You are viewing archived documentation from the old Numba documentation site. The current documentation is located at https://numba.readthedocs.io.

Notes on Numba Runtime

The Numba Runtime (NRT) provides the language runtime to the nopython mode Python subset. NRT is a standalone C library with a Python binding. This allows NPM runtime feature to be used without the GIL. Currently, the only language feature implemented in NRT is memory management.

Memory Management

NRT implements memory management for NPM code. It uses atomic reference count for threadsafe, deterministic memory management. NRT maintains a separate MemInfo structure for storing information about each allocation.

Cooperating with CPython

For NRT to cooperate with CPython, the NRT python binding provides adaptors for converting python objects that export a memory region. When such an object is used as an argument to a NPM function, a new MemInfo is created and it acquires a reference to the Python object. When a NPM value is returned to the Python interpreter, the associated MemInfo (if any) is checked. If the MemInfo references a Python object, the underlying Python object is released and returned instead. Otherwise, the MemInfo is wrapped in a Python object and returned. Additional process maybe required depending on the type.

The current implementation supports Numpy array and any buffer-exporting types.

Compiler-side Cooperation

NRT reference counting requires the compiler to emit incref/decref operations according to the usage. When the reference count drops to zero, the compiler must call the destructor routine in NRT.


The compiler is allowed to emit incref/decref operations naively. It relies on an optimization pass that to remove the redundant reference count operations.

The optimization pass runs on block level to avoid control flow analysis. It depends on LLVM function optimization pass to simplify the control flow, stack-to-register, and simplify instructions. It works by matching and removing incref and decref pairs within each block.


Since the refcount optimization pass requires LLVM function optimization pass, the pass works on the LLVM IR as text. The optimized IR is then materialized again as a new LLVM in-memory bitcode object.

Debugging Leaks

To debug reference leaks in NRT MemInfo, each MemInfo python object has a .refcount attribute for inspection. To get the MemInfo from a ndarray allocated by NRT, use the .base attribute.

To debug memory leaks in NRT, the numba.runtime.rtsys defines .get_allocation_stats(). It returns a namedtuple containing the number of allocation and deallocation since the start of the program. Checking that the allocation and deallocation counters are matching is the simplest way to know if the NRT is leaking.

Debugging Leaks in C

The start of numba/runtime/nrt.h has these lines:

/* Debugging facilities - enabled at compile-time */
/* #undef NDEBUG */
#if 0
#   define NRT_Debug(X) X
#   define NRT_Debug(X) if (0) { X; }

Undefining NDEBUG (uncomment the #undef NDEBUG line) enables the assertion check in NRT.

Enabling the NRT_Debug (replace #if 0 with #if 1) turns on debug print inside NRT.

Recursion Support

During the compilation of a pair of mutually recursive functions, one of the functions will contain unresolved symbol references since the compiler handles one function at a time. The memory for the unresolved symbols is allocated and initialized to the address of the unresolved symbol abort function (nrt_unresolved_abort) just before the machine code is generated by LLVM. These symbols are tracked and resolved as new functions are compiled. If a bug prevents the resolution of these symbols, the abort function will be called, raising a RuntimeError exception.

The unresolved symbol abort function is defined in the NRT with a zero-argument signature. The caller is safe to call it with arbitrary number of arguments. Therefore, it is safe to be used inplace of the intended callee.

Using the NRT from C code

Externally compiled C code should use the NRT_api_functions struct as a function table to access the NRT API. The struct is defined in numba/core/runtime/nrt_external.h. Users can use the utility function numba.extending.include_path() to determine the include directory for Numba provided C headers.


#include <stdlib.h>

typedef struct MemInfo NRT_MemInfo;

typedef void NRT_managed_dtor(void *data);

typedef struct {
    /* Methods to create MemInfos.

    MemInfos are like smart pointers for objects that are managed by the Numba.

    /* Allocate memory

    *nbytes* is the number of bytes to be allocated

    Returning a new reference.
    NRT_MemInfo* (*allocate)(size_t nbytes);

    /* Convert externally allocated memory into a MemInfo.

    *data* is the memory pointer
    *dtor* is the deallocator of the memory
    NRT_MemInfo* (*manage_memory)(void *data, NRT_managed_dtor dtor);

    /* Acquire a reference */
    void (*acquire)(NRT_MemInfo* mi);

    /* Release a reference */
    void (*release)(NRT_MemInfo* mi);

    /* Get MemInfo data pointer */
    void* (*get_data)(NRT_MemInfo* mi);

} NRT_api_functions;

#endif /* NUMBA_NRT_EXTERNAL_H_ */

Inside Numba compiled code, the numba.core.unsafe.nrt.NRT_get_api() intrinsic can be used to obtain a pointer to the NRT_api_functions.

Here is an example that uses the nrt_external.h:

#include <stdio.h>
#include "numba/core/runtime/nrt_external.h"

void my_dtor(void *ptr) {

NRT_MemInfo* my_allocate(NRT_api_functions *nrt) {
    /* heap allocate some memory */
    void * data = malloc(10);
    /* wrap the allocated memory; yield a new reference */
    NRT_MemInfo *mi = nrt->manage_memory(data, my_dtor);
    /* acquire reference */
    /* release reference */
    return mi;

Future Plan

The plan for NRT is to make a standalone shared library that can be linked to Numba compiled code, including use within the Python interpreter and without the Python interpreter. To make that work, we will be doing some refactoring:

  • numba NPM code references statically compiled code in “helperlib.c”. Those functions should be moved to NRT.