gc.garbage is your friend -- Object cycles in Python

You probably never think of this when writing code, but Python relies on a garbage collector to clean up (most) objects. Rightly so. Most of the time, ignoring the GC is the right thing to do - “it just works”.

The “it just works” approach also extends to object cycles - where you put obj1 into obj2 and obj2 into obj1. Now I’ve already linked to the gc docs and the title gives it away as well: this breaks down if you have a del method in one of the objects! This is spelled out quite clearly in the __del__ docs as well as in the gc doc.

So, when you have such a situation, gc.garbage will become your new friend. To use it, you don’t need to do anything! Just look at it!

By default, gc.garbage will be the list of all objects the gc couldn’t clean up that also happen to have a __del__ method. So this tells you the object that prevented the standard gc behaviour (which is: just zap everything).

Unfortunately, this is often not enough to debug the issue at hand. To also see all the objects that weren’t collected without a __del__ method - which usually are these that somehow hold your object-with-__del__, do this in your wrapper code:

[your code]

logger.debug('gc garbage: %r', gc.garbage)
for o in gc.garbage:
    for r in gc.get_referrers(o):
        logger.debug('ref for %r: %r', o, r)

(I assume that you already have a wrapper. If you need this, you most likely already use a wrapper for profiling or other one-time initialization or shutdown code.)

Note that gc.garbage istself also holds references to the objects in question, and therefore keeps them alive. Therefore, you’ll see gc.garbage itself as a reference to your objects in the debug output. Ignore it. (It looks like a standard list.)

Now that you see every object that wasn’t collected, you’ll also see the object that holds your special object with the __del__ method.

Good luck unwinding your object cycle!