CUDA Array Interface (Version 3)

The CUDA Array Interface (or CAI) is created for interoperability between different implementations of CUDA array-like objects in various projects. The idea is borrowed from the NumPy array interface.


Currently, we only define the Python-side interface. In the future, we may add a C-side interface for efficient exchange of the information in compiled code.

Python Interface Specification


Experimental feature. Specification may change.

The __cuda_array_interface__ attribute returns a dictionary (dict) that must contain the following entries:

  • shape: (integer, ...)

    A tuple of int (or long) representing the size of each dimension.

  • typestr: str

    The type string. This has the same definition as typestr in the NumPy array interface.

  • data: (integer, boolean)

    The data is a 2-tuple. The first element is the data pointer as a Python int (or long). The data must be device-accessible. For zero-size arrays, use 0 here. The second element is the read-only flag as a Python bool.

    Because the user of the interface may or may not be in the same context, the most common case is to use cuPointerGetAttribute with CU_POINTER_ATTRIBUTE_DEVICE_POINTER in the CUDA driver API (or the equivalent CUDA Runtime API) to retrieve a device pointer that is usable in the currently active context.

  • version: integer

    An integer for the version of the interface being exported. The current version is 3.

The following are optional entries:

  • strides: None or (integer, ...)

    If strides is not given, or it is None, the array is in C-contiguous layout. Otherwise, a tuple of int (or long) is explicitly given for representing the number of bytes to skip to access the next element at each dimension.

  • descr

    This is for describing more complicated types. This follows the same specification as in the NumPy array interface.

  • mask: None or object exposing the __cuda_array_interface__

    If None then all values in data are valid. All elements of the mask array should be interpreted only as true or not true indicating which elements of this array are valid. This has the same definition as mask in the NumPy array interface.


    Numba does not currently support working with masked CUDA arrays and will raise a NotImplementedError exception if one is passed to a GPU function.

  • stream: None or integer

    An optional stream upon which synchronization must take place at the point of consumption, either by synchronizing on the stream or enqueuing operations on the data on the given stream. Integer values in this entry are as follows:

    • 0: This is disallowed as it would be ambiguous between None and the default stream, and also between the legacy and per-thread default streams. Any use case where 0 might be given should either use None, 1, or 2 instead for clarity.

    • 1: The legacy default stream.

    • 2: The per-thread default stream.

    • Any other integer: a cudaStream_t represented as a Python integer.

    When None, no synchronization is required. See the Synchronization section below for further details.

    In a future revision of the interface, this entry may be expanded (or another entry added) so that an event to synchronize on can be specified instead of a stream.



When discussing synchronization, the following definitions are used:

  • Producer: The library / object on which __cuda_array_interface__ is accessed.

  • Consumer: The library / function that accesses the __cuda_array_interface__ of the Producer.

  • User Code: Code that induces a Producer and Consumer to share data through the CAI.

  • User: The person writing or maintaining the User Code. The User may implement User Code without knowledge of the CAI, since the CAI accesses can be hidden from their view.

In the following example:

import cupy
from numba import cuda

def add(x, y, out):
    start = cuda.grid(1)
    stride = cuda.gridsize(1)
    for i in range(start, x.shape[0], stride):
        out[i] = x[i] + y[i]

a = cupy.arange(10)
b = a * 2
out = cupy.zeros_like(a)

add[1, 32](a, b, out)

When the add kernel is launched:

  • a, b, out are Producers.

  • The add kernel is the Consumer.

  • The User Code is specifically add[1, 32](a, b, out).

  • The author of the code is the User.

Design Motivations

Elements of the CAI design related to synchronization seek to fulfill these requirements:

  1. Producers and Consumers that exchange data through the CAI must be able to do so without data races.

  2. Requirement 1 should be met without requiring the user to be aware of any particulars of the CAI - in other words, exchanging data between Producers and Consumers that operate on data asynchronously should be correct by default.

    • An exception to this requirement is made for Producers and Consumers that explicitly document that the User is required to take additional steps to ensure correctness with respect to synchronization. In this case, Users are required to understand the details of the CUDA Array Interface, and the Producer/Consumer library documentation must specify the steps that Users are required to take.

      Use of this exception should be avoided where possible, as it is provided for libraries that cannot implement the synchronization semantics without the involvement of the User - for example, those interfacing with third-party libraries oblivious to the CUDA Array Interface.

  3. Where the User is aware of the particulars of the CAI and implementation details of the Producer and Consumer, they should be able to, at their discretion, override some of the synchronization semantics of the interface to reduce the synchronization overhead. Overriding synchronization semantics implies that:

    • The CAI design, and the design and implementation of the Producer and Consumer do not specify or guarantee correctness with respect to data races.

    • Instead, the User is responsible for ensuring correctness with respect to data races.

Interface Requirements

The stream entry enables Producers and Consumers to avoid hazards when exchanging data. Expected behaviour of the Consumer is as follows:

  • When stream is not present or is None:

    • No synchronization is required on the part of the Consumer.

    • The Consumer may enqueue operations on the underlying data immediately on any stream.

  • When stream is an integer, its value indicates the stream on which the Producer may have in-progress operations on the data, and which the Consumer is expected to either:

    • Synchronize on before accessing the data, or

    • Enqueue operations in when accessing the data.

    The Consumer can choose which mechanism to use, with the following considerations:

    • If the Consumer synchronizes on the provided stream prior to accessing the data, then it must ensure that no computation can take place in the provided stream until its operations in its own choice of stream have taken place. This could be achieved by either:

      • Placing a wait on an event in the provided stream that occurs once all of the Consumer’s operations on the data are completed, or

      • Avoiding returning control to the user code until after its operations on its own stream have completed.

    • If the consumer chooses to only enqueue operations on the data in the provided stream, then it may return control to the User code immediately after enqueueing its work, as the work will all be serialized on the exported array’s stream. This is sufficient to ensure correctness even if the User code were to induce the Producer to subsequently start enqueueing more work on the same stream.

  • If the User has set the Consumer to ignore CAI synchronization semantics, the Consumer may assume it can operate on the data immediately in any stream with no further synchronization, even if the stream member has an integer value.

When exporting an array through the CAI, Producers must ensure that:

  • If there is work on the data enqueued in one or more streams, then synchronization on the provided stream is sufficient to ensure synchronization with all pending work.

    • If the Producer has no enqueued work, or work only enqueued on the stream identified by stream, then this condition is met.

    • If the Producer has enqueued work on the data on multiple streams, then it must enqueue events on those streams that follow the enqueued work, and then wait on those events in the provided stream. For example:

      1. Work is enqueued by the Producer on streams 7, 9, and 15.

      2. Events are then enqueued on each of streams 7, 9, and 15.

      3. Producer then tells stream 3 to wait on the events from Step 2, and the stream entry is set to 3.

  • If there is no work enqueued on the data, then the stream entry may be either None, or not provided.

Optionally, to facilitate the User relaxing conformance to synchronization semantics:

  • Producers may provide a configuration option to always set stream to None.

  • Consumers may provide a configuration option to ignore the value of stream and act as if it were None or not provided. This elides synchronization on the Producer-provided streams, and allows enqueuing work on streams other than that provided by the Producer.

These options should not be set by default in either a Producer or a Consumer. The CAI specification does not prescribe the exact mechanism by which these options are set, or related options that Producers or Consumers might provide to allow the user further control over synchronization behavior.

Synchronization in Numba

Numba is neither strictly a Producer nor a Consumer - it may be used to implement either by a User. In order to facilitate the correct implementation of synchronization semantics, Numba exhibits the following behaviors related to synchronization of the interface:

  • When Numba acts as a Consumer (for example when an array-like object is passed to a kernel launch): If stream is an integer, then Numba will immediately synchronize on the provided stream. A Numba Device Array created from an array-like object has its default stream set to the provided stream.

  • When Numba acts as a Producer (when the __cuda_array_interface__ property of a Numba CUDA Array is accessed): If the exported CUDA Array has a default stream, then it is given as the stream entry. Otherwise, stream is set to None.


In Numba’s terminology, an array’s default stream is a property specifying the stream that Numba will enqueue asynchronous transfers in if no other stream is provided as an argument to the function invoking the transfer. It is not the same as the Default Stream in normal CUDA terminology.

Numba’s synchronization behavior results in the following intended consequences:

  • Exchanging data either as a Producer or a Consumer will be correct without the need for any further action from the User, provided that the other side of the interaction also follows the CAI synchronization semantics.

  • The User is expected to either:

    • Avoid launching kernels or other operations on streams that are not the default stream for their parameters, or

    • When launching operations on a stream that is not the default stream for a given parameter, they should then insert an event into the stream that they are operating in, and wait on that event in the default stream for the parameter. For an example of this, see below.

The User may override Numba’s synchronization behavior by setting the environment variable NUMBA_CUDA_ARRAY_INTERFACE_SYNC or the config variable CUDA_ARRAY_INTERFACE_SYNC to 0 (see GPU Support Environment Variables). When set, Numba will not synchronize on the streams of imported arrays, and it is the responsibility of the user to ensure correctness with respect to stream synchronization. Synchronization when creating a Numba CUDA Array from an object exporting the CUDA Array Interface may also be elided by passing sync=False when creating the Numba CUDA Array with numba.cuda.as_cuda_array() or numba.cuda.from_cuda_array_interface().

There is scope for Numba’s synchronization implementation to be optimized in the future, by eliding synchronizations when a kernel or driver API operation (e.g. a memcopy or memset) is launched on the same stream as an imported array.

An example launching on an array’s non-default stream

This example shows how to ensure that a Consumer can safely consume an array with a default stream when it is passed to a kernel launched in a different stream.

First we need to import Numba and a consumer library (a fictitious library named other_cai_library for this example):

from numba import cuda, int32, void
import other_cai_library

Now we’ll define a kernel - this initializes the elements of the array, setting each entry to its index:

@cuda.jit(void, int32[::1])
def initialize_array(x):
    i = cuda.grid(1)
    if i < len(x):
        x[i] = i

Next we will create two streams:

array_stream =
kernel_stream =

Then create an array with one of the streams as its default stream:

N = 16384
x = cuda.device_array(N, stream=array_stream)

Now we launch the kernel in the other stream:

nthreads = 256
nblocks = N // nthreads

initialize_array[nthreads, nblocks, kernel_stream](x)

If we were to pass x to a Consumer now, there is a risk that it may operate on it in array_stream whilst the kernel is still running in kernel_stream. To prevent operations in array_stream starting before the kernel launch is finished, we create an event and wait on it:

# Create event
evt = cuda.event()
# Record the event after the kernel launch in kernel_stream
# Wait for the event in array_stream

It is now safe for other_cai_library to consume x:


Lifetime management


Obtaining the value of the __cuda_array_interface__ property of any object has no effect on the lifetime of the object from which it was created. In particular, note that the interface has no slot for the owner of the data.

The User code must preserve the lifetime of the object owning the data for as long as the Consumer might use it.


Like data, CUDA streams also have a finite lifetime. It is therefore required that a Producer exporting data on the interface with an associated stream ensures that the exported stream’s lifetime is equal to or surpasses the lifetime of the object from which the interface was exported.

Lifetime management in Numba

Producing Arrays

Numba takes no steps to maintain the lifetime of an object from which the interface is exported - it is the user’s responsibility to ensure that the underlying object is kept alive for the duration that the exported interface might be used.

The lifetime of any Numba-managed stream exported on the interface is guaranteed to equal or surpass the lifetime of the underlying object, because the underlying object holds a reference to the stream.


Numba-managed streams are those created with cuda.default_stream(), cuda.legacy_default_stream(), or cuda.per_thread_default_stream(). Streams not managed by Numba are created from an external stream with cuda.external_stream().

Consuming Arrays

Numba provides two mechanisms for creating device arrays from objects exporting the CUDA Array Interface. Which to use depends on whether the created device array should maintain the life of the object from which it is created:

  • as_cuda_array: This creates a device array that holds a reference to the owning object. As long as a reference to the device array is held, its underlying data will also be kept alive, even if all other references to the original owning object have been dropped.

  • from_cuda_array_interface: This creates a device array with no reference to the owning object by default. The owning object, or some other object to be considered the owner can be passed in the owner parameter.

The interfaces of these functions are:


Create a DeviceNDArray from any object that implements the cuda array interface.

A view of the underlying GPU buffer is created. No copying of the data is done. The resulting DeviceNDArray will acquire a reference from obj.

If sync is True, then the imported stream (if present) will be synchronized.

cuda.from_cuda_array_interface(owner=None, sync=True)

Create a DeviceNDArray from a cuda-array-interface description. The owner is the owner of the underlying memory. The resulting DeviceNDArray will acquire a reference from it.

If sync is True, then the imported stream (if present) will be synchronized.

Pointer Attributes

Additional information about the data pointer can be retrieved using cuPointerGetAttribute or cudaPointerGetAttributes. Such information include:

  • the CUDA context that owns the pointer;

  • is the pointer host-accessible?

  • is the pointer a managed memory?

Differences with CUDA Array Interface (Version 0)

Version 0 of the CUDA Array Interface did not have the optional mask attribute to support masked arrays.

Differences with CUDA Array Interface (Version 1)

Versions 0 and 1 of the CUDA Array Interface neither clarified the strides attribute for C-contiguous arrays nor specified the treatment for zero-size arrays.

Differences with CUDA Array Interface (Version 2)

Prior versions of the CUDA Array Interface made no statement about synchronization.


The following Python libraries have adopted the CUDA Array Interface:

If your project is not on this list, please feel free to report it on the Numba issue tracker.