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What is the slots program in Python?

The slots program in Python refers to the __slots__ class attribute that allows you to specify properties and methods on a class that minimize memory usage. Using slots allows Python classes to have a static definition of properties, reducing the memory footprint and boosting performance.

What problem does slots solve in Python?

By default, Python uses dictionaries to store object properties. This provides dynamic flexibility at the cost of increased memory usage. Each object instance maintains its own dictionary to map property names to values. For classes with many instances, this duplication can add up.

Slots allow you to avoid this per-instance dictionary creation. They provide a static definition of the properties an object can have. Object instances will share the slots definition rather than allocating new dictionaries. This saves memory and allows faster attribute access.

How do you define slots in a Python class?

To define slots on a class, you specify a __slots__ class variable set to a sequence containing the names of the allowed properties. For example:

class MyClass:
    __slots__ = ['name', 'identifier']
    def __init__(self, name, identifier): = name
        self.identifier = identifier

This restricts instances of MyClass to having the properties name and identifier. No other attributes can be set. If you try to assign a new property not defined in __slots__, you will get an AttributeError.

What are some key benefits of using slots?

There are a few main benefits to using slots in Python classes:

  • Reduced memory footprint – Avoiding per-instance dictionaries reduces memory use.
  • Faster attribute access – Looking up attributes in slots is faster than dictionary lookup.
  • Prevention of typos – Limiting attributes prevents invalid property names.
  • Faster object instantiation – Less work is done when creating new instances.
  • Discourage monkey patching – Makes extending classes via new attributes more difficult.

The memory and performance benefits are most noticeable for classes with many instances. The restricted behavior also encourages better program design.

When should you not use slots in Python?

There are a few cases where slots may not be ideal in Python:

  • With single instances – No memory benefit since no sharing occurs.
  • When attributes vary – Slots limit dynamic attribute behavior.
  • With subclasses – Subclasses cannot add attributes not in parent slots.
  • With weak reference support – __slots__ prevent weak references.
  • When memory footprint doesn’t matter – No need to optimize if memory isn’t a bottleneck.

Slots are great for optimizing classes that will be instantiated frequently. But for more dynamic classes that require flexibility, they may be too restrictive.

How do slots work internally in Python?

Internally, when you define __slots__ on a class, Python will create a slots mapping for that class. This is a read-only structure that maps property names strings to integer indices. These indices correspond to virtual addresses pointing to memory locations for retrieving the values.

When you instantiate an object of this class, Python will allocate memory for each slot attribute’s value based on the size needed for that type. It will setup pointers from the object instance to these locations based on the slots mapping.

When you access an attribute on an instance, Python can use the slots mapping to quickly lookup the integer offset and access the value directly without hashing and dictionary lookups.

Are there any limitations to using slots in Python?

There are some limitations to using __slots__ in Python:

  • You can’t add new attributes later – Slots are fixed at definition time.
  • No support for weak references – Prevents garbage collection of objects.
  • Inheriting attributes – Subclasses have independent slots, no sharing.
  • No support for __dict__ or __weakref__ – Special names are excluded.
  • Multiple inheritance is limited – Diamond problem with conflicting slots.

Because of these restrictions, slots are best suited for classes with a fixed, known set of attributes that will not change. You need to carefully consider the tradeoffs when using slots in Python classes.

What is an example of using slots in Python?

Here is an example of a simple Python class that uses slots to optimize memory and attribute access:

class Point:
    __slots__ = ['x', 'y']
    def __init__(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

We can create instances of this class and access attributes x and y efficiently:

>>> p = Point(1, 2)
>>> p.x
>>> p.y

But if we try to assign a new z attribute, we get an error due to the slots restriction:

>>> p.z = 5
AttributeError: 'Point' object has no attribute 'z'  

This simple example demonstrates the memory and performance benefits of using slots while also showing the limitations it imposes.

How do you decide when to use slots in Python classes?

Here are some guidelines for when to use slots in Python:

  • When instances outnumber classes – Reduces memory per instance.
  • With fixed, known attributes – No need for dict flexibility.
  • For performance critical code – Speeds attribute access.
  • When defining data classes – High object count with few attrs.
  • Without subclasses – Limitations with class inheritance.
  • Without weak references – Slots prevent weakref module.

Conversely, avoid slots if you need:

  • Dynamic attributes – Slots restrict add/delete of attrs at runtime.
  • Weak references – Weakref requires a dict property.
  • Multiple inheritance – Issues with diamond inheritance problem.
  • Easy monkeypatching – Discourages ad hoc changes.

Evaluate your specific class needs and instance usage to determine if slots provide benefits. Use judgement to decide when optimization and constraints make sense.

How does slots work with multiple inheritance in Python?

Using slots with multiple inheritance in Python introduces some complexities due to the diamond problem. This refers to ambiguity when two classes inherit from a common base and then a class inherits from both of them.

If each class defines different slots, it is unclear which set of slots the final class should have. Python disallows inheriting conflicting slots definitions to prevent this issue.

A subclass will inherit slots from the first parent class in the base class list. Additional slot definitions from other parents are ignored. This limits flexibility but avoids difficult diamond problem situations.

Can you provide an example of using slots with multiple inheritance in Python?

Here is an example of using slots with multiple inheritance in Python:

class Base:
    __slots__ = ['foo']
class Left(Base):
    __slots__ = ['bar']
class Right(Base):
    __slots__ = ['baz']
class Child(Left, Right):

In this case, Child will inherit the foo slot from Base and the bar slot from Left. It will ignore the baz slot from Right since Left inherits from Base first. So Child will have slots foo and bar.

If we try to assign baz on a Child instance, we get an AttributeError due to the slot conflict:

>>> c = Child() 
>>> = 1
>>> = 2
>>> c.baz = 3
AttributeError: 'Child' object has no attribute 'baz'

This demonstrates the complexities of slots and multiple inheritance. Carefully consider your class hierarchy when using slots with inheritance.

What are some alternatives to using slots in Python?

Some alternatives to using slots in Python include:

  • Normal instance attributes – Simple but uses more memory.
  • __dict__ attribute – Provides dynamic flexibility.
  • Descriptor attributes – Control access to attributes.
  • __getattr__() method – Intercept missing attributes.
  • Property decorator – Defines computed attributes.
  • attrs library – Declarative approach for defining classes.

Depending on your needs, these options may provide more flexibility or be easier to use than slots. The performance and optimization benefits of slots come with restrictions, so weigh the tradeoffs for your use case.

How do slots in Python compare to other languages like C++ or Java?

Slots in Python are similar in purpose to some other language features:

  • C++ references – Enforces fixed memory location and prevents rebinding.
  • Java final fields – Can only be assigned once like C++ const.
  • C# readonly fields – Cannot be modified after construction.

However, Python slots are more flexible than these since they allow assigning to the fixed attributes. But slots provide memory and performance benefits by avoiding dictionary usage similar to those other languages.

The major difference is that slots are opt-in in Python rather than being a core language construct. They are useful for optimization but not required for basic attribute behavior like in other languages.

Are slots implemented efficiently in Python?

Yes, slots in Python are implemented efficiently using a separate data structure from normal dictionaries. The slots mapping is stored directly on the class using a list of name to index mappings.

At the C code level, this slots list is stored effeciently as an array rather than a dict. Instantiating a class simply involves allocating an array for the slots based on their known sizes ahead of time.

Attribute access is efficient also since the slot index mapping can be used for direct access without hashing or key lookups. Overall, slots provide both memory and performance improvements.

Can you provide an example of the memory usage difference when using slots in Python?

Here is a simple example to demonstrate the memory usage difference:

import sys

class NoSlots:
    x = 1
class WithSlots:
    __slots__ = ['x']
    x = 1
no_slots = NoSlots()
with_slots = WithSlots() 

print(sys.getsizeof(no_slots)) # 56
print(sys.getsizeof(with_slots)) # 48

This shows that the class instance using slots requires less memory. The 8 byte difference comes from avoiding the per-instance __dict__ dictionary. This saving adds up for classes with many instances.

We can also inspect the object __dict__ attribute to see the difference:

print(no_slots.__dict__) # {'x': 1} 
print(with_slots.__dict__) # AttributeError: 'WithSlots' object has no attribute '__dict__'

The ability to avoid __dict__ itself saves memory since it is another hash table mapping keys to values.

What are some tips for using slots effectively in Python?

Here are some useful tips for using slots effectively in Python:

  • Use inheritance carefully – Slots and inheritance can be tricky.
  • Validate on class, not instance – Define a __class_getattr__() method.
  • Prefer composition – Contains other objects rather than inherits.
  • Make new-style classes – Inherit from object for best practices.
  • Watch for weakref – Weakrefs require a __dict__.
  • Profile memory usage – Measure impact for your use case.
  • Preallocate when possible – Avoid later growth in slots.

Slots work best when used for new-style classes with fixed attributes that won’t need weak references. Measure performance gains for your specific program needs. And favor composition over complex inheritance when possible.

What versions of Python support using slots?

Slots have been around for a long time in Python. They are supported in Python version 2.2 and up.

The slots functionality was named __slots__ in Python 2.x. For Python 3.x and up, they can also be accessed as __slots__ but the preferred way is the class attribute __slots__ without the underscores.

So you can use slots with modern Python 3, as well as going back to Python 2 if needed. It is a stable language feature that will be supported far into the future.

Are there any changes to slots coming in future Python versions?

No major changes to Python slots are currently planned for future releases. They are a mature stable feature that has remained consistent for many years.

One area of discussion has been allowing some degree of weak referencing support. But this would require a new dict-like slots implementation. There are some potential compromises but no concrete plans yet.

Small enhancements may occur, like allowing slots to work with protocols or other improvements. But the core behavior and syntax of slots will remain the same going forward.

Their simplicity is perceived as a benefit, providing an explicit optimization without major complexity. So expect slots to operate the same for the foreseeable future.


Slots are a great way to optimize Python classes that require fixed attributes and many instances. By avoiding per-instance dictionaries, they can improve memory usage and attribute access speed.

But they also impose restrictions on future extension and weak referencing. Make sure to evaluate the tradeoffs and profile performance when deciding whether to use slots for a particular class.

Used properly, slots allow you to define efficient data classes in Python that can take advantage of internals like direct pointer access. Just beware of complications with inheritance and other language features.

Overall, slots are a powerful tool for optimizing Python classes while avoiding unnecessary dynamic attribute behavior. They tie into Python’s design of providing simple primitives like __slots__ for low-level tuning and efficiency.