When NumPy is linked against multithreaded implementations of BLAS (like MKL or OpenBLAS), the computationally intensive parts of a program run on multiple cores (sometimes all cores) automatically.

This is bad when:

  • you are sharing resources
  • you know of a better way to parallelize your program.

In these cases it is reasonable to restrict the number of threads used by MKL/OpenBLAS to 1, and parallelize your program manually.

My solution below involves loading the libraries at runtime and calling the corresponding C functions from Python.


  1. Are there any best/better practices in solving this problem?
  2. What are the pitfalls of my approach?
  3. Please comment on code quality in general.

Example of use

import numpy

# this uses however many threads MKL/OpenBLAS uses
result = numpy.linalg.svd(matrix) 

# this uses one thread
with single_threaded(numpy):
    result = numpy.linalg.svd(matrix)


  1. Imports and definitions

    import subprocess
    import re
    import sys
    import os
    import glob
    import warnings
    import ctypes
    MKL = 'mkl'
    OPENBLAS = 'openblas'
  2. Class BLAS, abstracting a BLAS library with methods to get and set the number of threads:

    class BLAS:
        def __init__(self, cdll, kind):
            if kind not in (MKL, OPENBLAS):
                raise ValueError(f'kind must be {MKL} or {OPENBLAS}, got {kind} instead.')
            self.kind = kind
            self.cdll = cdll
            if kind == MKL:
                self.get_n_threads = cdll.MKL_Get_Max_Threads
                self.set_n_threads = cdll.MKL_Set_Num_Threads
                self.get_n_threads = cdll.openblas_get_num_threads
                self.set_n_threads = cdll.openblas_set_num_threads
  3. Function get_blas, returning a BLAS object given an imported NumPy module.

    def get_blas(numpy_module):
        LDD = 'ldd'
        LDD_PATTERN = r'^\t(?P<lib>.*{}.*) => (?P<path>.*) \(0x.*$'
        NUMPY_PATH = os.path.join(numpy_module.__path__[0], 'core')
        MULTIARRAY_PATH = glob.glob(os.path.join(NUMPY_PATH, 'multiarray.*so'))[0]
        ldd_result = subprocess.run(
            args=[LDD, MULTIARRAY_PATH], 
        output = ldd_result.stdout
        if MKL in output:
            kind = MKL
        elif OPENBLAS in output:
            kind = OPENBLAS
            return None
        pattern = LDD_PATTERN.format(kind)
        match = re.search(pattern, output, flags=re.MULTILINE)
        if match:
            lib = ctypes.CDLL(match.groupdict()['path'])
            return BLAS(lib, kind)
            return None
  4. Context manager single_threaded, that takes an imported NumPy module, sets number of threads to 1 on enter, resets to previous value on exit.

    class single_threaded:
        def __init__(self, numpy_module):
            self.blas = get_blas(numpy_module)
        def __enter__(self):
            if self.blas is not None:
                self.old_n_threads = self.blas.get_n_threads()
                    'No MKL/OpenBLAS found, assuming NumPy is single-threaded.'
        def __exit__(self, *args):
            if self.blas is not None:
                if self.blas.get_n_threads() != self.old_n_threads:
                    message = (
                        f'Failed to reset {self.blas.kind} '
                        f'to {self.old_n_threads} threads (previous value).'
                    raise RuntimeError(message)
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Could you add the definitions for MKL and OPENBLAS, please? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2018 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ To comment on my recent edit (changing "multiarray*.so" to "multiarray.*so" in line 7 of get_blas): this was done to avoid collision with multiarray_tests.architecture_info.so which is sometimes present in numpy/core. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 1, 2018 at 17:35

1 Answer 1


What are the pitfalls of my approach?

Calling the functions setting the maximum number of threads to use change a global state inside the respective libraries which makes the decorator not thread safe. When you use the numpy functions from several different threads, the threads not using your decorator might also get a single threaded implementation called.

AFAIK there is no good way to solve this. OpenBLAS FAQ even states that you should disable threads in OpenBLAS if your application uses threads itself.


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