underlying OS beyond those required to run CPython with a single
   interpreter, while the other gives much stricter isolation
   (including isolating C globals in extension modules), but also
   demands much more from the OS when it comes to its IPC
   capabilities.

   The security risk profiles of the two approaches will also be quite
   different, since using subinterpreters won't require deliberately
   poking holes in the process isolation that operating systems give
   you by default.

CPython has supported multiple interpreters, with increasing levels
of support, since version 1.5.  While the feature has the potential
to be a powerful tool, it has suffered from neglect
because the multiple interpreter capabilities are not readily available
directly from Python.  Exposing the existing functionality
in the stdlib will help reverse the situation.

This proposal is focused on enabling the fundamental capability of
multiple interpreters, isolated from each other,
in the same Python process.  This is a
new area for Python so there is relative uncertainly about the best
tools to provide as companions to interpreters.  Thus we minimize
the functionality we add in the proposal as much as possible.

Concerns
--------

* "subinterpreters are not worth the trouble"

Some have argued that subinterpreters do not add sufficient benefit
to justify making them an official part of Python.  Adding features
to the language (or stdlib) has a cost in increasing the size of
the language.  So an addition must pay for itself.

In this case, multiple interpreter support provide a novel concurrency
model focused on isolated threads of execution.  Furthermore, they
provide an opportunity for changes in CPython that will allow
simultaneous use of multiple CPU cores (currently prevented
by the GIL--see :pep:`684`).

Alternatives to subinterpreters include threading, async, and
multiprocessing.  Threading is limited by the GIL and async isn't
the right solution for every problem (nor for every person).
Multiprocessing is likewise valuable in some but not all situations.
Direct IPC (rather than via the multiprocessing module) provides
similar benefits but with the same caveat.

Notably, subinterpreters are not intended as a replacement for any of
the above.  Certainly they overlap in some areas, but the benefits of
subinterpreters include isolation and (potentially) performance.  In
particular, subinterpreters provide a direct route to an alternate
concurrency model (e.g. CSP) which has found success elsewhere and
will appeal to some Python users.  That is the core value that the
``interpreters`` module will provide.

* "stdlib support for multiple interpreters adds extra burden
  on C extension authors"

In the `Interpreter Isolation`_ section below we identify ways in
which isolation in CPython's subinterpreters is incomplete.  Most
notable is extension modules that use C globals to store internal
state.  (:pep:`3121` and :pep:`489` provide a solution to that problem,
followed by some extra APIs that improve efficiency, e.g. :pep:`573`).

Consequently, projects that publish extension modules may face an
increased maintenance burden as their users start using subinterpreters,
where their modules may break.  This situation is limited to modules
that use C globals (or use libraries that use C globals) to store
internal state.  For numpy, the reported-bug rate is one every 6
months. [bug-rate]_

Ultimately this comes down to a question of how often it will be a
problem in practice: how many projects would be affected, how often
their users will be affected, what the additional maintenance burden
will be for projects, and what the overall benefit of subinterpreters
is to offset those costs.  The position of this PEP is that the actual
extra maintenance burden will be small and well below the threshold at
which subinterpreters are worth it.

* "creating a new concurrency API deserves much more thought and
  experimentation, so the new module shouldn't go into the stdlib
  right away, if ever"

Introducing an API for a new concurrency model, like happened with
asyncio, is an extremely large project that requires a lot of careful
consideration.  It is not something that can be done as simply as this
PEP proposes and likely deserves significant time on PyPI to mature.
(See `Nathaniel's post <nathaniel-asyncio_>`_ on python-dev.)

However, this PEP does not propose any new concurrency API.
At most it exposes minimal tools (e.g. subinterpreters, channels)
which may be used to write code that follows patterns associated with
(relatively) new-to-Python `concurrency models <Concurrency_>`_.
Those tools could also be used as the basis for APIs for such
concurrency models.  Again, this PEP does not propose any such API.

* "there is no point to exposing subinterpreters if they still share
  the GIL"
* "the effort to make the GIL per-interpreter is disruptive and risky"

A common misconception is that this PEP also includes a promise that
interpreters will no longer share the GIL.  When that is clarified,
the next question is "what is the point?".  This is already answered
at length in this PEP.  Just to be clear, the value lies in::

   * increase exposure of the existing feature, which helps improve
     the code health of the entire CPython runtime
   * expose the (mostly) isolated execution of interpreters
   * preparation for per-interpreter GIL
   * encourage experimentation

* "data sharing can have a negative impact on cache performance
  in multi-core scenarios"

(See [cache-line-ping-pong]_.)

This shouldn't be a problem for now as we have no immediate plans
to actually share data between interpreters, instead focusing
on copying.


About Subinterpreters
=====================

Concurrency
-----------

Concurrency is a challenging area of software development.  Decades of
research and practice have led to a wide variety of concurrency models,
each with different goals.  Most center on correctness and usability.

One class of concurrency models focuses on isolated threads of
execution that interoperate through some message passing scheme.  A
notable example is Communicating Sequential Processes [CSP]_ (upon
which Go's concurrency is roughly based).  The intended isolation
inherent to CPython's interpreters makes them well-suited
to this approach.

Shared Data
-----------

CPython's interpreters are inherently isolated (with caveats
explained below), in contrast to threads.  So the same
communicate-via-shared-memory approach doesn't work.  Without an
alternative, effective use of concurrency via multiple interpreters
is significantly limited.

The key challenge here is that sharing objects between interpreters
faces complexity due to various constraints on object ownership,
visibility, and mutability.  At a conceptual level it's easier to
reason about concurrency when objects only exist in one interpreter
at a time.  At a technical level, CPython's current memory model
limits how Python *objects* may be shared safely between interpreters;
effectively, objects are bound to the interpreter in which they were
created.  Furthermore, the complexity of *object* sharing increases as
interpreters become more isolated, e.g. after GIL removal (though this
is mitigated somewhat for some "immortal" objects (see :pep:`683`).

Consequently, the mechanism for sharing needs to be carefully considered.
There are a number of valid solutions, several of which may be
appropriate to support in Python's stdlib and C-API.  Any such solution
is likely to share many characteristics with the others.

In the meantime, we propose here a minimal solution
(``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()``), which sets some precedent for how
objects are shared.  More importantly, it facilitates the introduction
of more advanced approaches later and allows them to coexist and cooperate.
In part to demonstrate that, we will provide a basic implementation of
"channels", as a somewhat more advanced sharing solution.

Separate proposals may cover:

* the addition of a public C-API based on the implementation
  ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()``
* the addition of other sharing approaches to the "interpreters" module

The fundamental enabling feature for communication is that most objects
can be converted to some encoding of underlying raw data, which is safe
to be passed between interpreters.  For example, an ``int`` object can
be turned into a C ``long`` value, sent to another interpreter, and
turned back into an ``int`` object there.  As another example,
``None`` may be passed as-is.

Regardless, the effort to determine the best way forward here is mostly
outside the scope of this PEP.  In the meantime, this proposal describes
a basic interim solution using pipes (``os.pipe()``), as well as
providing a dedicated capability ("channels").
See `API For Communication`_ below.

Interpreter Isolation
---------------------

CPython's interpreters are intended to be strictly isolated from each
other.  Each interpreter has its own copy of all modules, classes,
functions, and variables.  The same applies to state in C, including in
extension modules.  The CPython C-API docs explain more. [caveats]_

However, there are ways in which interpreters do share some state.
First of all, some process-global state remains shared:

* file descriptors
* low-level env vars
* process memory (though allocators *are* isolated)
* builtin types (e.g. dict, bytes)
* singletons (e.g. None)
* underlying static module data (e.g. functions) for
  builtin/extension/frozen modules

There are no plans to change this.

Second, some isolation is faulty due to bugs or implementations that did
not take subinterpreters into account.  This includes things like
extension modules that rely on C globals. [cryptography]_  In these
cases bugs should be opened (some are already):

* readline module hook functions (http://bugs.python.org/issue4202)
* memory leaks on re-init (http://bugs.python.org/issue21387)

Finally, some potential isolation is missing due to the current design
of CPython.  Improvements are currently going on to address gaps in this
area:

* extensions using the ``PyGILState_*`` API are somewhat incompatible [gilstate]_

Existing Usage
--------------

Multiple interpreter support has not been a widely used feature.
In fact, there have been only a handful of documented cases of
widespread usage, including
`mod_wsgi <https://github.com/GrahamDumpleton/mod_wsgi>`_,
`OpenStack Ceph <https://github.com/ceph/ceph/pull/14971>`_, and
`JEP <https://github.com/ninia/jep>`_.  On the one hand, these cases
provide confidence that existing multiple interpreter support is
relatively stable.  On the other hand, there isn't much of a sample
size from which to judge the utility of the feature.


Alternate Python Implementations
================================

I've solicited feedback from various Python implementors about support
for subinterpreters.  Each has indicated that they would be able to
support multiple interpreters in the same process (if they choose to)
without a lot of trouble.  Here are the projects I contacted:

* jython  ([jython]_)
* ironpython  (personal correspondence)
* pypy  (personal correspondence)
* micropython  (personal correspondence)


.. _interpreters-list-all:
.. _interpreters-get-current:
.. _interpreters-create:
.. _interpreters-Interpreter:
.. _interpreters-is-shareable:

"interpreters" Module API
=========================

The module provides the following functions::

   list_all() -> [Interpreter]

      Return a list of all existing interpreters.

   get_current() => Interpreter

      Return the currently running interpreter.

   get_main() => Interpreter

      Return the main interpreter.  If the Python implementation
      has no concept of a main interpreter then return None.

   create() -> Interpreter

      Initialize a new Python interpreter and return it.
      It will remain idle until something is run in it and always
      run in its own thread.

   is_shareable(obj) -> bool:

      Return True if the object may be "shared" between interpreters.
      This does not necessarily mean that the actual objects will be
      shared.  Insead, it means that the objects' underlying data will
      be shared in a cross-interpreter way, whether via a proxy, a
      copy, or some other means.


The module also provides the following class::

   class Interpreter(id):

      id -> int:

         The interpreter's ID. (read-only)

      is_running() -> bool:

         Return whether or not the interpreter's "exec()" is currently
         executing code.  Code running in subthreads is ignored.
         Calling this on the current interpreter will always return True.

      close():

         Finalize and destroy the interpreter.

         This may not be called on an already running interpreter.
         Doing so results in a RuntimeError.

      set_main_attrs(iterable_or_mapping, /):
      set_main_attrs(**kwargs):

         Set attributes in the interpreter's __main__ module
         corresponding to the given name-value pairs.  Each value
         must be a "shareable" object and will be converted to a new
         object (e.g. copy, proxy) in whatever way that object's type
         defines.  If an attribute with the same name is already set,
         it will be overwritten.

         This method is helpful for setting up an interpreter before
         calling exec().

      get_main_attr(name, default=None, /):

         Return the value of the corresponding attribute of the
         interpreter's __main__ module.  If the attribute isn't set
         then the default is returned.  If it is set, but the value
         isn't "shareable" then a ValueError is raised.

         This may be used to introspect the __main__ module, as well
         as a very basic mechanism for "returning" one or more results
         from Interpreter.exec().

      exec(source_str, /):

         Run the provided Python source code in the interpreter,
         in its __main__ module.

         This may not be called on an already running interpreter.
         Doing so results in a RuntimeError.

         An "interp.exec()" call is similar to a builtin exec() call
         (or to calling a function that returns None).  Once
         "interp.exec()" completes, the code that called "exec()"
         continues executing (in the original interpreter).  Likewise,
         if there is any uncaught exception then it effectively
         (see below) propagates into the code where ``interp.exec()``
         was called.  Like exec() (and threads), but unlike function
         calls, there is no return value.  If any "return" value from
         the code is needed, send the data out via a pipe (os.pipe())
         or channel or other cross-interpreter communication mechanism.

         The big difference from exec() or functions is that
         "interp.exec()" executes the code in an entirely different
         interpreter, with entirely separate state.  The interpreters
         are completely isolated from each other, so the state of the
         original interpreter (including the code it was executing in
         the current OS thread) does not affect the state of the target
         interpreter (the one that will execute the code).  Likewise,
         the target does not affect the original, nor any of its other
         threads.

         Instead, the state of the original interpreter (for this thread)
         is frozen, and the code it's executing code completely blocks.
         At that point, the target interpreter is given control of the
         OS thread.  Then, when it finishes executing, the original
         interpreter gets control back and continues executing.

         So calling "interp.exec()" will effectively cause the current
         Python thread to completely pause.  Sometimes you won't want
         that pause, in which case you should make the "exec()" call in
         another thread.  To do so, add a function that calls
         "interp.exec()" and then run that function in a normal
         "threading.Thread".

         Note that the interpreter's state is never reset, neither
         before "interp.exec()" executes the code nor after.  Thus the
         interpreter state is preserved between calls to
         "interp.exec()".  This includes "sys.modules", the "builtins"
         module, and the internal state of C extension modules.

         Also note that "interp.exec()" executes in the namespace of the
         "__main__" module, just like scripts, the REPL, "-m", and
         "-c".  Just as the interpreter's state is not ever reset, the
         "__main__" module is never reset.  You can imagine
         concatenating the code from each "interp.exec()" call into one
         long script.  This is the same as how the REPL operates.

         Supported code: source text.

.. XXX Add "InterpreterAlreadyRunningError"?

In addition to the functionality of ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()``,
the module provides a related way to pass data between interpreters:
channels.  See `Channels`_ below.

Uncaught Exceptions
-------------------

Regarding uncaught exceptions in ``Interpreter.exec()``, we noted that
they are "effectively" propagated into the code where ``interp.exec()``
was called.  To prevent leaking exceptions (and tracebacks) between
interpreters, we create a surrogate of the exception and its traceback
(see :class:`traceback.TracebackException`), set it to ``__cause__``
on a new ``interpreters.RunFailedError``, and raise that.

Directly raising (a proxy of) the exception is problematic since it's
harder to distinguish between an error in the ``interp.exec()`` call
and an uncaught exception from the subinterpreter.


Interpreter Restrictions
========================

Every new interpreter created by ``interpreters.create()``
now has specific restrictions on any code it runs.  This includes the
following:

* importing an extension module fails if it does not implement
  multi-phase init
* daemon threads may not be created
* ``os.fork()`` is not allowed (so no ``multiprocessing``)
* ``os.exec*()`` is not allowed
  (but "fork+exec", a la ``subprocess`` is okay)

Note that interpreters created with the existing C-API do not have these
restrictions.  The same is true for the "main" interpreter, so
existing use of Python will not change.

.. XXX Mention the similar restrictions in PEP 684?

We may choose to later loosen some of the above restrictions or provide
a way to enable/disable granular restrictions individually.  Regardless,
requiring multi-phase init from extension modules will always be a
default restriction.


API For Communication
=====================

As discussed in `Shared Data`_ above, multiple interpreter support
is less useful without a mechanism for sharing data (communicating)
between them.  Sharing actual Python objects between interpreters,
however, has enough potential problems that we are avoiding support
for that in this proposal.  Nor, as mentioned earlier, are we adding
anything more than a basic mechanism for communication.

That mechanism is the ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()`` method.
It may be used to set up global variables before ``Interpreter.exec()``
is called.  The name-value pairs passed to ``set_main_attrs()`` are
bound as attributes of the interpreter's ``__main__`` module.
The values must be "shareable".  See `Shareable Types`_ below.

Additional approaches to communicating and sharing objects are enabled
through ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()``.  A shareable object could be
implemented which works like a queue, but with cross-interpreter safety.
In fact, this PEP does include an example of such an approach: channels.

Shareable Types
---------------

An object is "shareable" if its type supports shareable instances.
The type must implement a new internal protocol, which is used to
convert an object to interpreter-independent data and then coverted
back to an object on the other side.  Also see
`is_shareable() <interpreters-is-shareable_>`_ above.

A minimal set of simple, immutable builtin types will be supported
initially, including:

* ``None``
* ``bool``
* ``bytes``
* ``str``
* ``int``
* ``float``

We will also support a small number of complex types initially:

* ``memoryview``, to allow sharing :pep:`3118` buffers
* `channels <Channels_>`_

Further builtin types may be supported later, complex or not.
Limiting the initial shareable types is a practical matter, reducing
the potential complexity of the initial implementation.  There are a
number of strategies we may pursue in the future to expand supported
objects, once we have more experience with interpreter isolation.

In the meantime, a separate proposal will discuss making the internal
protocol (and C-API) used by ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()`` public.
With that protocol, support for other types could be added
by extension modules.

Communicating Through OS Pipes
''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

Even without a dedicated object for communication, users may already
use existing tools.  For example, one basic approach for sending data
between interpreters is to use a pipe (see ``os.pipe()``):

1. interpreter A calls ``os.pipe()`` to get a read/write pair
   of file descriptors (both ``int`` objects)
2. interpreter A calls ``interp.set_main_attrs()``, binding the read FD
   (or embeds it using string formatting)
3. interpreter A calls ``interp.exec()`` on interpreter B
4. interpreter A writes some bytes to the write FD
5. interpreter B reads those bytes

Several of the earlier examples demonstrate this, such as
`Synchronize using an OS pipe`_.

.. _interpreters-create-channel:
.. _interpreters-RecvChannel:
.. _interpreters-SendChannel:

Channels
--------

The ``interpreters`` module will include a dedicated solution for
passing object data between interpreters: channels.  They are included
in the module in part to provide an easier mechanism than using
``os.pipe()`` and in part to demonstrate how libraries may take
advantage of ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()``
and the protocol it uses.

A channel is a simplex FIFO.  It is a basic, opt-in data sharing
mechanism that draws inspiration from pipes, queues, and CSP's
channels. [fifo]_ The main difference from pipes is that channels can
be associated with zero or more interpreters on either end.  Like
queues, which are also many-to-many, channels are buffered (though
they also offer methods with unbuffered semantics).

Channels have two operations: send and receive.  A key characteristic
of those operations is that channels transmit data derived from Python
objects rather than the objects themselves.  When objects are sent,
their data is extracted.  When the "object" is received in the other
interpreter, the data is converted back into an object owned by that
interpreter.

To make this work, the mutable shared state will be managed by the
Python runtime, not by any of the interpreters.  Initially we will
support only one type of objects for shared state: the channels provided
by ``interpreters.create_channel()``.  Channels, in turn, will carefully
manage passing objects between interpreters.

This approach, including keeping the API minimal, helps us avoid further
exposing any underlying complexity to Python users.

The ``interpreters`` module provides the following function related
to channels::

   create_channel() -> (RecvChannel, SendChannel):

      Create a new channel and return (recv, send), the RecvChannel
      and SendChannel corresponding to the ends of the channel.

      Both ends of the channel are supported "shared" objects (i.e.
      may be safely shared by different interpreters.  Thus they
      may be set using "Interpreter.set_main_attrs()".

The module also provides the following channel-related classes::

   class RecvChannel(id):

      The receiving end of a channel.  An interpreter may use this to
      receive objects from another interpreter.  Any type supported by
      Interpreter.set_main_attrs() will be supported here, though at
      first only a few of the simple, immutable builtin types
      will be supported.

      id -> int:

         The channel's unique ID.  The "send" end has the same one.

      recv(*, timeout=None):

         Return the next object from the channel.  If none have been
         sent then wait until the next send (or until the timeout is hit).

         At the least, the object will be equivalent to the sent object.
         That will almost always mean the same type with the same data,
         though it could also be a compatible proxy.  Regardless, it may
         use a copy of that data or actually share the data.  That's up
         to the object's type.

      recv_nowait(default=None):

         Return the next object from the channel.  If none have been
         sent then return the default.  Otherwise, this is the same
         as the "recv()" method.


   class SendChannel(id):

      The sending end of a channel.  An interpreter may use this to
      send objects to another interpreter.  Any type supported by
      Interpreter.set_main_attrs() will be supported here, though
      at first only a few of the simple, immutable builtin types
      will be supported.

      id -> int:

         The channel's unique ID.  The "recv" end has the same one.

      send(obj, *, timeout=None):

         Send the object (i.e. its data) to the "recv" end of the
         channel.  Wait until the object is received.  If the object
         is not shareable then ValueError is raised.

         The builtin memoryview is supported, so sending a buffer
         across involves first wrapping the object in a memoryview
         and then sending that.

      send_nowait(obj):

         Send the object to the "recv" end of the channel.  This
         behaves the same as "send()", except for the waiting part.
         If no interpreter is currently receiving (waiting on the
         other end) then queue the object and return False.  Otherwise
         return True.

Caveats For Shared Objects
--------------------------

Again, Python objects are not shared between interpreters.
However, in some cases data those objects wrap is actually shared
and not just copied.  One example might be :pep:`3118` buffers.

In those cases the object in the original interpreter is kept alive
until the shared data in the other interpreter is no longer used.
Then object destruction can happen like normal in the original
interpreter, along with the previously shared data.


Documentation
=============

The new stdlib docs page for the ``interpreters`` module will include
the following:

* (at the top) a clear note that support for multiple interpreters
  is not required from extension modules
* some explanation about what subinterpreters are
* brief examples of how to use multiple interpreters
  (and communicating between them)
* a summary of the limitations of using multiple interpreters
* (for extension maintainers) a link to the resources for ensuring
  multiple interpreters compatibility
* much of the API information in this PEP

Docs about resources for extension maintainers already exist on the
`Isolating Extension Modules <isolation-howto_>`_ howto page.  Any
extra help will be added there.  For example, it may prove helpful
to discuss strategies for dealing with linked libraries that keep
their own subinterpreter-incompatible global state.

.. _isolation-howto:
   https://docs.python.org/3/howto/isolating-extensions.html

Note that the documentation will play a large part in mitigating any
negative impact that the new ``interpreters`` module might have on
extension module maintainers.

Also, the ``ImportError`` for incompatible extension modules will be
updated to clearly say it is due to missing multiple interpreters
compatibility and that extensions are not required to provide it.  This
will help set user expectations properly.

Alternative Solutions
=====================

One possible alternative to a new module is to add support for interpreters
to ``concurrent.futures``.  There are several reasons why that wouldn't work:

* the obvious place to look for multiple interpreters support
  is an "interpreters" module, much as with "threading", etc.
* ``concurrent.futures`` is all about executing functions
  but currently we don't have a good way to run a function
  from one interpreter in another

Similar reasoning applies for support in the ``multiprocessing`` module.


Open Questions
==============

* will is be too confusing that ``interp.exec()`` runs in the current thread?
* should we add pickling fallbacks right now for ``interp.exec()``, and/or
  ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()`` and ``Interpreter.get_main_attr()``?
* should we support (limited) functions in ``interp.exec()`` right now?
* rename ``Interpreter.close()`` to ``Interpreter.destroy()``?
* drop ``Interpreter.get_main_attr()``, since we have channels?
* should channels be its own PEP?


Deferred Functionality
======================

In the interest of keeping this proposal minimal, the following
functionality has been left out for future consideration.  Note that
this is not a judgement against any of said capability, but rather a
deferment.  That said, each is arguably valid.

\<snipped to fit within post length limits\>


Rejected Ideas
==============

\<snipped to fit within post length limits\>


Implementation
==============

The implementation of the PEP has 4 parts:

* the high-level module described in this PEP (mostly a light wrapper
  around a low-level C extension
* the low-level C extension module
* additions to the internal C-API needed by the low-level module
* secondary fixes/changes in the CPython runtime that facilitate
  the low-level module (among other benefits)

These are at various levels of completion, with more done the lower
you go:

* the high-level module has been, at best, roughly implemented.
  However, fully implementing it will be almost trivial.
* the low-level module is mostly complete.  The bulk of the
  implementation was merged into master in December 2018 as the
  "_xxsubinterpreters" module (for the sake of testing multiple
  interpreters functionality).  Only the exception propagation
  implementation remains to be finished, which will not require
  extensive work.
* all necessary C-API work has been finished
* all anticipated work in the runtime has been finished

The implementation effort for :pep:`554` is being tracked as part of
a larger project aimed at improving multi-core support in CPython.
[multi-core-project]_


References
==========

.. [c-api]
   https://docs.python.org/3/c-api/init.html#sub-interpreter-support

.. [CSP]
   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communicating_sequential_processes
   https://github.com/futurecore/python-csp

.. [fifo]
   https://docs.python.org/3/library/multiprocessing.html#multiprocessing.Pipe
   https://docs.python.org/3/library/multiprocessing.html#multiprocessing.Queue
   https://docs.python.org/3/library/queue.html#module-queue
   http://stackless.readthedocs.io/en/2.7-slp/library/stackless/channels.html
   https://golang.org/doc/effective_go.html#sharing
   http://www.jtolds.com/writing/2016/03/go-channels-are-bad-and-you-should-feel-bad/

.. [caveats]
   https://docs.python.org/3/c-api/init.html#bugs-and-caveats

.. [cryptography]
   https://github.com/pyca/cryptography/issues/2299

.. [gilstate]
   https://bugs.python.org/issue10915
   http://bugs.python.org/issue15751

.. [bug-rate]
   https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-September/047094.html

.. [benefits]
   https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-September/047122.html

.. [reset_globals]
   https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-dev/2017-September/149545.html

.. [async]
   https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-dev/2017-September/149420.html
   https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-dev/2017-September/149585.html

.. [result-object]
   https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-dev/2017-September/149562.html

.. [jython]
   https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-May/045771.html

.. [multi-core-project]
   https://github.com/ericsnowcurrently/multi-core-python

.. [cache-line-ping-pong]
   https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-dev@python.org/message/3HVRFWHDMWPNR367GXBILZ4JJAUQ2STZ/

.. _nathaniel-asyncio:
   https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-dev@python.org/message/TUEAZNZHVJGGLL4OFD32OW6JJDKM6FAS/

* mp-conn
    https://docs.python.org/3/library/multiprocessing.html#connection-objects

* main-thread
    https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2017-September/047144.html
    https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-dev/2017-September/149566.html

* petr-c-ext
    https://mail.python.org/pipermail/import-sig/2016-June/001062.html
    https://mail.python.org/pipermail/python-ideas/2016-April/039748.html

Copyright
=========

This document has been placed in the public domain.

The PEP text does not fit within the post length limits, so I split it up:

The latest text of the PEP (continued)
Deferred Functionality
======================

In the interest of keeping this proposal minimal, the following
functionality has been left out for future consideration.  Note that
this is not a judgement against any of said capability, but rather a
deferment.  That said, each is arguably valid.

Add convenience API
-------------------

There are a number of things I can imagine would smooth out
*hypothetical* rough edges with the new module:

* add something like ``Interpreter.run()`` or ``Interpreter.call()``
  that calls ``interp.exec()`` and falls back to pickle
* fall back to pickle in ``Interpreter.set_main_attrs()``
  and ``Interpreter.get_main_attr()``

These would be easy to do if this proves to be a pain point.

Avoid possible confusion about interpreters running in the current thread
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

One regular point of confusion has been that ``Interpreter.exec()``
executes in the current OS thread, temporarily blocking the current
Python thread.  It may be worth doing something to avoid that confusion.

Some possible solutions for this hypothetical problem:

* by default, run in a new thread?
* add ``Interpreter.exec_in_thread()``?
* add ``Interpreter.exec_in_current_thread()``?

In earlier versions of this PEP the method was ``interp.run()``.
The simple change to ``interp.exec()`` alone will probably reduce
confusion sufficiently, when coupled with educating users via
the docs.  It it turns out to be a real problem, we can pursue
one of the alternatives at that point.

Clarify "running" vs. "has threads"
-----------------------------------

``Interpreter.is_running()`` refers specifically to whether or not
``Interpreter.exec()`` (or similar) is running somewhere.  It does not
say anything about if the interpreter has any subthreads running.  That
information might be helpful.

Some things we could do:

* rename ``Interpreter.is_running()`` to ``Interpreter.is_running_main()``
* add ``Interpreter.has_threads()``, to complement ``Interpreter.is_running()``
* expand to ``Interpreter.is_running(main=True, threads=False)``

None of these are urgent and any could be done later, if desired.

A Dunder Method For Sharing
---------------------------

We could add a special method, like ``__xid__`` to correspond to ``tp_xid``.
At the very least, it would allow Python types to convert their instances
to some other type that implements ``tp_xid``.

The problem is that exposing this capability to Python code presents
a degree of complixity that hasn't been explored yet, nor is there
a compelling case to investigate that complexity.

Interpreter.call()
------------------

It would be convenient to run existing functions in subinterpreters
directly.  ``Interpreter.exec()`` could be adjusted to support this or
a ``call()`` method could be added::

   Interpreter.call(f, *args, **kwargs)

This suffers from the same problem as sharing objects between
interpreters via queues.  The minimal solution (running a source string)
is sufficient for us to get the feature out where it can be explored.

Interpreter.run_in_thread()
---------------------------

This method would make a ``interp.exec()`` call for you in a thread.
Doing this using only ``threading.Thread`` and ``interp.exec()`` is
relatively trivial so we've left it out.

Synchronization Primitives
--------------------------

The ``threading`` module provides a number of synchronization primitives
for coordinating concurrent operations.  This is especially necessary
due to the shared-state nature of threading.  In contrast,
interpreters do not share state.  Data sharing is restricted to the
runtime's shareable objects capability, which does away with the need
for explicit synchronization.  If any sort of opt-in shared state
support is added to CPython's interpreters in the future, that same
effort can introduce synchronization primitives to meet that need.

CSP Library
-----------

A ``csp`` module would not be a large step away from the functionality
provided by this PEP.  However, adding such a module is outside the
minimalist goals of this proposal.

Syntactic Support
-----------------

The ``Go`` language provides a concurrency model based on CSP,
so it's similar to the concurrency model that multiple interpreters
support.  However, ``Go`` also provides syntactic support, as well as
several builtin concurrency primitives, to make concurrency a
first-class feature.  Conceivably, similar syntactic (and builtin)
support could be added to Python using interpreters.  However,
that is *way* outside the scope of this PEP!

Multiprocessing
---------------

The ``multiprocessing`` module could support interpreters in the same
way it supports threads and processes.  In fact, the module's
maintainer, Davin Potts, has indicated this is a reasonable feature
request.  However, it is outside the narrow scope of this PEP.

C-extension opt-in/opt-out
--------------------------

By using the ``PyModuleDef_Slot`` introduced by :pep:`489`, we could
easily add a mechanism by which C-extension modules could opt out of
multiple interpreter support.  Then the import machinery, when operating
in a subinterpreter, would need to check the module for support.
It would raise an ImportError if unsupported.

Alternately we could support opting in to multiple interpreters support.
However, that would probably exclude many more modules (unnecessarily)
than the opt-out approach.  Also, note that :pep:`489` defined that an
extension's use of the PEP's machinery implies multiple interpreters
support.

The scope of adding the ModuleDef slot and fixing up the import
machinery is non-trivial, but could be worth it.  It all depends on
how many extension modules break under subinterpreters.  Given that
there are relatively few cases we know of through mod_wsgi, we can
leave this for later.

Poisoning channels
------------------

CSP has the concept of poisoning a channel.  Once a channel has been
poisoned, any ``send()`` or ``recv()`` call on it would raise a special
exception, effectively ending execution in the interpreter that tried
to use the poisoned channel.

This could be accomplished by adding a ``poison()`` method to both ends
of the channel.  The ``close()`` method can be used in this way
(mostly), but these semantics are relatively specialized and can wait.

Resetting __main__
------------------

As proposed, every call to ``Interpreter.exec()`` will execute in the
namespace of the interpreter's existing ``__main__`` module.  This means
that data persists there between ``interp.exec()`` calls.  Sometimes
this isn't desirable and you want to execute in a fresh ``__main__``.
Also, you don't necessarily want to leak objects there that you aren't
using any more.

Note that the following won't work right because it will clear too much
(e.g. ``__name__`` and the other "__dunder__" attributes::

   interp.exec('globals().clear()')

Possible solutions include:

* a ``create()`` arg to indicate resetting ``__main__`` after each
  ``interp.exec()`` call
* an ``Interpreter.reset_main`` flag to support opting in or out
  after the fact
* an ``Interpreter.reset_main()`` method to opt in when desired
* ``importlib.util.reset_globals()`` [reset_globals]_

Also note that resetting ``__main__`` does nothing about state stored
in other modules.  So any solution would have to be clear about the
scope of what is being reset.  Conceivably we could invent a mechanism
by which any (or every) module could be reset, unlike ``reload()``
which does not clear the module before loading into it.

Regardless, since ``__main__`` is the execution namespace of the
interpreter, resetting it has a much more direct correlation to
interpreters and their dynamic state than does resetting other modules.
So a more generic module reset mechanism may prove unnecessary.

This isn't a critical feature initially.  It can wait until later
if desirable.

Resetting an interpreter's state
--------------------------------

It may be nice to re-use an existing subinterpreter instead of
spinning up a new one.  Since an interpreter has substantially more
state than just the ``__main__`` module, it isn't so easy to put an
interpreter back into a pristine/fresh state.  In fact, there *may*
be parts of the state that cannot be reset from Python code.

A possible solution is to add an ``Interpreter.reset()`` method.  This
would put the interpreter back into the state it was in when newly
created.  If called on a running interpreter it would fail (hence the
main interpreter could never be reset).  This would likely be more
efficient than creating a new interpreter, though that depends on
what optimizations will be made later to interpreter creation.

While this would potentially provide functionality that is not
otherwise available from Python code, it isn't a fundamental
functionality.  So in the spirit of minimalism here, this can wait.
Regardless, I doubt it would be controversial to add it post-PEP.

Copy an existing interpreter's state
------------------------------------

Relatedly, it may be useful to support creating a new interpreter
based on an existing one, e.g. ``Interpreter.copy()``.  This ties
into the idea that a snapshot could be made of an interpreter's memory,
which would make starting up CPython, or creating new interpreters,
faster in general.  The same mechanism could be used for a
hypothetical ``Interpreter.reset()``, as described previously.

Shareable file descriptors and sockets
--------------------------------------

Given that file descriptors and sockets are process-global resources,
making them shareable is a reasonable idea.  They would be a good
candidate for the first effort at expanding the supported shareable
types.  They aren't strictly necessary for the initial API.

Integration with async
----------------------

Per Antoine Pitrou [async]_::

   Has any thought been given to how FIFOs could integrate with async
   code driven by an event loop (e.g. asyncio)?  I think the model of
   executing several asyncio (or Tornado) applications each in their
   own subinterpreter may prove quite interesting to reconcile multi-
   core concurrency with ease of programming.  That would require the
   FIFOs to be able to synchronize on something an event loop can wait
   on (probably a file descriptor?).

The basic functionality of multiple interpreters support does not depend
on async and can be added later.

A possible solution is to provide async implementations of the blocking
channel methods (``recv()``, and ``send()``).

Alternately, "readiness callbacks" could be used to simplify use in
async scenarios.  This would mean adding an optional ``callback``
(kw-only) parameter to the ``recv_nowait()`` and ``send_nowait()``
channel methods.  The callback would be called once the object was sent
or received (respectively).

(Note that making channels buffered makes readiness callbacks less
important.)

Support for iteration
---------------------

Supporting iteration on ``RecvChannel`` (via ``__iter__()`` or
``_next__()``) may be useful.  A trivial implementation would use the
``recv()`` method, similar to how files do iteration.  Since this isn't
a fundamental capability and has a simple analog, adding iteration
support can wait until later.

Channel context managers
------------------------

Context manager support on ``RecvChannel`` and ``SendChannel`` may be
helpful.  The implementation would be simple, wrapping a call to
``close()`` (or maybe ``release()``) like files do.  As with iteration,
this can wait.

Pipes and Queues
----------------

With the proposed object passing mechanism of "os.pipe()", other similar
basic types aren't strictly required to achieve the minimal useful
functionality of multiple interpreters.  Such types include pipes
(like unbuffered channels, but one-to-one) and queues (like channels,
but more generic).  See below in `Rejected Ideas`_ for more information.

Even though these types aren't part of this proposal, they may still
be useful in the context of concurrency.  Adding them later is entirely
reasonable.  The could be trivially implemented as wrappers around
channels.  Alternatively they could be implemented for efficiency at the
same low level as channels.

Return a lock from send()
-------------------------

When sending an object through a channel, you don't have a way of knowing
when the object gets received on the other end.  One way to work around
this is to return a locked ``threading.Lock`` from ``SendChannel.send()``
that unlocks once the object is received.

Alternately, the proposed ``SendChannel.send()`` (blocking) and
``SendChannel.send_nowait()`` provide an explicit distinction that is
less likely to confuse users.

Note that returning a lock would matter for buffered channels
(i.e. queues).  For unbuffered channels it is a non-issue.

Support prioritization in channels
----------------------------------

A simple example is ``queue.PriorityQueue`` in the stdlib.

Support inheriting settings (and more?)
---------------------------------------

Folks might find it useful, when creating a new interpreter, to be
able to indicate that they would like some things "inherited" by the
new interpreter.  The mechanism could be a strict copy or it could be
copy-on-write.  The motivating example is with the warnings module
(e.g. copy the filters).

The feature isn't critical, nor would it be widely useful, so it
can wait until there's interest.  Notably, both suggested solutions
will require significant work, especially when it comes to complex
objects and most especially for mutable containers of mutable
complex objects.

Make exceptions shareable
-------------------------

Exceptions are propagated out of ``run()`` calls, so it isn't a big
leap to make them shareable.  However, as noted elsewhere,
it isn't essential or (particularly common) so we can wait on doing
that.

Make everything shareable through serialization
-----------------------------------------------

We could use pickle (or marshal) to serialize everything and thus
make them shareable.  Doing this is potentially inefficient,
but it may be a matter of convenience in the end.
We can add it later, but trying to remove it later
would be significantly more painful.

Make RunFailedError.__cause__ lazy
----------------------------------

An uncaught exception in a subinterpreter (from ``interp.exec()``) is
copied to the calling interpreter and set as ``__cause__`` on a
``RunFailedError`` which is then raised.  That copying part involves
some sort of deserialization in the calling interpreter, which can be
expensive (e.g. due to imports) yet is not always necessary.

So it may be useful to use an ``ExceptionProxy`` type to wrap the
serialized exception and only deserialize it when needed.  That could
be via ``ExceptionProxy__getattribute__()`` or perhaps through
``RunFailedError.resolve()`` (which would raise the deserialized
exception and set ``RunFailedError.__cause__`` to the exception.

It may also make sense to have ``RunFailedError.__cause__`` be a
descriptor that does the lazy deserialization (and set ``__cause__``)
on the ``RunFailedError`` instance.

Return a value from ``interp.exec()``
-------------------------------------

Currently ``interp.exec()`` always returns None.  One idea is to return
the return value from whatever the subinterpreter ran.  However, for now
it doesn't make sense.  The only thing folks can run is a string of
code (i.e. a script).  This is equivalent to ``PyRun_StringFlags()``,
``exec()``, or a module body.  None of those "return" anything.  We can
revisit this once ``interp.exec()`` supports functions, etc.

Add a shareable synchronization primitive
-----------------------------------------

This would be ``_threading.Lock`` (or something like it) where
interpreters would actually share the underlying mutex.  The main
concern is that locks and isolated interpreters may not mix well
(as learned in Go).

We can add this later if it proves desirable without much trouble.

Propagate SystemExit and KeyboardInterrupt Differently
------------------------------------------------------

The exception types that inherit from ``BaseException`` (aside from
``Exception``) are usually treated specially.  These types are:
``KeyboardInterrupt``, ``SystemExit``, and ``GeneratorExit``.  It may
make sense to treat them specially when it comes to propagation from
``interp.exec()``.  Here are some options::

   * propagate like normal via RunFailedError
   * do not propagate (handle them somehow in the subinterpreter)
   * propagate them directly (avoid RunFailedError)
   * propagate them directly (set RunFailedError as __cause__)

We aren't going to worry about handling them differently.  Threads
already ignore ``SystemExit``, so for now we will follow that pattern.

Add an explicit release() and close() to channel end classes
------------------------------------------------------------

It can be convenient to have an explicit way to close a channel against
further global use.  Likewise it could be useful to have an explicit
way to release one of the channel ends relative to the current
interpreter.  Among other reasons, such a mechanism is useful for
communicating overall state between interpreters without the extra
boilerplate that passing objects through a channel directly would
require.

The challenge is getting automatic release/close right without making
it hard to understand.  This is especially true when dealing with a
non-empty channel.  We should be able to get by without release/close
for now.

Add SendChannel.send_buffer()
-----------------------------

This method would allow no-copy sending of an object through a channel
if it supports the :pep:`3118` buffer protocol (e.g. memoryview).

Support for this is not fundamental to channels and can be added on
later without much disruption.

Auto-run in a thread
--------------------

The PEP proposes a hard separation between subinterpreters and threads:
if you want to run in a thread you must create the thread yourself and
call ``interp.exec()`` in it.  However, it might be convenient if
``interp.exec()`` could do that for you, meaning there would be less
boilerplate.

Furthermore, we anticipate that users will want to run in a thread much
more often than not.  So it would make sense to make this the default
behavior.  We would add a kw-only param "threaded" (default ``True``)
to ``interp.exec()`` to allow the run-in-the-current-thread operation.


Rejected Ideas
==============

Explicit channel association
----------------------------

Interpreters are implicitly associated with channels upon ``recv()`` and
``send()`` calls.  They are de-associated with ``release()`` calls.  The
alternative would be explicit methods.  It would be either
``add_channel()`` and ``remove_channel()`` methods on ``Interpreter``
objects or something similar on channel objects.

In practice, this level of management shouldn't be necessary for users.
So adding more explicit support would only add clutter to the API.

Add an API based on pipes
-------------------------

A pipe would be a simplex FIFO between exactly two interpreters.  For
most use cases this would be sufficient.  It could potentially simplify
the implementation as well.  However, it isn't a big step to supporting
a many-to-many simplex FIFO via channels.  Also, with pipes the API
ends up being slightly more complicated, requiring naming the pipes.

Add an API based on queues
--------------------------

Queues and buffered channels are almost the same thing.  The main
difference is that channels have a stronger relationship with context
(i.e. the associated interpreter).

The name "Channel" was used instead of "Queue" to avoid confusion with
the stdlib ``queue.Queue``.

"enumerate"
-----------

The ``list_all()`` function provides the list of all interpreters.
In the threading module, which partly inspired the proposed API, the
function is called ``enumerate()``.  The name is different here to
avoid confusing Python users that are not already familiar with the
threading API.  For them "enumerate" is rather unclear, whereas
"list_all" is clear.

Alternate solutions to prevent leaking exceptions across interpreters
---------------------------------------------------------------------

In function calls, uncaught exceptions propagate to the calling frame.
The same approach could be taken with ``interp.exec()``.  However, this
would mean that exception objects would leak across the inter-interpreter
boundary.  Likewise, the frames in the traceback would potentially leak.

While that might not be a problem currently, it would be a problem once
interpreters get better isolation relative to memory management (which
is necessary to stop sharing the GIL between interpreters).  We've
resolved the semantics of how the exceptions propagate by raising a
``RunFailedError`` instead, for which ``__cause__`` wraps a safe proxy
for the original exception and traceback.

Rejected possible solutions:

* reproduce the exception and traceback in the original interpreter
  and raise that.
* raise a subclass of RunFailedError that proxies the original
  exception and traceback.
* raise RuntimeError instead of RunFailedError
* convert at the boundary (a la ``subprocess.CalledProcessError``)
  (requires a cross-interpreter representation)
* support customization via ``Interpreter.excepthook``
  (requires a cross-interpreter representation)
* wrap in a proxy at the boundary (including with support for
  something like ``err.raise()`` to propagate the traceback).
* return the exception (or its proxy) from ``interp.exec()`` instead of
  raising it
* return a result object (like ``subprocess`` does) [result-object]_
  (unnecessary complexity?)
* throw the exception away and expect users to deal with unhandled
  exceptions explicitly in the script they pass to ``interp.exec()``
  (they can pass error info out via channels);
  with threads you have to do something similar

Always associate each new interpreter with its own thread
---------------------------------------------------------

As implemented in the C-API, an interpreter is not inherently tied to
any thread.  Furthermore, it will run in any existing thread, whether
created by Python or not.  You only have to activate one of its thread
states (``PyThreadState``) in the thread first.  This means that the
same thread may run more than one interpreter (though obviously
not at the same time).

The proposed module maintains this behavior.  Interpreters are not
tied to threads.  Only calls to ``Interpreter.exec()`` are.  However,
one of the key objectives of this PEP is to provide a more
human-centric concurrency model.  With that in mind, from a conceptual
standpoint the module *might* be easier to understand if each
interpreter were associated with its own thread.

That would mean ``interpreters.create()`` would create a new thread
and ``Interpreter.exec()`` would only execute in that thread (and
nothing else would).  The benefit is that users would not have to
wrap ``Interpreter.exec()`` calls in a new ``threading.Thread``.  Nor
would they be in a position to accidentally pause the current
interpreter (in the current thread) while their interpreter
executes.

The idea is rejected because the benefit is small and the cost is high.
The difference from the capability in the C-API would be potentially
confusing.  The implicit creation of threads is magical.  The early
creation of threads is potentially wasteful.  The inability to run
arbitrary interpreters in an existing thread would prevent some valid
use cases, frustrating users.  Tying interpreters to threads would
require extra runtime modifications.  It would also make the module's
implementation overly complicated.  Finally, it might not even make
the module easier to understand.

Only associate interpreters upon use
------------------------------------

Associate interpreters with channel ends only once ``recv()``,
``send()``, etc. are called.

Doing this is potentially confusing and also can lead to unexpected
races where a channel is auto-closed before it can be used in the
original (creating) interpreter.

Allow multiple simultaneous calls to Interpreter.exec()
-------------------------------------------------------

This would make sense especially if ``Interpreter.exec()`` were to
manage new threads for you (which we've rejected).  Essentially,
each call would run independently, which would be mostly fine
from a narrow technical standpoint, since each interpreter
can have multiple threads.

The problem is that the interpreter has only one ``__main__`` module
and simultaneous ``Interpreter.exec()`` calls would have to sort out
sharing ``__main__`` or we'd have to invent a new mechanism.  Neither
would be simple enough to be worth doing.

Add a "reraise" method to RunFailedError
----------------------------------------

While having ``__cause__`` set on ``RunFailedError`` helps produce a
more useful traceback, it's less helpful when handling the original
error.  To help facilitate this, we could add
``RunFailedError.reraise()``.  This method would enable the following
pattern::

   try:
       try:
           interp.exec(script)
       except RunFailedError as exc:
           exc.reraise()
   except MyException:
       ...

This would be made even simpler if there existed a ``__reraise__``
protocol.

All that said, this is completely unnecessary.  Using ``__cause__``
is good enough::

   try:
       try:
           interp.exec(script)
       except RunFailedError as exc:
           raise exc.__cause__
   except MyException:
       ...

Note that in extreme cases it may require a little extra boilerplate::

   try:
       try:
           interp.exec(script)
       except RunFailedError as exc:
           if exc.__cause__ is not None:
               raise exc.__cause__
           raise  # re-raise
   except MyException:
       ...

I am unhappy with this PEP, but it’s hard to state what bothers me about it. It’s probably a combination of unhappiness with the ergonomics of the proposed interfaces, a lack of focus in the PEP, and problems of presentation. In its current state I find it hard to imagine any steering council accepting it. Is there a way that we can start over without six years of post-history dragging us down?

2 Likes

Is there a way that we can start over without six years of post-history dragging us down?

Thanks for being so clear and direct. I think the best thing would be to cut out all the cruft that’s built up in the PEP and start it over, keeping just the things that matter. I’ll do that ASAP.

I would actually recommend starting with a clean draft from scratch. You might even use a new PEP number (as we did for match/case) so you can refer to the old PEP for e.g. rejected ideas etc.

5 Likes