Understanding Python Lists

This article is about Python lists. I just want to show you some examples of the unexpected behavior (for non-python-programmers) of lists in Python.

Imagine you have the following Python source code:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
import copy

example1 = [[1,5,7],[3,6],[], [8,1,6]]
example2 = example1[:]
example3 = list(example1)
example4 = copy.deepcopy(example1)

example1[1][0] = 0

print example1
print example2
print example3
print example4

How should the output look like? Think about it a second, then scroll down.


The reason for this strange behavior is how lists are handled in Python. The variable itself is basically only the pointer to the list. If you slice the list (myList[:]) you copy each value of the list into another list. If myList was a nested list, it contained the pointers to the sublists. So, if you want to make a deep copy, you have to use the copy module.


phimuemue added this example in my old blog:

Another issue I ran into concerns the scoping of Python:

[i for i in [1,2,3]]
print (i) # yields 3

That means, python doesn’t create a new variable for the list comprehension but uses the outer i.

Recursive Lists

a = [1, 2, 3]
b = [4, 5, 6]
[1, 2, 3, [4, 5, 6]]
[4, 5, 6, [1, 2, 3, [...]]]
[1, 2, 3, [4, 5, 6, [...]]]

Do you know more examples of unexpected behavior of python lists? Please share them in the comments!

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