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Things that can affect performance

HDF5 performance, such as speed, memory usage, and storage efficiency can be affected by how an HDF5 file is accessed or stored. Listed below are performance issues that can an occur and how to avoid them.

Excessive Memory Usage

Open Objects

Open objects use up memory. The amount of memory used may be substantial when many objects are left open. You should:

    • Delay opening of files and datasets as close to their actual use as is feasible.
    • Close files and datasets as soon as their use is completed.
    • If writing to a portion of a dataset in a loop, be sure to close the dataspace with each iteration, as this can cause a large temporary "memory leak".

There are APIs to determine if datasets and groups are left open. H5F_GET_OBJ_COUNT will get the number of open objects in the file, and H5F_GET_OBJ_IDS will return a list of the open object identifiers.

Metadata Cache

The metadata cache can also affect memory usage. Modify the metadata cache settings to minimize the size and growth of the cache as much as possible without decreasing performance.

By default the metadata cache is 2 MB in size, and it can be allowed to increase to a maximum of 32 MB per file. The metadata cache can be disabled or modified. Memory used for the cache is not released until the datasets or file are closed.

See the H5P_SET_CACHE API for setting the cache, as well as the Information on the Metadata Cache FAQ.

Memory and Storage Issues Caused by Chunking

There can be a number of issues caused by using chunking inefficiently. Please see the advanced topic, Chunking in HDF5, for detailed information regarding the use of chunking. Some things that may help are listed below:

    • There is a chunk cache for each open dataset. The default size for this chunk cache is 1 MB. If there are a lot of chunked datasets left open, a large amount of memory may be used. It can help to reduce the size of the chunk cache if this 1 MB default is not needed.
    • For best performance, the chunk cache size should be equal to or greater than the chunk size for a dataset. If the chunk cache size is smaller than the dataset's chunk size it will be ignored and the chunks read directly from disk. This can cause spectacularly and unnecessarily poor performance in cases where an application repeatedly reads small sections of the same chunk, since each of those reads requires reading the entire chunk from the disk. If the chunk is compressed the performance problem is compounded because the entire chunk must be decompressed for each read. The chunk cache size can be modified with the H5P_SET_CHUNK_CACHE call.

      Also be aware that if a dataset is read by whole chunks and there is no need to access the chunks more than once on the disk, the chunk cache is not needed and can be set to 0 if there is a shortage of memory.

    • Avoid using a chunk size that is really small. There can be a lot of overhead with a small chunk size, which can affect performance, in addition to making the file a lot larger.
    • Match the amount read from a chunked dataset to the chunk size, particularly if reading a dataset once from beginning to end in a loop.

Other Issues

    • If you have a large number of small datasets (smaller than 64k) then consider storing them as compact datasets. If a dataset can fit in the header of the dataset, there will be less I/O and storage used.
    • These datatypes can cause memory or performance issues.


        • Variable Length: Datasets with variable length datatypes cannot be compressed. Also, frequent editing of datasets with variable length datatypes and closing the file between edits, can leave holes in the file. A workaround is to leave the file open while editing the datasets.

          A fixed length dataset that is compressed can be used as an alternative to using a variable length datatype.

        • Compound Datatypes in Fortran and Java:

          Compound datatypes work well with C, but they are slow when using them with Fortran or Java. They are also cumbersome, because you can only read/write data by field in F90 and Java. [It is not possible to pass an array of Fortran structures to a C function in a portable manner. In any case, the Fortran layer has to repack the Fortran array to an array of C structures. The main problem is that Fortran enforces type checking at compilation time and it is impossible to overload the h5dread/write_f function with a datatype that is defined by the user.]


    • Using a "Wrong" Access Pattern: Accessing columns in C or rows in Fortran can cause performance problems.