[Python-Dev] More data points

Tim Peters tim.peters at gmail.com
Mon Sep 27 00:33:43 CEST 2004

>> That's because they never suffered from list's ill-advised
>> documentation effectively blessing mutation while iterating <0.5 wink>.

> Ah. Interesting to know. So catching this is recommended when it's feasible?

According to me, but perhaps not according to all.  You can work very
hard to provide predictable semantics for mutation while iterating, by
defining cursor objects that somehow retain sensible guarantees even
if the object they point into mutates.  In effect, "the current index"
is a cursor in this respect when iterating over a list, and the
semantics are that "the current index", on each iteration, goes up by
one, and is an offset from the start of whatever state the list
happens to have at that time.  So, e.g., this behavior is guaranteed:

>>> x = range(10)
>>> for elt in x:
...     x.remove(elt)
>>> x
[1, 3, 5, 7, 9]

"Guaranteed" doesn't necessarily mean unsurprising, or even useful,
though.  I do have uses for this behavior, but I'd be happy to give
them up.

The "natural" behavior of dicts when mutating while iterating is
effectively unexplainable -- it "does whatever it does", based on
internal details of the hashed distribution of keys into buckets, and
even on the history of insertions (which affects hash collision
resolution).  I'm glad Python gripes about that now (it didn't

It would also be possible, but difficult, to implement "sane"
iteration+mutation semantics for dicts.  A dict cursor object would
need to be aware of which objects had and hadn't already been passed
out by the iteration, and would even need to be robust against the
dict reorganizing itself completely when it changes size.

It's a lot easier all around to say "if you have to, iterate over a
snapshot of the keys".  In some cases, we're reduced to saying that
with no way to catch violations.  ZODB's BTrees are a good example
here.  People routinely get in trouble by mutating them while
iterating over them, but the implementation is such that it would be
very difficult to detect such a thing.

More information about the Python-Dev mailing list