Working with Python arrays

Python has a builtin array module supporting dynamic 1-dimensional arrays of primitive types. It is possible to access the underlying C array of a Python array from within Cython. At the same time they are ordinary Python objects which can be stored in lists and serialized between processes when using multiprocessing .

Compared to the manual approach with malloc() and free() , this gives the safe and automatic memory management of Python, and compared to a Numpy array there is no need to install a dependency, as the array module is built into both Python and Cython.

Safe usage with memory views

from cpython cimport array
import array
cdef array.array a = array.array('i', [1, 2, 3])
cdef int[:] ca = a

NB: the import brings the regular Python array object into the namespace while the cimport adds functions accessible from Cython.

A Python array is constructed with a type signature and sequence of initial values. For the possible type signatures, refer to the Python documentation for the array module .

Notice that when a Python array is assigned to a variable typed as memory view, there will be a slight overhead to construct the memory view. However, from that point on the variable can be passed to other functions without overhead, so long as it is typed:

from cpython cimport array
import array
cdef array.array a = array.array('i', [1, 2, 3])
cdef int[:] ca = a
cdef int overhead(object a):
    cdef int[:] ca = a
    return ca[0]
cdef int no_overhead(int[:] ca):
    return ca[0]
print(overhead(a))  # new memory view will be constructed, overhead
print(no_overhead(ca))  # ca is already a memory view, so no overhead

Zero-overhead, unsafe access to raw C pointer

To avoid any overhead and to be able to pass a C pointer to other functions, it is possible to access the underlying contiguous array as a pointer. There is no type or bounds checking, so be careful to use the right type and signedness.

from cpython cimport array
import array
cdef array.array a = array.array('i', [1, 2, 3])
# access underlying pointer:
from libc.string cimport memset
memset(, 0, len(a) * sizeof(int))

Note that any length-changing operation on the array object may invalidate the pointer.

Cloning, extending arrays

To avoid having to use the array constructor from the Python module, it is possible to create a new array with the same type as a template, and preallocate a given number of elements. The array is initialized to zero when requested.

from cpython cimport array
import array
cdef array.array int_array_template = array.array('i', [])
cdef array.array newarray
# create an array with 3 elements with same type as template
newarray = array.clone(int_array_template, 3, zero=False)

An array can also be extended and resized; this avoids repeated memory reallocation which would occur if elements would be appended or removed one by one.

from cpython cimport array
import array
cdef array.array a = array.array('i', [1, 2, 3])
cdef array.array b = array.array('i', [4, 5, 6])
# extend a with b, resize as needed
array.extend(a, b)
# resize a, leaving just original three elements
array.resize(a, len(a) - len(b))

API reference

Data fields

data.as_longlongs  # requires Python >=3
data.as_ulonglongs  # requires Python >=3

Direct access to the underlying contiguous C array, with given type; e.g., .


The following functions are available to Cython from the array module:

int resize(array self, Py_ssize_t n) except -1

Fast resize / realloc. Not suitable for repeated, small increments; resizes underlying array to exactly the requested amount.

int resize_smart(array self, Py_ssize_t n) except -1

Efficient for small increments; uses growth pattern that delivers amortized linear-time appends.

cdef inline array clone(array template, Py_ssize_t length, bint zero)

Fast creation of a new array, given a template array. Type will be same as template . If zero is True , new array will be initialized with zeroes.

cdef inline array copy(array self)

Make a copy of an array.

cdef inline int extend_buffer(array self, char* stuff, Py_ssize_t n) except -1

Efficient appending of new data of same type (e.g. of same array type) n : number of elements (not number of bytes!)

cdef inline int extend(array self, array other) except -1

Extend array with data from another array; types must match.

cdef inline void zero(array self)

Set all elements of array to zero.