[Python-Dev] Switch statement

Guido van Rossum guido at python.org
Tue Jun 20 21:53:20 CEST 2006

On 6/19/06, Josiah Carlson <jcarlson at uci.edu> wrote:
> "Guido van Rossum" <guido at python.org> wrote:
> > Perhaps I misunderstood Josiah's comment; I thought he was implying
> > that a switch should be significantly *faster* than if/elif, and was
> > arguing against features that would jeopardize that speedup. I would
> > think that it would be fine if some switches could be compiled into
> > some kind of lookup table while others would just be translated into a
> > series of if/elifs. As long as the compiler can tell the difference.
> I personally don't find switch/case statements to be significantly (if
> at all) easier to read than if/elif/else chains, but that is subjective,
> and I note that Ka-Ping finds switch/case to be significantly easier to
> read.
> Regardless of readability (I know that readability counts), TOOWTDI. If
> we allow somewhat arbitrary cases, then any potential speedup may be
> thrown away (which would bother those of us who use dispatching), and we
> essentially get a different syntax for if/elif/else.  I don't know about
> everyone else, but I'm not looking for a different syntax for
> if/elif/else, I'm looking for fast dispatch with some reasonable syntax.

Careful though. Even the most efficient switch can't meet all your
dispatch needs; a switch requires that you be able to list all the
cases statically in your source code. If that works for you, great.
But if you need some kind of dynamic extensibility, switch will never
cut it, and you'll have to use a dict of fuctions or the standard
getattr(self, '_Prefix_' + name) dynamic-dispatch-without-dict

> In my opinion, the most reasonable syntax is a semantic change for fast
> dispatch inside of specifically crafted if/elif chains of the form:
>     if/elif non_dotted_name == constant_expression:
> As stated various ways by various people, you can generate a hash table
> during function definition (or otherwise), verify that the value of
> non_dotted_name is hashable, and jump to particular offsets.  If you are
> careful with your offsets, you can even have parallel if/elif/else tests
> that fall through in the case of a 'non-hashable'.

Note that this is just Solution 1 from PEP 275.

> There is a drawback to the non-syntax if/elif/else optimization,
> specifically that someone could find that their dispatch mysteriously
> got slower when they went from x==1 to including some other comparison
> operator in the chain somewhere.  Well, that and the somewhat restricted
> set of optimizations, but we seem to be headed into that restricted set
> of optimizations anyways.

Remember that most things we usually *think* of as constants aren't
recognized as such by the compiler. For example the constants used by

> One benefit to the non-syntax optimization is that it seems like it could
> be implemented as a bytecode hack, allowing us to punt on the entire
> discussion, and really decide on whether such a decorator should be in
> the standard library (assuming someone is willing to write the decorator).

I expect the scope of the optimization to be much less than you think,
and I expect that people will waste lots of time trying to figure out
why the optimization doesn't happen.

--Guido van Rossum (home page: http://www.python.org/~guido/)

More information about the Python-Dev mailing list