5 Best Ways to Improve File Reading Performance in Python with mmap

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: When it comes to reading large files in Python, standard file reading functions can be slow and memory-inefficient, leading to significant performance bottlenecks. The mmap module can greatly improve file reading performance by mapping file contents directly into memory, allowing for faster access. Let’s explore how to leverage mmap along with other techniques to enhance file I/O operations in Python.

Method 1: Utilizing mmap for Large File Manipulation

The mmap module in Python provides memory-mapped file support. This allows you to map binary files into a mutable byte array and perform file operations directly in memory, which can be significantly faster than performing I/O operations on disk.

Here’s an example:

import mmap

# Open a file
with open('example.txt', 'r+b') as f:
    # Memory-map the file, size 0 means whole file
    mm = mmap.mmap(f.fileno(), 0)
    # Read content via standard file methods
    # Close the map

Output: the first line of ‘example.txt’ read into memory.

This code snippet opens a file for read and write, creates a memory-mapped object mm that represents the entire file, reads the first line of the file using mm.readline(), and then closes the memory-mapped file. This method is particularly useful when dealing with very large files that do not fit entirely in memory.

Method 2: Reading in Chunks with mmap

Instead of reading the entire file at once, you can use mmap to read in chunks. This can reduce memory usage while still taking advantage of faster memory I/O.

Here’s an example:

import mmap

chunk_size = 1024  # Define the chunk size

# Open the file
with open('large_file.dat', 'r+b') as f:
    mm = mmap.mmap(f.fileno(), 0)
    while True:
        chunk = mm.read(chunk_size)
        if not chunk:
        # Process the chunk

Output: Chunks of ‘large_file.dat’ displayed until the end of the file.

Here, we read ‘large_file.dat’ in chunks defined by chunk_size, allowing for controlled memory usage. After the chunk is read, it can be processed, and the loop continues until reaching the end of the file. This technique is useful for processing files that are too large to handle as a whole.

Method 3: Random Access with mmap

The mmap module can be used for efficient random access to file contents without loading the entire file into memory. This method is useful for files with a structure that allows skipping to specific parts quickly.

Here’s an example:

import mmap

# Open a file
with open('data.db', 'r+b') as f:
    mm = mmap.mmap(f.fileno(), 0)
    # Move to a specific position
    mm.seek(1024)  # Go to the 1025th byte in the file
    # Read data from this position

Output: 128 bytes read from the 1025th byte of ‘data.db’.

This snippet demonstrates how one can quickly move the cursor to a specific byte in a memory-mapped file and read data from that point. This is advantageous when dealing with structured binary data such as databases or media files.

Method 4: Using mmap with File Locking

When working with multiple processes that access the same file, you can use mmap with file locking to prevent race conditions. This ensures data integrity during concurrent access.

Here’s an example:

import mmap
import os
import fcntl

with open('shared_resource.txt', 'r+b') as f:
    mm = mmap.mmap(f.fileno(), 0)
    fcntl.flock(f.fileno(), fcntl.LOCK_EX)
        # Safe read/write operations
        fcntl.flock(f.fileno(), fcntl.LOCK_UN)

Output: First 1024 bytes of ‘shared_resource.txt’ safely accessed.

This example uses the fcntl module to acquire an exclusive lock on the file before performing memory-mapped operations, which protects the critical section from being accessed by multiple processes at the same time. Once done, the lock is released.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Reading a File Using List Comprehension with mmap

You can use a one-liner list comprehension combined with mmap to efficiently read lines from a file, especially when you need to process each line separately.

Here’s an example:

import mmap

with open('log.txt', 'r+b') as f:
    mm = mmap.mmap(f.fileno(), 0)
    lines = [line for line in iter(mm.readline, b"")]

Output: A list named ‘lines’ containing all the lines from ‘log.txt’ read using mmap.

In this code, mm.readline is used within a list comprehension to iterate over every line in the memory-mapped area. The iter() function with a sentinel value of an empty byte string is used to create an iterator that stops at the EOF.


  • Method 1: Direct Memory Mapping. Strengths: Fast access to file data, ideal for reading large files. Weaknesses: Might not be optimal for small files due to the overhead of setting up memory-mapping.
  • Method 2: Chunked Memory Mapping. Strengths: Controlled memory usage, suitable for processing very large files. Weaknesses: Requires logic to handle chunk boundaries accurately.
  • Method 3: Random Access. Strengths: Allows for quick jumps within the file, useful for structured binary files. Weaknesses: Less efficient for sequential file processing.
  • Method 4: Memory Mapping with File Locking. Strengths: Secures data integrity during concurrent file access. Weaknesses: Could lead to performance degradation when locks are frequent or long-lived.
  • Method 5: One-Liner Read with List Comprehension. Strengths: Concise and Pythonic way to read lines. Weaknesses: Might consume more memory for very large files, as all lines are stored in memory.