FileDict – bug-fixes and updates

May 31, 2009

In my previous post I introduced FileDict. I did my best to get it right the first time, but as we all know, this is impossible for any non-trivial piece of code.
I want to thank everyone for their comments and remarks. It’s been very helpful.

The Unreliable Pickle

A special thanks goes to the mysterious commenter “R”, for pointing out that pickling identical objects may produce different strings (!), which are therefor inadequate to be used as keys. And my FileDict indeed suffered from this bug, as this example shows:

>>> key = (1, u'foo')
>>> d[(1, u'foo')] = 4
>>> d[(1, u'foo')]
>>> d[key]
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
  File "", line 64, in __getitem__
    raise KeyError(key)
KeyError: (1, u'foo')

And if that’s not bad enough:

>>> d[key] = 5
>>> list(d.items())
[['a', 3], [(1, 2), 3], [(1, u'foo'), 4], [(1, u'foo'), 5]]

I’ve rewritten the entire storing mechanism to poll only on hash and compare keys after unpickling. This may be a bit slower, but I don’t (and shouldn’t) expect many colliding hashes anyway.
Bug is fixed.


Under popular demand, I’m now inheriting from DictMixin. It’s made my code a bit shorter, and was not at all painful.

Copy and Close

I no longer close the database on __del__, and instead I rely on the garbage collector. It seems to close the database on time, and it allows to one copy the dictionary (which, of course, will all be always have the same keys, but doesn’t have to have the same behavior or attributes).

New Source Code

Is available here

FileDict – a Persistent Dictionary in Python

May 24, 2009

Python’s dictionary is possibly the most useful construct in the language.  And I argue that for some purposes, mapping it to a file (in real-time) can be even more useful.

*** Update ***

There’s a newer and better version of FileDict, containing bugfixes and corrections, many of which are due to comments on this page.
You can read about it (with explanations) in


The dictionary resides in memory, and so has three main “faults”:

  1. It only lasts as long as your program does.
  2. It occupies memory that might be useful for other, more commonly accessed, data.
  3. It is limited to how much memory your machine has.

The first can be solved by pickling and unpickling the dictionary, but will not survive an unexpected shutdown (even putting the pickling in a try-finally block won’t protect it against all errors).


FileDict is a dictionary interface I wrote, that saves and loads its data from a file using keys. Current version uses Sqlite3 to provide consistency, and as a by-product, acidity.

The result is a dictionary which at all-times exists as a file, has virtually no size limit, and can be accessed by several processes concurrently.

It is meant as a quick-and-simple general-purpose solution. It is rarely the best solution, but it is usually good enough.

Performance obviously cannot compare to the builtin dictionary, but it is reasonable and of low complexity (refer to sqlite for more details on that).


FileDict can be used for many purposes, including:

  • Saving important data in a convinient manner
  • Managing large amounts of data in dictionary form, without the mess of implementing paging or other complex solutions
  • Communication between processes (sqlite supports multiple connections and implements ACID)


$ python
>>> import filedict
>>> d=filedict.FileDict(filename="example.dict")
>>> d['bla'] = 10
>>> d[(2,1)] = ['hello', (1,2) ]
-- exit --
$ python
>>> import filedict
>>> d=filedict.FileDict(filename="example.dict")
>>> print d['bla']
>>> print d.items()
[['bla', 10], [(2, 1), ['hello', (1, 2)]]]
>>> print dict(d)
{'bla': 10, (2, 1): ['hello', (1, 2)]}
>>> d=filedict.FileDict(filename="try.dict")
>>> with d.batch:  # using .batch suspend commits, making a batch of changes quicker
>>>    for i in range(100000):
>>>            d[i] = i**2
(takes about 8 seconds on my comp)
>>> print len(d)
>>> del d[103]
>>> print len(d)


  • All data (keys and values) must be pickle-able
  • Keys must be hashable (perhaps this should be removed by hashing the pickled key)
  • Keys and values are stored as a copy, so changing them after assignment will not update the dictionary.

Source Code

Is availible in here in here


Additions in the future may include:

  • An LRU-cache for fetching entries
  • A storage strategy different than Sqlite

Other suggestions?