Pythran stories

Basic Value Range Analysis

Not every story begins with an issue, but this one does. And with a quite old one! #1059 dates back to October, 2018 :-) At that time, I was trying to efficiently compile some kernels for a scikit-image PR.

_integ function from scikit-image

This is the body of the _integ function, from the _hessian_det_appx.pyx file in scikit-image. The original body is written in cython, with a few annotations:

# cython: wraparound=False

cdef inline Py_ssize_t _clip(Py_ssize_t x, Py_ssize_t low, Py_ssize_t high) nogil:
    if(x > high):
        return high
    if(x < low):
        return low
    return x

cdef inline cnp.double_t _integ(cnp.double_t[:, ::1] img, Py_ssize_t r, Py_ssize_t c, Py_ssize_t rl, Py_ssize_t cl) nogil:

    r = _clip(r, 0, img.shape[0] - 1)
    c = _clip(c, 0, img.shape[1] - 1)

    r2 = _clip(r + rl, 0, img.shape[0] - 1)
    c2 = _clip(c + cl, 0, img.shape[1] - 1)

    cdef cnp.double_t ans = img[r, c] + img[r2, c2] - img[r, c2] - img[r2, c]

    if (ans < 0):
        return 0
    return ans

The translation to python, and thus to pythran, would be:

#pythran export _integ(float64[::], int, int, int, int)
import numpy as np
def _clip(x, low, high):
    assert 0 <= low <= high
    if x > high:
        return high
    if x < low:
        return low
    return x

def _integ(img, r, c, rl, cl):
    r = _clip(r, 0, img.shape[0] - 1)
    c = _clip(c, 0, img.shape[1] - 1)

    r2 = _clip(r + rl, 0, img.shape[0] - 1)
    c2 = _clip(c + cl, 0, img.shape[1] - 1)

    ans = img[r, c] + img[r2, c2] - img[r, c2] - img[r2, c]
    return max(0, ans)

Very little changes here: the type annotations disappear, as Pythran infers them from the top-level function and its pythran export line. All Pythran functions are nogil by default (this is a strong requirement).

The wraparound=False comment also get removed, and an assert got added. That's the core of this post: range value analysis and its use to detect wraparound. Basically, Pythran supports wraparound by default to match Python's indexing behavior. But to avoid the test cost, it also tries hard to compute the possible value range for each expression in the AST.

In the case of _integ, it would be great if Pythran could prove that, once clipped, r, c, r2 and c2 are all positive, that way no check would be needed. However, to know that, we need to know that low >= 0. This property always hold at the call site, but doing a call-site specific analysis would be too much, so a gentle assert is helpful here.

Note that it's still valid Python, and Pythran can enable or disable asserts using -DNDEBUG or -UNDEBUG, so there's no extra cost for an assert.

Thanks to the assert, and to PR #1522 Pythran can compute that _clip always returns a positive value, thus deducing that no wraparound is involved. Note that each indexing expression is handled independently, unlike the global wraparound=False decorator.

Basic Implementation

Pythran range analysis is relatively simple: it does not support symbolic bounds and only manipulates intervals. It is interprocedural given it computes the range of the output, but without any assumption on the range of the arguments, and the interprocedural analysis is not recursive. It has some built-in knowledge about the value range of functions like len and range, which proves to be useful for practical cases.

Let's illustrate that analysis through an example:

def foo(a):
    assert a > 0
    b = c = 10
    while a > 0:
        a -= 1
        b += 1
    if b == 9:
    if b == 10:
    if b == 11:
    return a, b, c

It's a control flow analysis, so it follows the control flow starting from the function entry point. It first meets an assert, so we register that 1 <= a <= inf (remember, we only use intervals). Then, there's an assignment of constant value, so we have:

1 <= a <= inf
10 <= b <= 10
10 <= c <= 10``

Then comes a while statement. A while usually has two successors: its body, and the next statement. In that case we evaluate the condition and see that it always holds, because we have 1 <= a, so we first perform a first round of the body, getting, through the two accumulation (let's drop c for the sake of clarity):

0 <= a <= inf
11 <= b <=11

Then we're back to the test. The condition no longer always hold, so we need to make a decision! The idea here is to perform a widening, so we record current state, and perform another round, getting -1 <= a <= inf; 12 <= b <= 12. Through the comparison of the two states, we can see the evolution of a (it shrinks towards -inf) and b (it grows toward +inf). This maybe not super accurate, but it's a correct overestimate. So we decide that right before the test, we have:

-inf <= a <= inf
11 <= b <= inf

It's safe to apply the condition at the entry point too, so let's constrain our intervals once more to get the constraints in the body:

1 <= a <= inf
11 <= b <= inf

We're back to the successors of the while. It's an if! Let's first check that the condition may hold… And it doesn't! Let's skip it then, and go further. The next if is also never reached, so it's a skip again, and the final if may be true (but we're not sure if it always is, remember that the intervals are an over-estimation). So we need to visit both the true branch and the false branch (i.e., in our case, the next statement). And merge the results.

As it turns out, there's no change in the if body, and the return statement only consumes the equations without modifying them.

Running this code through pythran -P, which optimizes the code then prints the python code back, gives:

def foo(a):
    a_ = a
    assert (a_ > 0)
    b = 10
    while (a_ > 0):
        a_ -= 1
        b += 1
    if (b == 11):
    return (a_, b, 10)

The two first prints have been removed, because they were guarded by conditions that never hold.

Programming Nits

Using a naive control-flow based approach has some advantages. For instance, in the following code:

def foo(a):
    if a > 12:
        b = 1
        b = 2
    if a > 1:
        b = 2
    return b

Because the analysis explores the control flow graph in a depth-first manner, when visiting the children of if a > 12, it finds if a > 1 and knows for sure that the condition holds, thus ending up with b == 2 upon the return. Then when visiting the else branch, it records b == 2 and also ends up with b == 2 upon the return.

In the end, pythran -P on the above snippets yields:

def foo(a):
    return 2

Let's be honest, this algorithm is super greedy, and if we find a sequence of if statements, it has an exponential complexity (and this happens a soon as we unroll a loop with a condition in its body). In that case (4 threaded ifs, as of now) we fall back to a less accurate but faster algorithm, that performs a tree transversal instead of a control-flow graph transversal. This approach performs an union of the states after each if, which leads to -inf <= a <= inf; 1 <= b <= 2 after the first if in the example above.


Use assert statements! Pythran can extract precious information from them, and there's no runtime cost unless you ask so ;-)