The Nose Profiling Rabbit Hole

Today I got the itch to try to speed up one of our slowest tests in the OpenStack Nova project. Clocking in at 12 seconds, this one test is a major pain-point in a suite that is run on every check-in.

To figure out why it was so slow, I decided to use nose’s buillt-in profiling plugin which, according to the man page, is invoked with --with-profile. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of some serious pain:

$ nosetests --with-profile nova/tests/
nosetests: error: no such option: --with-profile

So, apparently nose (which I suspected was using optparse), was not parsing the profile option correctly. Looking through the nose code, I could see where it added the option for the profile plugin.

My next step was to start tossing in print statements into the the nose code to see how far it was getting in loading the module.

ASIDE: debugging by modifying site-packages is a dangerous game; but if you have to do it, I highly recommend you attach a grep’able expression to each line so you can go back later and remove the lines. Something like:

print "got here => ", plugin  # RCH

So, after some carefully placed prints and raises, I finally traced the problem to the profile plugin’s is_available() function which, oddly, was returning False.

This is particularly strange since the availability is determined by trying to import hotshot (a Python profiler) and pstats (a profile statistics helper), and both of these are part of the standard library. Looking more carefully, I noticed that the import was swallowing ImportError exceptions, so I decided to add a print statement:

# nose/plugins/
    import hotshot
    from hotshot import stats
except ImportError as e:
    print e
    hotshot, stats = None, None

Running this once more, I hit the root of the problem:

$ nosetests --with-profile nova/tests/
No module named profile; please install the python-profiler package

Apparently, the pstats module was missing. Alarmingly, this means that Ubuntu isn’t shipping with the full Python standard-library. To fix this I ran:

sudo apt-get install python-profiler

Of course, not having the complete Python standard library is broken behavior, so there better be a good reason for this. I tracked down the relevant issues in the Python issue-tracker and the Debian issue-tracker

The TL;DR is: the pstats license includes some language that is incompatible with Ubuntu and, since the company that originally wrote the software is long-since defunct, having been absorbed into Disney, there is no way to get the license updated. Essentially pstats is stuck in license purgatory, available for install by request, but not part of main packages. AFAIK, this is the only Python standard-library module like this.

Anyway, after getting that sorted out, I was able to successfully run the nose-profiler.

Just one problem: it immediately raised an AssertionError. Turns out, hotshot has a bug relating to how it deals with stack-frames when exceptions are raised. Worse, hotshot is no longer maintained; in fact, it was removed from Python 3000 entirely. So, getting this fixed is not only difficult, it’s ultimately moot.

So, to summarize:

  1. Ubuntu does not include the pstats module from the Python standard-library. You need to apt-get python-profiler to fetch it.
  2. nose silently fails if hotshot or pstats isn’t present, and then throws a completely unhelpful error regarding its options parsing.
  3. pstats uses a bogus license that’s more-or-less impossible to change because the people who created it are long gone.
  4. nose uses a deprecated profiler, hotshot, that has a major bug in it that’s not likely to be fixed.

Given the above, looks like I’ll probably hand-roll a cProfile harness and just be done with it.

Posted on 14 June 2011.
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