[Python-Dev] PEP 520: Ordered Class Definition Namespace

Eric Snow ericsnowcurrently at gmail.com
Tue Jun 7 20:50:50 EDT 2016

I've grabbed a PEP # (520) and updated the PEP to clarify points that
were brought up earlier today.  Given positive feedback I got at PyCon
and the reaction today, I'm hopeful the PEP isn't far off from
pronouncement. :)



PEP: 520
Title: Ordered Class Definition Namespace
Version: $Revision$
Last-Modified: $Date$
Author: Eric Snow <ericsnowcurrently at gmail.com>
Status: Draft
Type: Standards Track
Content-Type: text/x-rst
Created: 7-Jun-2016
Python-Version: 3.6
Post-History: 7-Jun-2016


This PEP changes the default class definition namespace to ``OrderedDict``.
Furthermore, the order in which the attributes are defined in each class
body will now be preserved in ``type.__definition_order__``.  This allows
introspection of the original definition order, e.g. by class decorators.

Note: just to be clear, this PEP is *not* about changing ``__dict__`` for
classes to ``OrderedDict``.


Currently the namespace used during execution of a class body defaults
to ``dict``.  If the metaclass defines ``__prepare__()`` then the result
of calling it is used.  Thus, before this PEP, if you needed your class
definition namespace to be ``OrderedDict`` you had to use a metaclass.

Metaclasses introduce an extra level of complexity to code and in some
cases (e.g. conflicts) are a problem.  So reducing the need for them is
worth doing when the opportunity presents itself.  Given that we now have
a C implementation of ``OrderedDict`` and that ``OrderedDict`` is the
common use case for ``__prepare__()``, we have such an opportunity by
defaulting to ``OrderedDict``.

The usefulness of ``OrderedDict``-by-default is greatly increased if the
definition order is directly introspectable on classes afterward,
particularly by code that is independent of the original class definition.
One of the original motivating use cases for this PEP is generic class
decorators that make use of the definition order.

Changing the default class definition namespace has been discussed a
number of times, including on the mailing lists and in PEP 422 and
PEP 487 (see the References section below).


* the default class *definition* namespace is now ``OrderdDict``
* the order in which class attributes are defined is preserved in the
  new ``__definition_order__`` attribute on each class
* "dunder" attributes (e.g. ``__init__``, ``__module__``) are ignored
* ``__definition_order__`` is a tuple
* ``__definition_order__`` is a read-only attribute
* ``__definition_order__`` is always set:

  1. if ``__definition_order__`` is defined in the class body then the
     value is used as-is, though the attribute will still be read-only
  2. types that do not have a class definition (e.g. builtins) have
     their ``__definition_order__`` set to ``None``
  3. types for which `__prepare__()`` returned something other than
     ``OrderedDict`` (or a subclass) have their ``__definition_order__``
     set to ``None`` (except where #1 applies)

The following code demonstrates roughly equivalent semantics::

   class Meta(type):
       def __prepare__(cls, *args, **kwargs):
           return OrderedDict()

   class Spam(metaclass=Meta):
       ham = None
       eggs = 5
       __definition_order__ = tuple(k for k in locals()
                                    if (!k.startswith('__') or

Note that [pep487_] proposes a similar solution, albeit as part of a
broader proposal.

Why a tuple?

Use of a tuple reflects the fact that we are exposing the order in
which attributes on the class were *defined*.  Since the definition
is already complete by the time ``definition_order__`` is set, the
content and order of the value won't be changing.  Thus we use a type
that communicates that state of immutability.

Why a read-only attribute?

As with the use of tuple, making ``__definition_order__`` a read-only
attribute communicates the fact that the information it represents is
complete.  Since it represents the state of a particular one-time event
(execution of the class definition body), allowing the value to be
replaced would reduce confidence that the attribute corresponds to the
original class body.

If a use case for a writable (or mutable) ``__definition_order__``
arises, the restriction may be loosened later.  Presently this seems
unlikely and furthermore it is usually best to go immutable-by-default.

Note that ``__definition_order__`` is centered on the class definition
body.  The use cases for dealing with the class namespace (``__dict__``)
post-definition are a separate matter.  ``__definition_order__`` would
be a significantly misleading name for a supporting feature.

See [nick_concern_] for more discussion.

Why ignore "dunder" names?

Names starting and ending with "__" are reserved for use by the
interpreter.  In practice they should not be relevant to the users of
``__definition_order__``.  Instead, for early everyone they would only
be clutter, causing the same extra work for everyone.

Why is __definition_order__ even necessary?

Since the definition order is not preserved in ``__dict__``, it would be
lost once class definition execution completes.  Classes *could*
explicitly set the attribute as the last thing in the body.  However,
then independent decorators could only make use of classes that had done
so.  Instead, ``__definition_order__`` preserves this one bit of info
from the class body so that it is universally available.


This PEP does not break backward compatibility, except in the case that
someone relies *strictly* on ``dict`` as the class definition namespace.
This shouldn't be a problem.


In addition to the class syntax, the following expose the new behavior:

* builtins.__build_class__
* types.prepare_class
* types.new_class

Other Python Implementations

Pending feedback, the impact on Python implementations is expected to
be minimal.  If a Python implementation cannot support switching to
`OrderedDict``-by-default then it can always set ``__definition_order__``
to ``None``.


The implementation is found in the tracker. [impl_]


type.__dict__ as OrderedDict

Instead of storing the definition order in ``__definition_order__``,
the now-ordered definition namespace could be copied into a new
``OrderedDict``.  This would mostly provide the same semantics.

However, using ``OrderedDict`` for ``type,__dict__`` would obscure the
relationship with the definition namespace, making it less useful.
Additionally, doing this would require significant changes to the
semantics of the concrete ``dict`` C-API.

A "namespace" Keyword Arg for Class Definition

PEP 422 introduced a new "namespace" keyword arg to class definitions
that effectively replaces the need to ``__prepare__()``. [pep422_]
However, the proposal was withdrawn in favor of the simpler PEP 487.


.. [impl] issue #24254

.. [nick_concern] Nick's concerns about mutability

.. [pep422] PEP 422

.. [pep487] PEP 487

.. [orig] original discussion

.. [followup1] follow-up 1

.. [followup2] follow-up 2

This document has been placed in the public domain.

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