Coyote's Guide to IDL Programming

Temporary Memory Management

QUESTION: I use the syntax Temporary(myArray) to conserve memory when doing operations on large arrays. This works fine, except if there is not enough memory to do the operation. Then IDL stops execution, tells me there is not enough memory, and the variable myArray is undefined. IDL conforms to the documentation here, but I lose my array contents!

Does anyone know of a way to (1) test in advance whether the operation is going to fail, or (2) recover the contents of my original array?

The operation I do varies, but today I was trying to do this:

 myArray = Transpose(Temporary(myArray))

ANSWER: Today's answer comes from NASA's Wayne Landsman (

Well, I think this is a case where you can't get something for nothing. The memory that you save with TEMPORARY comes at the cost of losing the original array contents. If you are worried about losing the result of a long computation because of hitting a memory limit, then I would SAVE the array to disk first. (I find that programs that use a lot of TEMPORARY calls are also difficult to debug.)

If you have (at least) IDL V5.4 and are transposing prior to a matrix multiplication, you might look at the ATRANSPOSE and BTRANSPOSE keywords to MATRIX_MULTIPLY which do an implicit transpose to save memory. (The transpose is done simultaneously with the matrix mutliplication.)

Finally, I'd assert (without complete confidence) that there is no sense in using the TEMPORARY function unless you have at least two variables or constants on the right hand side of the equal sign. One way to see this is to use the /HIGHWATER keyword to the MEMORY function introduced in V5.4. This returns the maximum amount of dynamic memory used since the last time the MEMORY function or HELP,/MEMORY was called. (Users without 5.4 can look at the MAX value in a HELP,/MEMORY call.)

First, look at a case where a call to TEMPORARY really is useful.

     sparc sunos unix 5.4 Sep 25 2000      64      64}

   IDL> a = lonarr(2048,2048) & tmp =memory() &  a = a+1  &
   IDL> a = lonarr(2048,2048) & tmp =memory() & a = temporary(a)+1
   IDL> print,memory(/high)

So, here a = a+1 requires 50 Mb of memory, but a = temporary(a)+1 only requires 34 Mb of memory.

But as shown below, there is no advantage of writing a=transpose(temporary(a)) rather than simply a = transpose(a).

   IDL> a = lonarr(2048,2048) & tmp =memory() &  a = transpose(a)
   IDL> print,memory(/high)
   IDL> a = lonarr(2048,2048)& tmp =memory() &  a = transpose(temporary(a))
   IDL> print,memory(/high)

One reason I don't have complete confidence in this result is that at least one RSI-supplied procedure ( includes the statement:

    xPrec = FLOAT(TEMPORARY(xPrec))

which I'd say is a useless use of TEMPORARY.

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