[Python-Dev] PEP 201 - Parallel iteration

Barry A. Warsaw bwarsaw@beopen.com
Mon, 17 Jul 2000 15:06:13 -0400 (EDT)

I've made a final pass through PEP 201, Parallel Iteration.  For those
of you without easy access to the CVS tree, I'm including it below.
You can also access it through the web at


High bit: Guido strongly prefers zip() as the name of the built-in.
All the suggestions so far have pluses and minuses, and in the absence
of a clear winner, he'd just as soon go with the Haskell name.  I

Please see the new reference implementation, which includes a
__len__() method, and the discussion of the rejected elaborations.
There's still the open issue of what zip(sequence_a) should return.

I'd like to reach closure on this sometime soon after the guys get
back from California.


-------------------- snip snip --------------------
PEP: 201
Title: Parallel Iteration
Version: $Revision: 1.2 $
Owner: bwarsaw@beopen.com (Barry A. Warsaw)
Python-Version: 2.0
Status: Draft


    This PEP describes the `parallel iteration' proposal for Python
    2.0, previously known as `parallel for loops'.  This PEP tracks
    the status and ownership of this feature, slated for introduction
    in Python 2.0.  It contains a description of the feature and
    outlines changes necessary to support the feature.  This PEP
    summarizes discussions held in mailing list forums, and provides
    URLs for further information, where appropriate.  The CVS revision
    history of this file contains the definitive historical record.

Standard For-Loops

    Motivation for this feature has its roots in a concept described
    as `parallel for loops'.  A standard for-loop in Python iterates
    over every element in the sequence until the sequence is
    exhausted.  A `break' statement inside the loop suite causes an
    explicit loop exit.  For-loops also have else: clauses which get
    executed when the loop exits normally (i.e. not by execution of a

    For-loops can iterate over built-in types such as lists and
    tuples, but they can also iterate over instance types that conform
    to an informal sequence protocol.  This protocol states that the
    instance should implement the __getitem__() method, expecting a
    monotonically increasing index starting at 0, and this method
    should raise an IndexError when the sequence is exhausted.  This
    protocol is currently undocumented -- a defect in Python's
    documentation hopefully soon corrected.

    For-loops are described in the Python language reference

    An example for-loop:

    >>> for i in (1, 2, 3): print i

    In this example, the variable `i' is called the `target', and is
    assigned the next element of the list, each time through the loop.

Parallel For-Loops

    Parallel for-loops are non-nested iterations over two or more
    sequences, such that at each pass through the loop, one element
    from each sequence is taken to compose the target.  This behavior
    can already be accomplished in Python through the use of the map()
    built-in function:

    >>> a = (1, 2, 3)
    >>> b = (4, 5, 6)
    >>> for i in map(None, a, b): print i
    (1, 4)
    (2, 5)
    (3, 6)

    Here, map() returns a list of N-tuples, where N is the number of
    sequences in map()'s argument list (after the initial `None').
    Each tuple is constructed of the i-th elements from each of the
    argument lists, specifically in this example:

    >>> map(None, a, b)
    [(1, 4), (2, 5), (3, 6)]

    The for-loop simply iterates over this list as normal.

    While the map() idiom is a common one in Python, it has several

    - It is non-obvious to programmers without a functional
      programming background.

    - The use of the magic `None' first argument is non-obvious.

    - It has arbitrary, often unintended, and inflexible semantics
      when the lists are not of the same length: the shorter sequences
      are padded with `None'.

      >>> c = (4, 5, 6, 7)
      >>> map(None, a, c)
      [(1, 4), (2, 5), (3, 6), (None, 7)]

    For these reasons, several proposals were floated in the Python
    2.0 beta time frame for providing a better spelling of parallel
    for-loops.  The initial proposals centered around syntactic
    changes to the for statement, but conflicts and problems with the
    syntax were unresolvable, especially when parallel for-loops were
    combined with another proposed feature called `list
    comprehensions' (see pep-0202.txt).

The Proposed Solution

    The proposed solution is to introduce a new built-in sequence
    generator function, available in the __builtin__ module.  This
    function is to be called `zip' and has the following signature:

    zip(seqa, [seqb, [...]], [pad=<value>])

    zip() takes one or more sequences and weaves their elements
    together, just as map(None, ...) does with sequences of equal
    length.  The optional keyword argument `pad', if supplied, is a
    value used to pad all shorter sequences to the length of the
    longest sequence.  If `pad' is omitted, then weaving stops when
    the shortest sequence is exhausted.

    It is not possible to pad short lists with different pad values,
    nor will zip() ever raise an exception with lists of different
    lengths.  To accomplish either behavior, the sequences must be
    checked and processed before the call to zip().

Lazy Execution

    For performance purposes, zip() does not construct the list of
    tuples immediately.  Instead it instantiates an object that
    implements a __getitem__() method and conforms to the informal
    for-loop protocol.  This method constructs the individual tuples
    on demand.


    Here are some examples, based on the reference implementation

    >>> a = (1, 2, 3, 4)
    >>> b = (5, 6, 7, 8)
    >>> c = (9, 10, 11)
    >>> d = (12, 13)

    >>> zip(a, b)
    [(1, 5), (2, 6), (3, 7), (4, 8)]

    >>> zip(a, d)
    [(1, 12), (2, 13)]

    >>> zip(a, d, pad=0)
    [(1, 12), (2, 13), (3, 0), (4, 0)]
    >>> zip(a, d, pid=0)
    Traceback (most recent call last):
      File "<stdin>", line 1, in ?
      File "/usr/tmp/python-iKAOxR", line 11, in zip
    TypeError: unexpected keyword arguments
    >>> zip(a, b, c, d)
    [(1, 5, 9, 12), (2, 6, 10, 13)]

    >>> zip(a, b, c, d, pad=None)
    [(1, 5, 9, 12), (2, 6, 10, 13), (3, 7, 11, None), (4, 8, None, None)]
    >>> map(None, a, b, c, d)
    [(1, 5, 9, 12), (2, 6, 10, 13), (3, 7, 11, None), (4, 8, None, None)]

Reference Implementation

    Here is a reference implementation, in Python of the zip()
    built-in function and helper class.  These would ultimately be
    replaced by equivalent C code.

    class _Zipper:
        def __init__(self, args, kws):
            # Defaults
            self.__padgiven = 0
            if kws.has_key('pad'):
                self.__padgiven = 1
                self.__pad = kws['pad']
                del kws['pad']
            # Assert no unknown arguments are left
            if kws:
                raise TypeError('unexpected keyword arguments')
            self.__sequences = args
            self.__seqlen = len(args)

        def __getitem__(self, i):
            ret = []
            exhausted = 0
            for s in self.__sequences:
                except IndexError:
                    if not self.__padgiven:
                    exhausted = exhausted + 1
                    if exhausted == self.__seqlen:
            return tuple(ret)

        def __len__(self):
            # If we're padding, then len is the length of the longest sequence,
            # otherwise it's the length of the shortest sequence.
            if not self.__padgiven:
                shortest = -1
                for s in self.__sequences:
                    slen = len(s)
                    if shortest < 0 or slen < shortest:
                        shortest = slen
                return shortest
            longest = 0
            for s in self.__sequences:
                slen = len(s)
                if slen > longest:
                    longest = slen
            return longest

        def __str__(self):
            ret = []
            i = 0
            while 1:
                except IndexError:
                i = i + 1
            return str(ret)
        __repr__ = __str__

    def zip(*args, **kws):
        return _Zipper(args, kws)

Rejected Elaborations

    Some people have suggested that the user be able to specify the
    type of the inner and outer containers for the zipped sequence.
    This would be specified by additional keyword arguments to zip(),
    named `inner' and `outer'.

    This elaboration is rejected for several reasons.  First, there
    really is no outer container, even though there appears to be an
    outer list container the example above.  This is simply an
    artifact of the repr() of the zipped object.  User code can do its
    own looping over the zipped object via __getitem__(), and build
    any type of outer container for the fully evaluated, concrete
    sequence.  For example, to build a zipped object with lists as an
    outer container, use

        >>> list(zip(sequence_a, sequence_b, sequence_c))

    for tuple outer container, use
        >>> tuple(zip(sequence_a, sequence_b, sequence_c))

    This type of construction will usually not be necessary though,
    since it is expected that zipped objects will most often appear in

    Second, allowing the user to specify the inner container
    introduces needless complexity and arbitrary decisions.  You might
    imagine that instead of the default tuple inner container, the
    user could prefer a list, or a dictionary, or instances of some
    sequence-like class.

    One problem is the API.  Should the argument to `inner' be a type
    or a template object?  For flexibility, the argument should
    probably be a type object (i.e. TupleType, ListType, DictType), or
    a class.  For classes, the implementation could just pass the zip
    element to the constructor.  But what about built-in types that
    don't have constructors?  They would have to be special-cased in
    the implementation (i.e. what is the constructor for TupleType?
    The tuple() built-in).

    Another problem that arises is for zips greater than length two.
    Say you had three sequences and you wanted the inner type to be a
    dictionary.  What would the semantics of the following be?

        >>> zip(sequence_a, sequence_b, sequence_c, inner=DictType)

    Would the key be (element_a, element_b) and the value be
    element_c, or would the key be element_a and the value be
    (element_b, element_c)?  Or should an exception be thrown?

    This suggests that the specification of the inner container type
    is needless complexity.  It isn't likely that the inner container
    will need to be specified very often, and it is easy to roll your
    own should you need it.  Tuples are chosen for the inner container
    type due to their (slight) memory footprint and performance

Open Issues

    - What should "zip(a)" do?  Given

      a = (1, 2, 3); zip(a)

      three outcomes are possible.

      1) Returns [(1,), (2,), (3,)]

         Pros: no special casing in the implementation or in user
         code, and is more consistent with the description of it's
         semantics.  Cons: this isn't what map(None, a) would return,
         and may be counter to user expectations.

      2) Returns [1, 2, 3]

         Pros: consistency with map(None, a), and simpler code for
         for-loops, e.g.

         for i in zip(a):

         instead of

         for (i,) in zip(a):

         Cons: too much complexity and special casing for what should
         be a relatively rare usage pattern.

      3) Raises TypeError

         Pros: None

         Cons: needless restriction

      Current scoring seems to generally favor outcome 1.

    - The name of the built-in `zip' may cause some initial confusion
      with the zip compression algorithm.  Other suggestions include
      (but are not limited to!): marry, weave, parallel, lace, braid,
      interlace, permute, furl, tuples, lists, stitch, collate, knit,
      plait, and with.  All have disadvantages, and there is no clear
      unanimous choice, therefore the decision was made to go with
      `zip' because the same functionality is available in other
      languages (e.g. Haskell) under the name `zip'[2].


    [1] http://www.python.org/doc/devel/ref/for.html    
    [2] http://www.haskell.org/onlinereport/standard-prelude.html#$vzip

    TBD: URL to python-dev archives


    This document has been placed in the public domain.

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