[Python-Dev] getdefault(), the real replacement for setdefault()

Barry Warsaw barry at python.org
Thu Feb 23 04:29:08 CET 2006

Guido's on_missing() proposal is pretty good for what it is, but it is
not a replacement for set_default().  The use cases for a derivable,
definition or instantiation time framework is different than the
call-site based decision being made with setdefault().  The difference
is that in the former case, the class designer or instantiator gets to
decide what the default is, and in the latter (i.e. current) case, the
user gets to decide.

Going back to first principles, the two biggest problems with today's
setdefault() is 1) the default object gets instantiated whether you need
it or not, and 2) the idiom is not very readable.

To directly address these two problems, I propose a new method called
getdefault() with the following signature:

def getdefault(self, key, factory)

This yields the following idiom:

d.getdefault('foo', list).append('bar')

Clearly this completely addresses problem #1.  The implementation is
simple and obvious, and there's no default object instantiated unless
the key is missing.

I think #2 is addressed nicely too because "getdefault()" shifts the
focus on what the method returns rather than the effect of the method on
the target dict.  Perhaps that's enough to make the chained operation on
the returned value feel more natural.  "getdefault()" also looks more
like "get()" so maybe that helps it be less jarring.

This approach also seems to address Raymond's objections because
getdefault() isn't "special" the way on_missing() would be.

Anyway, I don't think it's an either/or choice with Guido's subclass.
Instead I think they are different use cases.  I would add getdefault()
to the standard dict API, remove (eventually) setdefault(), and add
Guido's subclass in a separate module.  But I /wouldn't/ clutter the
built-in dict's API with on_missing().



_missing = object()

def getdefault(self, key, factory):
    value = self.get(key, _missing)
    if value is _missing:
        value = self[key] = factory()
    return value

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