Garbage Collection in Python: A Guide for Developers

Garbage collection is crucial for managing memory in computer languages. Python features an integrated garbage collector for memory management and is a dynamic, high-level language. The Python garbage collection concept will be thoroughly explained in this blog post along with examples and developer tips.

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Garbage collection is crucial for managing memory in computer languages. Python features an integrated garbage collector for memory management and is a dynamic, high-level language. The Python garbage collection concept will be thoroughly explained in this blog post along with examples and developer tips. No matter how experienced you are with Python programming, writing reliable and effective code requires a thorough grasp of garbage collection.

What is Garbage Collection in Python?

Garbage collection, an automatic memory management technique, is used by programming languages to deallocate memory that is no longer required by the program. The garbage collector in Python locates and releases memory occupied by objects that can no longer be accessed or referenced by the program’s code.
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How to Use Garbage Collector In Python:

Python’s main garbage collection method is a reference counting approach. Each object in Python has a reference count, which shows how many other objects are referencing it. There are no longer any references to an object when its reference count approaches zero, enabling safe deallocation.

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The Role of the Garbage Collector:

Python’s Garbage Collector plays a major role when reference counting alone is insufficient. It locates and removes cyclic references when several items relate to one another but cannot be accessed from the main software. The garbage collector employs a cycle detection method to find these cyclic references and release the memory that these objects were consuming.

Types of Objects Handled by the Garbage Collector:

The garbage collector in Python manages the memory for a range of objects, including simple data types like strings and integers as well as more complex objects like lists, dictionaries, and user-defined classes. It maintains track of the reference counts and relationships between them to evaluate the reachability of these objects.

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Python’s Garbage Collection Algorithms:

The Python garbage collector combines reference counting and cycle detection methods to ensure efficient memory management. The garbage collector employs the following two primary algorithms: 

a. Reference Counting: As was already explained, Python’s primary memory management strategy is reference counting. When the number of references to an object becomes zero, deallocation takes place immediately. However, reference counting alone is insufficient to handle cyclic references.

b. Cycle Detection: The garbage collector employs cycle detection methods, such as the Mark and Sweep algorithm, to identify and eliminate cyclic references. It marks any objects that can be accessed from the main application as it progresses through the object graph, then it scans the remaining objects and deallocates any unmarked ones. Learn more at Python Web Development Course

Example of Garbage Collection in Python:

Let’s take a practical snipped code to illustrate garbage collection in python example:

def create_circular_reference():

    x = []

    y = []




In the above code snippet, we create a circular reference between two lists, x and y, by appending each other to themselves. When this function is called, the reference counts of x and y will never reach zero, even if they are no longer reachable from the main program. The garbage collector identifies this cyclic reference and frees up the memory occupied by x and y.

Controlling Garbage Collection in Python:

Python includes a module called gc that enables programmers to regulate and alter the behaviour of the garbage collector. The gc module has a number of practical methods and functions, such as:

a. gc.enable(): Enables automatic garbage collection.

b. gc.disable(): Disables automatic garbage collection.

c. gc.collect(): Manually triggers garbage collection.

d. gc.get_count(): Returns a tuple containing the number of objects tracked by the garbage collector.

e. gc.set_threshold(): Sets the garbage collection threshold, which determines when garbage collection is triggered.
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Best Practices for Garbage Collection in Python:

To write efficient and memory-friendly Python code, consider the following best practices:

a. Avoid creating unnecessary objects: Each object created in Python consumes memory. Whenever possible, reuse existing objects to reduce the need to create new ones.

b. Use context managers and with statements: Memory leaks are less likely since context managers make sure resources are correctly released.

c. Be cautious with cyclic references: cyclic references should be avoided whenever possible to increase memory efficiency, even when the garbage collector can manage them.

d. Utilize the gc module judiciously: Despite the fact that Python’s garbage collector is effective, it should only ever be manually controlled when absolutely necessary. Most of the time, follow the standard procedure.

Memory Management in Python:

Python’s memory management system seeks to be transparent and automatic for programmers. The garbage collector, which eliminates the burden of manual memory deallocation, allows developers to focus on writing code without worrying about memory leaks or explicit memory management.

In addition to garbage collection, Python includes memory management techniques including memory pooling and avoiding memory fragmentation. Memory pooling involves reusing memory blocks to lessen the overhead of allocating and deallocating small objects. This approach improves performance by lowering the quantity of system calls necessary for memory allocation.

Python also uses techniques to avoid memory fragmentation, which happens when memory gradually splits into smaller, non-contiguous chunks. Fragmentation can result in ineffective memory use and poor performance. By organising memory in a way that maximises available space, Python’s memory management system, which includes the garbage collector, attempts to minimise fragmentation issues.

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Garbage Collection Strategies in Python:

While reference counting and cycle detection are the primary strategies employed by Python’s garbage collector, there are additional techniques used to optimize garbage collection:

a. Generational Garbage Collection: Python’s garbage collector implements a generational garbage collection approach. This technique separates objects into numerous generations based on their age. Since they are considered to be “younger” and were produced more recently, younger things are more frequently collected. When an item is promoted to a higher generation and goes through several garbage collection cycles, the frequency of collection decreases. This approach improves the efficiency of garbage collection by targeting objects that are more likely to become garbage.

b. Incremental Garbage Collection: Python’s garbage collector also supports incremental garbage collection, which spreads the collection process across multiple iterations. Instead of performing a full garbage collection cycle at once, the collector incrementally collects garbage during program execution, pausing briefly to reclaim memory. This approach reduces the impact of garbage collection on program performance by distributing the work over time.

c. Reference Graph Traversal: Python’s garbage collector uses reference graph traversal algorithms to find cyclic references and gather things that are inaccessible from the main program. These algorithms move across the object graph by following references to other objects, starting with known roots (such global variables or function call frames). Memory is freed by the garbage collector, which tags objects that are within reach and goes through the unmarked ones.

Impact on Performance:

The Python garbage collection seeks to strike a balance between efficient memory management and program performance. Automatic garbage pickup adds some expenditures but also provides convenience. There may be a slight performance effect when a program needs occasionally pause as the garbage collector releases memory.

The performance impact of Python garbage collection is minimal for the vast majority of applications. The garbage collector in Python is regularly updated and substantially optimised to improve memory management and reduce delays. Actually, the slight performance penalty is outweighed by the benefits of automatic memory management over manual memory management and the elimination of memory leaks.

Garbage Collection in Other Python Implementations:

It is worth noting that different implementations of Python may have variations in their garbage collection mechanisms. For example, CPython, the reference implementation, uses the reference counting approach supplemented by cycle detection. On the other hand, alternative implementations like PyPy or Jython may employ different garbage collection strategies, such as just-in-time (JIT) compilation and tracing.

These variations in garbage collection strategies can lead to differences in performance characteristics and memory management behavior across different Python implementations. It’s essential to consider these differences when targeting specific Python implementations for your applications.
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Common Pitfalls and Troubleshooting:

While Python’s garbage collector handles memory management automatically, there are still some common pitfalls and issues that developers may encounter:

a. Memory Leaks: Even though Python’s garbage collection attempts to prevent memory leaks, keeping object references around longer than necessary increases the likelihood that memory leaks may occur accidentally. When an item is no longer needed, make sure you properly release or remove it to avoid memory leaks.

b. Large Objects and Memory Consumption: Garbage collection may impact performance and memory use more noticeably when dealing with large items. The consumption of memory must be monitored carefully, and if necessary, data structures or algorithms may need to be optimised.

c. Performance Bottlenecks: The garbage collector may become a performance bottleneck under certain conditions, particularly when working with real-time or severely latency-sensitive applications. If you encounter performance issues, you may need to analyze the garbage collection behavior, tune the garbage collector settings, or consider alternative memory management strategies.

d. Understanding the gc Module: Python’s gc module offers a number of ways to manage and observe the actions of the garbage collector. Understanding the gc module’s options and how to use them effectively are crucial for troubleshooting or fine-tuning garbage collection.

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 Garbage Collection Across Generations

The collection of a generation contains both the products of that generation and all of its descendants. Generation 2 garbage collection is sometimes referred to as full garbage collection because all elements (all objects on the managed heap) of all generations are returned.

The trash collector keeps track of everything in memory. In the initial generation of garbage collectors, a new object is created. If trash collection is conducted on a generation and an item survives, Python moves it into an older generation.

Attempting to add an item to a reference counter results in the creation of a reference cycle, also referred to as a cyclical reference. Due to its cyclical behavior, a reference counter could never hit 0 and so never destroy an object. As a result, in situations like this, we employ the universal trash collector. It works and releases the RAM that has been consumed. The ordinary library’s gc module includes a Generational Garbage Collector.

Python uses both the reference counting and the generational garbage collector techniques for memory management. You’ll better comprehend the need for a generational waste collector after seeing an illustration.

Our Python software is unable to access the instance after it is removed. Python, on the other hand, did not delete the instance from memory. The instance’s reference count is not zero since it contains a reference to itself.

A reference cycle is the term for this type of problem, and reference counting won’t help you solve it. The standard library’s gc module gives connectivity to the generational garbage collector.

Thanks to GC, the programmer can cease manually allocating memory. This helps avoid several mistakes:

• Dangling pointers, which occur when a pointer is dereferenced after a memory space has been released but still contains pointers pointing to it. At that point, the memory might have been used in another way, with unknown results.

• When a piece of software tries to release memory that has already been released and maybe reassigned, it causes double free difficulties.

• Some memory leaks, which can lead to memory depletion when a software fails to release memory held by objects that have become unreachable.

The implementation of garbage collection in Python using generational and automated reference counting was then examined. Even though Python manages most of the challenging aspects of memory management, understanding what’s being performed behind the scenes is still useful. With the knowledge you’ve gained from reading this article, you should be able to avoid reference cycles in Python and know where to seek if you need more control over the language’s garbage collector.

Automatic garbage disposal and memory management

Memory management and automatic trash disposal Because to automatic memory management, programmers have no more require manually manage memory. Instead, this was handled by the runtime.

There are many approaches to implement memory management that is automatic. The common ones employ reference counting. The runtime uses reference counting to keep track of all references to an object. An object can be removed if it has zero references, which prevents the computer code from using it.

Programmers can gain a lot from automated memory management. Programming can be completed more quickly without taking into account low-level memory details. It can also aid in preventing expensive memory leaks or hazardous dangling pointers. Automatic memory management, however, could be pricey.

 Your program will require more processing power and memory to keep track of all of its references. A “stop-the-world” trash collection technique is also used by many programming languages that provide autonomous memory management, in which all activity stops while the garbage collector finds and removes the items that need to be collected.

Given the advancements in computer processing brought about by Moore’s law and the larger RAM sizes in contemporary systems, the benefits of autonomous memory management often outweigh the disadvantages. Thus, automatic memory management is used by the bulk of modern computer languages, such as Golang, Java and Python.

Some languages still offer manual memory management for lengthy applications where performance counts. C++ is a nice illustration of this. the programming language Objective-C, used by iOS and macOS, can additionally offer manual memory management. Rust employs manual memory management for more contemporary languages.

Now that we have improved knowledge of memory administration and garbage collection overall, let’s go over Python garbage collection in further detail.

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To free up memory, Python eliminates objects that are not anymore in use by the program. Python’s garbage collection mechanism allows it to free up memory blocks that are no longer needed. The Python Garbage Collector (GC) is triggered and launched while the program is being executed if the reference count falls to zero. When an object gets a new name or is included to a container, such a tuple or dictionary, the associated reference count goes up. Similar to this, the reference count of an object decreases when it is eliminated, its reference is removed, or it is reassigned.

Cycles’ Automatic Garbage Collection

Garbage collection is used to free memory when a component no longer needs to be required. The useless item is destroyed by this system, and its memory location is then utilised for new objects. This can be compared to the computer recycling scheme.

Python’s trash collection system is automated. It can get rid of objects that are no longer needed thanks to the deallocation algorithm. Python offers two options for removing unwanted objects from memory.

Because locating reference cycles requires computing labor, garbage collection must be a scheduled operation. On the basis of a fixed amount of object allocations and deallocations, Python organizes garbage collection. When the total of the allocations and deallocations rises above a predetermined level, the garbage collector is started. By importing the gc module and invoking the garbage collection thresholds command, one can determine the garbage collection threshold for fresh objects (commonly referred to as generation 0 objects in Python): Get the current collection by loading gc and importing gc.


 Garbage collection limits: (700, 10, 10)

In this case, the system’s baseline threshold is 700. This means that when the ratio of allocations to deallocations rises beyond 700, the automatic garbage collector will start working. Therefore, whenever there is a component of your code that releases large blocks of memory, manual garbage collection should be carried out.

Why do we require it? The fundamental purpose of Python’s garbage collection is to reduce memory leaks. A trash collector also ensures memory security. This is achieved using a garbage collector, which hides the deeper issues of memory utilization, raw pointers (memory locations), and de-allocation.

A garbage collector is similar to an operating system’s garbage manager. It maintains track of memory allocations, releases, and unused memory. Python has garbage collection, so developers do not have to worry about destroying objects to free up memory when they are no longer needed.

Thus, for memory safety and memory clearing, we need a Python method called garbage collection that executes concurrently with a program.

To understand more about the many methods Python implements garbage collection, see the sections that follow.

Manual Garbage Collection

Invoking the garbage collector manually while a program is running can be a good approach to cope with memory usage resulting from reference cycles.

For automatic trash collection, time-based and event-based approaches are used.

Time-based garbage collection

Calling the garbage collector is a straightforward time-based trash collection method. Time-based garbage collection, which is quite basic, uses the gc after a specific length of time.

Event-based garbage collection

The garbage collector arrives when an event-based waste collection occurs.  For example, when a user exits the program or it goes into an inactive state. When an event (such as the program being closed or being inactive for a predetermined amount of time) takes place, event-based garbage collection invokes the gc.collect() function.

When Should Manual Garbage Collection Be Done?

We recognize that the Python interpreter records references to objects employed by a program. Prior to version 1.6, the Python interpreter handled memory exclusively using the reference counting approach. While the quantity of references becomes zero, the Python interpreter eliminates memory immediately. With the exception of reference cycles in the program, this traditional reference counting approach is quite efficient. A reference cycle happens when multiple objects are references to another object, and the reference counter never goes to zero.

Forced Garbage Collection

Garbage Collection Under Duress Python regularly and automatically cleans up objects that are suitable for garbage collection because they are no longer referenced. However, there are specific situations where you may want to request immediate waste collection. Use the gc. collect() function from the gc module to accomplish this. Turning Off Garbage Collection

Disabling Garbage Collection

With that caution in mind, there are several circumstances in which you would want to oversee the garbage collection procedure. Keep in mind that Python’s primary garbage collection method, reference counting, cannot be turned off. You can only change the generational garbage collector in the gc module’s behavior when it comes to garbage collection.

The garbage collector in Python is activated by default and automatically launches on a regular basis to remove objects that are no longer being referenced and are therefore subject to trash collection. But occasionally, you might wish to stop the waste collector from working altogether. The gc module’s gc.disable() function can be used to accomplish this.

Utilizing the popular Python web framework Django, Instagram’s web-based applications are created. On one compute instance, it manages multiple versions of its online application. These instances are run using the master-child technique, which permits the child processes to share space with the master.

The Instagram development team discovered that the shared memory would abruptly deteriorate shortly after a child process formed. Further inquiry led them to the conclusion that the garbage collector was at fault.

The Instagram team adjusted all generational parameters to 0 to disable the trash collector module. This enhancement has resulted in a 10% increase in the efficiency of their online apps.

Although this scenario is appealing, before adopting the same course, make sure you’re in a situation that is similar to it. Instagram is a web-based service with a huge user base. To them, it makes sense to engage in some abnormal conduct in order to enhance the functionality of their online applications. The majority of developers are satisfied with Python’s garbage collection technique’s default approach.

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Interacting with Python Garbage Collector

A built-in mechanism known as the Python garbage collector periodically deletes variables that are no longer referenced with the aim of freeing up memory and preventing memory leaks. The Python gc module exposes a variety of methods for dealing with the garbage collector, which is usually done automatically.

  1. Activating and deactivating the garbage collector:

You can enable or disable the garbage collector using the collector’s gc, based on your needs. garbage enable() and gc. disable() routines.        

  • Forcing garbage collection: 

Use the gc. collect() function to manually start a garbage collection. When you want to force garbage collection right away rather than wait for it to happen automatically, this can be helpful.

  • Examine garbage collector settings:

The garbage collector’s current settings can be determined using the gc.get_threshold() function, which returns a tuple comprising the current thresholds for decades 0, 1, and 2.

  • Setting garbage collector thresholds:

The gc.set_threshold() function can be used to modify the garbage collection thresholds. Using this, you have the option to manually change the specifications for particular generations, which may have an impact on how frequently trash is collected.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and limitations of Python’s garbage collection.


  1. Automated memory management: 

To prevent memory leaks and the risk of memory depletion, the Python garbage collector is continually destroying objects that are no longer referenced.

  • Memory management made easier: 

The garbage collector makes Python a higher-level and more useful programming for developers by relieving them of the need of manually handling memory so they can focus on writing code.

  • Efficient memory cleanup: 

The generational garbage collection method is how the garbage collector quickly locates and collects transient objects while minimizing performance consequences.

  • Customizable settings: 

Developers can customize the garbage collection operation in accordance with their specific application requirements thanks to the garbage collector’s capabilities for changing its properties, such as changing the thresholds to accommodate various generations.

Because the garbage collector is working in the background, the developer does not need to be worried regarding the memory de-allocation of worthless objects. We are shielded from issues like the dangling pointer vulnerability by the garbage collection. Because Python uses garbage collection, memory loss has been significantly reduced. Memory safety is also provided by garbage collection in Python.

Disadvantages: Performance issues are the biggest drawback of using a garbage collection. Python’s trash collection is a separate background process, therefore it adds overhead and has an adverse effect on performance.

·  Impact on performance: 

Despite the quick implementation of the garbage collector for clearing unnecessary memory, there may be considerable CPU consumption and execution time overhead, especially when interacting with a large number of objects.

• Memory management difficulty: 

Though the Python garbage collector improves memory management, understanding concepts such as object lifetimes, object references, and garbage collection strategies may still be required in order to use it successfully.

·  Limited control over memory management: 

The autonomy of the garbage collector gives developers a restricted grasp over the specific timing and behavior of storage cleanup in many apps where precise oversight over memory handling is necessary.

· Bug potential:

The garbage collector is designed to be dependable and efficient, but it is not immune to faults or unusual behavior, which might result in memory leaks or inadequate object cleanup.


Garbage collection is a key component of Python’s memory management system, which relieves developers of the burden of manually allocating memory and allows them to focus on writing code. The Python garbage collector efficiently maintains memory and releases objects that are no longer in use by combining reference counting and cycle detection techniques. enrol in 3RI Technologies‘ Python Programming course right now!!

By understanding the underlying principles of Python’s garbage collection and following recommended practises, developers may write memory-efficient, dependable code. Applications written in Python will operate more quickly and efficiently if object creation is done carefully, cyclic references are avoided, and the gc module is utilised as required.

Python’s garbage collection method is a great option for a variety of applications since it successfully balances performance with automatic memory management. Python has a built-in garbage collector and can manage memory in the background, freeing developers from having to worry about low-level memory issues and allowing them to concentrate on creating reliable and effective programs.       

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