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The numexpr package supplies routines for the fast evaluation of array expressions elementwise by using a vector-based virtual machine. It's comparable to scipy.weave.blitz (in Weave), but doesn't require a separate compile step of C or C++ code.


The project is hosted here.

To use it as a standalone package, you can grab it from the Subversion repository at, and do the usual python install. You will need NumPy installed.


The main routine to be concerned with is numexpr.evaluate. It acts like this:

>>> from numexpr import evaluate
>>> a = arange(10)
>>> b = arange(0,20,2)
>>> evaluate("a+b")
array([ 0,  3,  6,  9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27])

The full signature of evaluate is evaluate(ex, local_dict=None, global_dict=None, **kwargs). ex is a string forming an expression, like "2*a+3*b". The values for a and b will by default be taken from the calling function's frame (through the use of sys._getframe()). Alternatively, they can be specified using the local_dict or global_dict` arguments, or passed as keyword arguments.

Expressions are cached, so reuse is fast. Arrays or scalars are allowed for the variables, which must be of type int, float64 (double), or complex128 (double,double). The arrays must all be the same size.

How it works

The string passed to evaluate is compiled into an object representing the expression and types of the arrays used by the function numexpr.

The expression is first compiled using Python's compile function (this means that the expressions have to be valid Python expressions). From this, the variable names can be taken. The expression is then evaluated using instances of a special object that keep track of what is being done to them, and which builds up the parse tree of the expression.

This parse tree is then compiled to a bytecode program, which describes how to perform the operation elementwise. The virtual machine uses "vector registers": each register is many elements wide (by default, the first pass uses 128 elements). The key to numexpr's speed is handling chunks of elements at a time.

There are two extremes to evaluating an expression elementwise. You can do each operation as arrays, returning temporary arrays. This is what you do when you use NumPy: 2*a+3*b uses three temporary arrays as large as a or b. This strategy wastes memory (a problem if your arrays are large), and also is not a good use of cache memory: for large arrays, the results of 2*a and 3*b won't be in cache when you do the add.

The other extreme is to loop over each element, as in

for i in xrange(len(a)):
    c[i] = 2*a[i] + 3*b[i]

This doesn't consume extra memory, and is good for the cache, but, if the expression is not compiled to machine code, you will have a big case statement (or a bunch of if's) inside the loop, which adds a large overhead for each element, and will hurt the branch-prediction used on the CPU.

numexpr uses a in-between approach. Arrays are handled as chunks (the first pass uses 128 elements) at a time, using a register machine. As Python code, it looks something like this:

for i in xrange(0, len(a), 128):
    r0 = a[i:i+128]
    r1 = b[i:i+128]
    multiply(r0, 2, r2)
    multiply(r1, 3, r3)
    add(r2, r3, r2)
    c[i:i+128] = r2

(remember that the 3-arg form stores the result in the third argument, instead of allocating a new array). This achieves a good balance between cache and branch-prediction. And the virtual machine is written entirely in C, which makes it faster than the Python above.

There is some more information and history at


Numexpr was initially written by DavidCooke, and extended to more types by TimHochberg.

See also

SciPy: SciPyPackages/NumExpr (last edited 2015-10-24 17:48:24 by anonymous)