Background information about itertree

The itertree package is originally developed to be used in an internal test-system configuration and measurement environment. In this environment we must handle a huge number of parameters and attributes which are configured via a Graphical User Interface (GUI). The connection of the data and the GUI (editor) is realized via the coupled_object function we have in iTree. The so created configuration can be interpreted by test-systems and can be stored in version control systems.

But the idea of tree based configuration is nothing exceptionally new and of course trees can be used for many other proposes. The itertree package is in Python a new approach to get a very performant solution for these proposes even when the trees are very huge (many attributes in deep hierarchies).

In our case the package is also used in embedded environments and for this a pure Python implementation helps to prevent us from different type of cross compilations for our targets. The package should run on any Python 3.x interpreter.


To find the best solution we made a lot of testing (check of the already available packages) and we checked other implementation alternatives (like sorted or ordered dicts) but we came to the conclusion that it makes sense to develop an own, new package to match all our requirements.

Based on the tests we created an architecture based on a list (blist) and a parallel managed dict that contains the tag families again as lists (blist).

The iTree objects is build on these three base elements:

  • iTree (list) -> main list of items

  • _map (dict) -> dict containing the family list (key is tag)

  • _data (iTData) -> data object that stores all the data attributes related to the iTree item

Beside this structure the parent iTree object is stored in the iTree object by this we create the hierarchy. An iTree object can only have one parent! When you feed an iTree object during instantiation as subtree parameter then the iTree objects children will be copied and taken over in the new iTree. The extend function has the same behavior.

A free to use couple_object can be used to combine an iTree object with any other python object (e.g. an object in a related tree GUI element).

The profiling of the package done by running over 100000 base operations gives the following result based on blist: :: Running on itertree version: 0.6.1 100003 0.161 0.000 0.342 0.000 100000 0.044 0.000 0.059 0.000 100000 0.090 0.000 0.383 0.000 100000 0.239 0.000 0.258 0.000 100000 0.269 0.000 0.286 0.000 100000 0.160 0.000 0.891 0.000 1 0.154 0.154 0.977 0.977 100000 0.067 0.000 0.089 0.000

We can see that creating copies is the most time consuming operation and it is the reason why the one extend() operation takes so long.

Running the same profiling actions without blist package (using normal list) we get: :: 100003 0.161 0.000 0.320 0.000 100000 0.052 0.000 0.060 0.000 100000 0.094 0.000 1.266 0.000 100000 0.140 0.000 0.161 0.000 100000 0.228 0.000 1.895 0.000 100000 0.129 0.000 0.701 0.000 1 0.149 0.149 0.914 0.914 100000 0.082 0.000 0.097 0.000

Especially the index based searches in the lists are take much longer. And especially the insert() take exceptionally much longer but one may see this as a corner case only because the filling of a huge tree will normally always be done by appending or even better by extending elements. Inserting a single item is absolutely no issue! Please consider we talk here about a very huge number of insert() operations (100000). Same arguments can be made for the __delitem__() operation nobody will delete all the items step by step it’s much easier to delete or clear the parent instead.

We can summarize: Except from the told corner cases the itertree package runs with the same speed (sometimes a bit faster) even that the blist package is not installed.

Special iTree objects

In an itertree person might need temporary items or they like to combine the tree from different sources (files). Or they might like to protect specific items from writing (read only). For this proposes we can integrate special iTree objects in the itertree.

Besides the normal iTree object we have three other types of iTree objects available:

  • iTreeLink - Link to another iTree file/key so that an itertree can be created from different source files. Also internal linking to other branches of the root object supported. The children and sub children of these linked objects are read only. But they can be localized and by this you can cover the orignal linked items by a new structure.

  • iTreeReadOnly - An read_only object that allows no changes in the iTree structure (properties (like data or coupled_object) can be changed)

  • iTreeTemporary - a temporary iTree item (These items behave like normal iTree items except that they are not stored in a file. If dump() is called these items are filtered out.

  • iTreePlaceHolder - an internally used object that is used to keep the indexing of localized items during storage.

For data protection a iTDataReadOnly class is available too.

Iterators and filters

An investigation in other packages showed that search algorithms for specific items are sometimes very slow. Even xml.ElementTree which shows overall a very good performance is not very fast when using the find_all() method. Beside this the string based xpath syntax is sometimes also a bit difficult and not as powerful and flexible as it might be needed for complex data structures and data objects different from strings.

In itertree we have the possibility to define filter functionalities for all the iterators delivered by the iter_children(), iter_all() or find() and find_all() methods. These methods contain a item_filter parameter where the user can give a filter method or class. Those objects can be cascaded to create complex filters (and/or logic supported).

The filter method is fed by the item and must deliver a True/False after the analysis of the item is done.

The itertree package contains predefined filters in the file and they can be reached via Filter.iTFilter**** in the code.

Because we are using iterators the filtering is very effective. The filters can be combined and so the user can create queries like in a database to catch all information out of the tree and selected the matching items.

The resulting iterator is delivered very quick totally independent from the tree size. After all filtering is combined the iterator can be consumed and in maximum we will iterate only one time over the whole tree.

File storage and serializing

At the moment we serialize to JSON and the speed (with orjson module) is comparable with pickle. But we see that there is still room for improvements and we might get quicker results in the future. Also we might consider other output formats like MessagePack or xml.

Anyway we allow already the packing and hashing of the data before we store it onto a file. Packing helps to keep the files small but the cost of calculation time must be considered and sometimes it’s better to use the unpacked files and combine same into an archive afterwards (independent from itertree). Therefore all these options (packing, hashing) are optional and can switch off if required.

Data Structure and Data Models

The data structure of a iTree is not ordered (do not confuse data with the tree structure). It behaves like a normal dict (We do not see why we should create a second ordered structure here). If the user really needs this he can add any type of object into the data structure (e.g. also OrderedDict`s). And for newer Python versions the `dict is ordered anyway. But to be honest in this case it might be better to create a deeper iTree containing all the items of the OrderedDict in an iTree branch instead.

To create a better usability the data structure can be fed directly with only one data object. Alternatively the user can store also multiple objects by giving key,value pairs. Internally the iTData object is an overloaded dictionary.

The itertree package contains a concept for data models for the attributes stored in the data structure of the iTree. By this the user can determine what kind of data can be stored in a specific attribute. The iTDataModel is just a basic structure which can be used to create more advanced models. You might have a look in the examples/ file to get a better idea.

In general the data model allows to define the target data type but furthermore also the dimension, the range, etc. Also the formatting of the data when casted into a string can be defined. E.g. we can define the following data models:

  • We can define an integer in the range 0-255 in a 1 dimensional array (list) of maximum length 8. Additionally we like to have a hex representation when converted into a string.

  • We define a float value in the range in between -250 and 250 and we like to have a string representation of maximum 3 digits and added by a unit string “V” (“%.3f V”).

If a data model is stored in the data structure we can put only values into the related attribute that are matching to the model. In case of no matching values the set command will raise an iDataValueError exception.


If define your own data_models and or iData classes ensure that you create a matching interface! E.g. the check() and _validator() methods must deliver the value as return (needed for recursive operations).