Note: this document does not have a proper introduction as to how to understand the basics. We should write some. If you happen to be here and you’re missing context, feel free to pester us on IRC.

Problem description

The JIT is very good at making sure some objects are never allocated if they don’t escape from the trace. Such objects are called virtuals. However, if we’re dealing with frames, virtuals are often not good enough. Frames can escape and they can also be allocated already at the moment we enter the JIT. In such cases we need some extra object that can still be optimized away, despite existing on the heap.


We introduce virtualizables. They’re objects that exist on the heap, but their fields are not always in sync with whatever happens in the assembler. One example is that virtualizable fields can store virtual objects without forcing them. This is very useful for frames. Declaring an object to be virtualizable works like this:

class Frame(object):
   _virtualizable_ = ['locals[*]', 'stackdepth']

And we use them in JitDriver like this:

jitdriver = JitDriver(greens=[], reds=['frame'], virtualizables=['frame'])

This declaration means that stackdepth is a virtualizable field, while locals is a virtualizable array (a list stored on a virtualizable). There are various rules about using virtualizables, especially using virtualizable arrays that can be very confusing. Those will usually end up with a compile-time error (as opposed to strange behavior). The rules are:

  • A virtualizable array must be a fixed-size list. After it is initialized (e.g. in Frame.__init__) you cannot resize it at all. You cannot assign a different list to the field, or even pass around the list. You can only access frame.array[index] directly.

  • Each array access must be with a known positive index that cannot raise an IndexError. Using index = jit.hint(index, promote=True) might be useful to get a constant-number access. This is only safe if the index is actually constant or changing rarely within the context of the user’s code.

  • If you initialize a new virtualizable in the JIT, it has to be done like this (for example if we’re in Frame.__init__):

    self = hint(self, access_directly=True, fresh_virtualizable=True)

    that way you can populate the fields directly.

  • If you use virtualizable outside of the JIT – it’s very expensive and sometimes aborts tracing. Consider it carefully as to how do it only for debugging purposes and not every time (e.g. sys._getframe call).

  • If you have something equivalent of a Python generator, where the virtualizable survives for longer, you want to force it before returning. It’s better to do it that way than by an external call some time later. It’s done using jit.hint(frame, force_virtualizable=True)

  • Your interpreter should have a local variable similar to frame above. It must not be modified as long as it runs its jit_merge_point loop, and in the loop it must be passed directly to the jit_merge_point() and can_enter_jit() calls. The JIT generator is known to produce buggy code if you fetch the virtualizable from somewhere every iteration, instead of reusing the same unmodified local variable.