Understanding Parallelism in Python, Threads vs. Processes and concurrent.futures

In Python, parallelism is a technique that allows programs to execute multiple tasks concurrently, thereby improving the overall performance. Python offers several methods to achieve parallelism, including threading, multiprocessing, and the concurrent.futures module. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of threads and processes, how they differ, and when to choose between them. We will also take a look at the concurrent.futures module as a high-level interface for parallel computing in Python. Examples will be provided to illustrate how to use threads, processes, and concurrent.futures for parallel computing.


Threads, short for “thread of execution,” represent a single flow of control in a program. They are the smallest units of execution that an operating system can manage and schedule. Threads within a process share common resources, such as memory and file handles, which make it easier and more efficient to share data between multiple threads. However, this also means that care must be taken to ensure that shared data is accessed safely and with proper synchronization to avoid issues like race conditions or deadlocks.

In Python, threads can be created and managed using the threading module. Here’s an example:

import threading

def print_numbers():
for i in range(5):
print(f'Number {i}')

def print_letters():
for letter in 'abcde':
print(f'Letter {letter}')

thread1 = threading.Thread(target=print_numbers)
thread2 = threading.Thread(target=print_letters)



It’s important to note that the CPython implementation of Python has a Global Interpreter Lock (GIL), which limits the parallel execution of threads. This makes threading in Python more suitable for IO-bound tasks, where threads spend much of their time waiting for IO operations to complete.


Processes, unlike threads, have completely separate memory spaces and run in their own isolated environments. This means that inter-process communication requires more complex mechanisms and can be slower compared to thread communication. However, processes offer better isolation – a bug or crash in one process won’t affect other processes.

Python’s multiprocessing module is used for creating and managing processes. Here’s an example:

from multiprocessing import Process

def print_numbers():
for i in range(5):
print(f'Number {i}')

def print_letters():
for letter in 'abcde':
print(f'Letter {letter}')

process1 = Process(target=print_numbers)
process2 = Process(target=print_letters)



Since processes can achieve true parallelism, multiprocessing is more appropriate for CPU-bound tasks in Python, where running tasks simultaneously can significantly improve performance.


The concurrent.futures module provides a high-level interface for asynchronously executing callables in Python. It has ThreadPoolExecutor and ProcessPoolExecutor classes, which are used for parallelizing code execution using multiple threads or processes, respectively. This module simplifies the process of managing threads and processes and provides additional functionality, such as handling exceptions and interacting with results as they become available.

Example usage of concurrent.futures.ThreadPoolExecutor:

from concurrent.futures import ThreadPoolExecutor

def square(x):
return x * x

with ThreadPoolExecutor(max_workers=4) as executor:
result = list(executor.map(square, range(0, 10)))


Example usage of concurrent.futures.ProcessPoolExecutor:

from concurrent.futures import ProcessPoolExecutor

def square(x):
return x * x

with ProcessPoolExecutor(max_workers=4) as executor:
result = list(executor.map(square, range(0, 10)))


Threads vs. Processes: Differences

  1. Memory and resource sharing
  2. Creation and management
  3. Concurrency and parallelism
  4. Error handling and fault tolerance

Refer to the detailed explanations provided earlier in this blog post for more information on these differences.

When to Use Threads, Processes, or concurrent.futures

The choice between threads and processes depends on the specific requirements and nature of the tasks being executed:

  • Use threads for IO-bound tasks where there are multiple tasks that often spend time waiting for IO operations to complete. Threads are lightweight, share memory and resources, and provide better performance for concurrent IO-bound tasks. The concurrent.futures.ThreadPoolExecutor can be used for simplified thread management.
  • Use processes for CPU-bound tasks where true parallelism is required for maximum computation efficiency. Processes are heavyweight, isolated, and offer better fault tolerance. The concurrent.futures.ProcessPoolExecutor can be used for simplified process management.


In this blog post, we have explored the concepts of threads and processes in Python, discussed their differences, and introduced the concurrent.futures module as a high-level interface for parallel computing. Understanding when to use threads, processes, or concurrent.futures is crucial for writing efficient programs in Python and can significantly improve the performance of your applications.

Remember to consider the type of tasks (CPU-bound or IO-bound), the number of available CPU cores, concurrency, parallelism, and synchronization requirements when deciding between threads and processes or choosing between the ThreadPoolExecutor and ProcessPoolExecutor in concurrent.futures. With these factors in mind, you can choose the most appropriate method of parallelism for your Python program and optimize performance.

Author: robot learner
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