Copies and views#
When operating on NumPy arrays, it is possible to access the internal data buffer directly using a view without copying data around. This ensures good performance but can also cause unwanted problems if the user is not aware of how this works. Hence, it is important to know the difference between these two terms and to know which operations return copies and which return views.
The NumPy array is a data structure consisting of two parts:
the contiguous data buffer with the actual data elements and the
metadata that contains information about the data buffer. The metadata
includes data type, strides, and other important information that helps
ndarray easily. See the Internal organization of NumPy arrays
section for a detailed look.
It is possible to access the array differently by just changing certain
metadata like stride and dtype without changing the
data buffer. This creates a new way of looking at the data and these new
arrays are called views. The data buffer remains the same, so any changes made
to a view reflects in the original copy. A view can be forced through the
When a new array is created by duplicating the data buffer as well as the
metadata, it is called a copy. Changes made to the copy
do not reflect on the original array. Making a copy is slower and
memory-consuming but sometimes necessary. A copy can be forced by using
Views are created when elements can be addressed with offsets and strides in the original array. Hence, basic indexing always creates views. For example:
>>> x = np.arange(10) >>> x array([0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]) >>> y = x[1:3] # creates a view >>> y array([1, 2]) >>> x[1:3] = [10, 11] >>> x array([ 0, 10, 11, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]) >>> y array([10, 11])
y gets changed when
x is changed because it is a view.
Advanced indexing, on the other hand, always creates copies. For example:
>>> x = np.arange(9).reshape(3, 3) >>> x array([[0, 1, 2], [3, 4, 5], [6, 7, 8]]) >>> y = x[[1, 2]] >>> y array([[3, 4, 5], [6, 7, 8]]) >>> y.base is None True
y is a copy, as signified by the
attribute. We can also confirm this by assigning new values to
which in turn will not affect
y at all:
>>> x[[1, 2]] = [[10, 11, 12], [13, 14, 15]] >>> x array([[ 0, 1, 2], [10, 11, 12], [13, 14, 15]]) >>> y array([[3, 4, 5], [6, 7, 8]])
It must be noted here that during the assignment of
x[[1, 2]] no view
or copy is created as the assignment happens in-place.
numpy.reshape function creates a view where possible or a copy
otherwise. In most cases, the strides can be modified to reshape the
array with a view. However, in some cases where the array becomes
non-contiguous (perhaps after a
the reshaping cannot be done by modifying strides and requires a copy.
In these cases, we can raise an error by assigning the new shape to the
shape attribute of the array. For example:
>>> x = np.ones((2, 3)) >>> y = x.T # makes the array non-contiguous >>> y array([[1., 1.], [1., 1.], [1., 1.]]) >>> z = y.view() >>> z.shape = 6 Traceback (most recent call last): ... AttributeError: Incompatible shape for in-place modification. Use `.reshape()` to make a copy with the desired shape.
Taking the example of another operation,
ravel returns a contiguous
flattened view of the array wherever possible. On the other hand,
ndarray.flatten always returns a flattened copy of the array.
However, to guarantee a view in most cases,
x.reshape(-1) may be preferable.
How to tell if the array is a view or a copy#
base attribute of the ndarray makes it easy
to tell if an array is a view or a copy. The base attribute of a view returns
the original array while it returns
None for a copy.
>>> x = np.arange(9) >>> x array([0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]) >>> y = x.reshape(3, 3) >>> y array([[0, 1, 2], [3, 4, 5], [6, 7, 8]]) >>> y.base # .reshape() creates a view array([0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]) >>> z = y[[2, 1]] >>> z array([[6, 7, 8], [3, 4, 5]]) >>> z.base is None # advanced indexing creates a copy True
Note that the
base attribute should not be used to determine
if an ndarray object is new; only if it is a view or a copy
of another ndarray.