using functions and file renaming problem

Andy Jewell andy at wild-flower.co.uk
Sat Jul 19 14:28:39 CEST 2003


On Friday 18 Jul 2003 11:16 pm, hokiegal99 wrote:
> Thanks again for the help Andy! One last question: What is the advantage
> of placing code in a function? I don't see how having this bit of code
> in a function improves it any. Could someone explain this?
>
> Thanks!
8<--- (old quotes)

The 'benefit' of functions is only really reaped when you have a specific need 
for them!  You don't *have* to use them if you don't *need* to (but they can 
still improve the readability of your code).  

Consider the following contrived example:

----------8<------------
# somewhere in the dark recesses of a large project...
. . . 
for filename in os.listdir(cfg.userdir):
    newname = filename
    for ch in cfg.badchars:
        newname.replace(ch,"-")
    if newname != filename:
        os.rename(os.path.join(cfg.userdir,filename),
                           os.path.join(cfg.userdir,newname)
. . .
. . .
# in another dark corner...

. . . 
for filename in os.listdir(cfg.tempdir):
    newname = filename
    for ch in cfg.badchars:
        newname.replace(ch,"-")
    if newname != filename:
        os.rename(os.path.join(cfg.userdir,filename),
                           os.path.join(cfg.userdir,newname)
. . .
# somewhere else...

. . . 
for filename in os.listdir(cfg.extradir):
    newname = filename
    for ch in cfg.badchars: 
        newname.replace(ch,"-")
    if newname != filename:
        os.rename(os.path.join(cfg.userdir,filename),
                           os.path.join(cfg.userdir,newname)
. . .
----------8<------------

See the repetition? ;-)

Imagine a situation where you need to do something far more complicated over, 
and over again...  It's not very programmer efficient, and it makes the code 
longer, too - thus costing more to write (time) and more to store (disks).

Imagine having to change the behaviour of this 'hard-coded' routine, and what 
would happen if you missed one... however, if it is in a function, you only 
have *one* place to change it.

When we generalise the algorithm and put it into a function we can do:

----------8<------------

. . .
. . .

# somewhere near the top of the project code...
def cleanup_filenames(dir):

    """ renames any files within dir that contain bad characters 
        (ie. ones in cfg.badchars).  Does not walk the directory tree.
    """

    for filename in os.listdir(dir):
        newname = filename
        for ch in cfg.badchars:
            newname.replace(ch,"-")
        if newname != filename:
            os.rename(os.path.join(cfg.userdir,filename),
                               os.path.join(cfg.userdir,newname)

. . .
. . .

# somewhere in the dark recesses of a large project...
. . . 
cleanup_filenames(cfg.userdir)
. . .
. . .
# in another dark corner...
. . . 
cleanup_filenames(cfg.tempdir)
. . .
# somewhere else...
. . . 
cleanup_filenames(cfg.extradir)
. . .

----------8<------------

Even in this small, contrived example, we've saved about 13 lines of code (ok, 
that's notwithstanding the blank lines and  the """ docstring """ at the top 
of the function).

There's another twist, too.  In the docstring for cleanup_filenames it says 
"Does not walk the directory tree." because we didn't code it to deal with 
subdirectories.  But we could, without using os.walk...

Directories form a tree structure, and the easiest way to process trees is by 
using /recursion/, which means functions that call themselves.  An old 
programmer's joke is this:

    Recursion, defn.  [if not understood] see Recursion.

Each time you call a function, it gets a brand new environment, called the 
'local scope'.  All variables inside this scope are private; they may have 
the same names, but they refer to different objects.  This can be really 
handy...

----------8<------------

def cleanup_filenames(dir):

    """ renames any files within dir that contain bad characters 
        (ie. ones in cfg.badchars).  Walks the directory tree to process
        subdirectories.
    """

    for filename in os.listdir(dir):
        newname = filename
        for ch in cfg.badchars:
            newname.replace(ch,"-")
        if newname != filename:
            os.rename(os.path.join(cfg.userdir,filename),
                               os.path.join(cfg.userdir,newname)
        # recurse if subdirectory...
        if os.path.isdir(os.path.join(cfg.userdir,newname)):
            cleanup_filenames(os.path.join(cfg.userdir,newname))

----------8<------------

This version *DOES* deal with subdirectories...  with only two extra lines, 
too!  Trying to write this without recursion would be a nightmare (even in 
Python).

A very important thing to note, however, is that there is a HARD LIMIT on the 
number of times a function can call itself, called the RecursionLimit:

----------8<------------
>>>n=1
>>>def rec():
        n=n+1
        rec()

>>>rec()
. . .
(huge traceback list)
. . .
RuntimeError: maximum recursion limit reached.
>>>n
991
----------8<------------

Another very important thing about recursion is that a recursive function 
should *ALWAYS* have a 'get-out-clause', a condition that stops the 
recursion.  Guess what happens if you don't have one ... ;-) 

Finally (at least for now), functions also provide a way to break down your 
code into logical sections.  Many programmers will write the higher level 
functions first, delegating 'complicated bits' to further sub-functions as 
they go, and worry about implementing them once they've got the overall 
algorithm finished.  This allows one to concentrate on the right level of 
detail, rather than getting bogged down in the finer points: you just make up 
names for functions that you're *going* to implement later.  Sometimes, you 
might make a 'stub' like:

def doofer(dooby, doo):
    pass

so that your program is /syntactically/ correct, and will run (to a certain 
degree).  This allows debugging to proceed before you have written 
everything.  You'd do this for functions which aren't *essential* to the 
program, but maybe add 'special features', for example, additonal 
error-checking or output formatting.

A sort of extension of the function  idea is 'modules', which make functions 
and other objects available to other 'client' programs.  When you say:

import os

you are effectively adding all the functions and objects of the os module into 
your own program, without having to re-write them.  This enables programmers
to share their functions and other code as convenient 'black boxes'.  Modules, 
however, are a slightly more advanced topic.


Hope that helps.

-andyj







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