[Python-Dev] PEP 520: Ordered Class Definition Namespace (round 3)

Eric Snow ericsnowcurrently at gmail.com
Sat Jun 11 22:37:17 EDT 2016

I've updated the PEP to reflect feedback up to this point.  The
reception has been positive.  The only change to the original proposal
has been that a manually set __definition_order__ must be a tuple of
identifiers or None (rather that using the value as-is).  All other
updates to the PEP have been clarification.

Guido, at this point I believe the PEP is ready for pronouncement. *
I've included the most recent copy of the text below.  Thanks.



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


When a class is defined using a ``class`` statement, the class body is
executed within a namespace.  After the execution completes, that
namespace is copied into new ``dict`` and the original definition
namespace is discarded.  The new copy is stored away as the class's
namespace and is exposed as ``__dict__`` through a read-only proxy.

This PEP changes the default class definition namespace to ``OrderedDict``.
The long-lived class namespace (``__dict__``) will remain a ``dict``.
Furthermore, the order in which the attributes are defined in each class
body will now be preserved in the ``__definition_order__`` attribute of
the class.  This allows introspection of the original definition order,
e.g. by class decorators.


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`` (or ``None``)
* ``__definition_order__`` is a read-only attribute
* ``__definition_order__`` is always set:

  1. if ``__definition_order__`` is defined in the class body then it
     must be a ``tuple`` of identifiers or ``None``; any other value
     will result in ``TypeError``
  2. classes that do not have a class definition (e.g. builtins) have
     their ``__definition_order__`` set to ``None``
  3. classes 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 for the
default behavior::

   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 not (k.startswith('__') and

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 feature focused on more than
class definition.

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 nearly everyone they would only
be clutter, causing the same extra work for everyone.

Why None instead of an empty tuple?

A key objective of adding ``__definition_order__`` is to preserve
information in class definitions which was lost prior to this PEP.
One consequence is that ``__definition_order__`` implies an original
class definition.  Using ``None`` allows us to clearly distinquish
classes that do not have a definition order.  An empty tuple clearly
indicates a class that came from a definition statement but did not
define any attributes there.

Why None instead of not setting the attribute?

The absence of an attribute requires more complex handling than ``None``
does for consumers of ``__definition_order__``.

Why constrain manually set values?

If ``__definition_order__`` is manually set in the class body then it
will be used.  We require it to be a tuple of identifiers (or ``None``)
so that consumers of ``__definition_order__`` may have a consistent
expectation for the value.  That helps maximize the feature's

Why is __definition_order__ even necessary?

Since the definition order is not preserved in ``__dict__``, it is
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_]


<class>.__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 then be used as the mapping proxied as
``__dict__``.  Doing so would mostly provide the same semantics.

However, using ``OrderedDict`` for ``__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

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