[Sugar-devel] Killing activities when memory gets short

NoiseEHC NoiseEHC at freemail.hu
Tue Aug 10 18:12:49 EDT 2010

> We used to do that, the problem is that we don't control our platform
> as Google controls Android and you need to make sure that resources
> that need to be specific of each child process aren't shared (dbus and
> X connections, etc).
> I'm personally more interested in reducing the amount of resources we
> need to start activities (which is quite insane right now), but
> sharing more of those resources sounds like a good idea to me.

Since I spent quite a bit of time analyzing the Python runtime here is 
my conclusion, maybe it will make wasting all that time less painful.

First, most of the memory consumed by an activity is the process heap. 
While the Python runtime and native libraries are shared among 
processes, the heap is not. Even if you fork processes it will not work 
because reference counting will dirty the shared pages and my instinct 
tells me that just loading a Python source file will reference almost 
all the shared pages because they are mostly used to store already 
loaded modules. What I finally did not do is to actually check the 
hypothesis that most of the heap is filled by strings which are the 
identifiers in the loaded Python modules. My goal was to somehow make 
identifiers constants and just readonly-mmap them into the process 
(replace the pathetic .pyc loading mechanism). Note that my plan was 
just a little subset of the .jar -> .dex converter.

Second, Python has a special memory manager which works with buckets so 
there are separate heaps for different object sizes. Somehow this 
special memory manager is turned off in release mode and it uses the 
standard C heap for some reason. Either it is a bug or just it turned 
out to be faster (more work was put into glibc) I do not know, but 
handling the linked free list can dirty shared pages as well or I am 
just mistaken...

Third, the fact that Python is a dynamic language does not help any 
prefetching or memory sharing. I am not too convicted either that this 
dynamic nature is used at all in the Sugar codebase but you know I 
cannot program in Python and frankly I do not feel the need to learn 
another language. Just now, at my age of 34, I finally gave up and 
learned LISP (more specifically clojure) and I hope that it will be the 
last programming language I will have to learn (other than assembly 
languages of course)... :) Now this point is interesting because if you 
thought that the Dalvik VM could run the Sugar codebase via Jython then 
it just will not work. The Dalvik VM just cannot load .jar files and 
Jython just generates them on the fly because of the dynamic nature of 

Fourth, moving Python (theoretically) to a GC environment (instead of 
reference counting) also would not work if the GC is compacting because 
it would also dirty the shared pages. So a mark and sweep nonmoving GC 
with separately stored "visited" bits is the only feasible solution. Now 
guess what the Dalvik VM does?
For more info (45 min + questions):

So *my* conclusion is that solving this sharing problem is *very* hard. 
I am not sure that simply translating all activities from Python to Java 
would take more time.

Another interesting thing is that meantime the unladen-swallow project 
progresses (just more slowly than planned). Their plan is to make it the 
default Python runtime so if it will happen (I cannot comment on that) 
then the Python VM will use even more memory (though it will be faster) 
so Sugar will be even less interesting on the myriad of low spec cheap 
ARM tablets which will flood the market soon.

I think that is all I can say about this subject so I just finish it here.

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