[Python-Dev] Informal educator feedback on PEP 572 (was Re: 2018 Python Language Summit coverage, last part)

Nick Coghlan ncoghlan at gmail.com
Fri Jun 22 10:22:33 EDT 2018

On 22 June 2018 at 02:26, Antoine Pitrou <solipsis at pitrou.net> wrote:
> Indeed.  But, for a syntax addition such as PEP 572, I think it would be
> a good idea to ask their opinion to teaching/education specialists.
> As far as I'm concerned, if teachers and/or education specialists were
> to say PEP 572 is not a problem, my position would shift from negative
> towards neutral.

I asked a handful of folks at the Education Summit the next day about it:

* for the basic notion of allowing expression level name binding using
the "NAME := EXPR" notation, the reactions ranged from mildly negative
(I read it as only a "-0" rather than a "-1") to outright positive.
* for the reactions to my description of the currently proposed parent
local scoping behaviour in comprehensions, I'd use the word
"horrified", and feel I wasn't overstating the response :)

While I try to account for the fact that I implemented the current
comprehension semantics for the 3.x series, and am hence biased
towards considering them the now obvious interpretation, it's also the
case that generator expressions have worked like nested functions
since they were introduced in Python 2.4 (more than 13 years ago now),
and comprehensions have worked the same way as generator expressions
since Python 3.0 (which has its 10th birthday coming up in December
this year).

This means that I take any claims that the legacy Python 2.x
interpretation of comprehension behaviour is intuitively obvious with
an enormous grain of salt - for the better part of a decade now, every
tool at a Python 3 user's disposal (the fact that the iteration
variable is hidden from the current scope, reading the language
reference [1], printing out locals(), using the dis module, stepping
through code in a debugger, writing their own tracing function, and
even observing the quirky interaction with class scopes) will have
nudged them towards the "it's a hidden nested function" interpretation
of expected comprehension behaviour.

Acquiring the old mental model for the way comprehensions work pretty
much requires a developer to have started with Python 2.x themselves
(perhaps even before comprehensions and lexical closures were part of
the language), or else have been taught the Python 2 comprehension
model by someone else - there's nothing in Python 3's behaviour to
encourage that point of view, and plenty of
functional-language-inspired documentation to instead encourage folks
to view comprehensions as tightly encapsulated declarative container
construction syntax.

I'm currently working on a concept proposal at
https://github.com/ncoghlan/peps/pull/2 that's much closer to PEP 572
than any of my previous `given` based suggestions: for already
declared locals, it devolves to being the same as PEP 572 (except that
expressions are allowed as top level statements), but for any names
that haven't been previously introduced, it prohibits assigning to a
name that doesn't already have a defined scope, and instead relies on
a new `given` clause on various constructs that allows new target
declarations to be introduced into the current scope (such that "if
x:= f():" implies "x" is already defined as a target somewhere else in
the current scope, while "if x := f() given x:" potentially introduces
"x" as a new local target the same way a regular assignment statement

One of the nicer features of the draft proposal is that if all you
want to do is export the iteration variable from a comprehension, you
don't need to use an assignment expression at all: you can just append
"... given global x" or "... given nonlocal x" and export the
iteration variable directly to the desired outer scope, the same way
you can in the fully spelled out nested function equivalent.


[1] From https://docs.python.org/3.0/reference/expressions.html#displays-for-lists-sets-and-dictionaries:
'Note that the comprehension is executed in a separate scope, so names
assigned to in the target list don’t “leak” in the enclosing scope.'
Nick Coghlan   |   ncoghlan at gmail.com   |   Brisbane, Australia

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