Python List Issue

Greg Ewing greg at
Thu Mar 31 07:34:14 CEST 2005

Nick L wrote:
> I noticed that with python lists, generally when you
> make a copy of a list (ie, List1 = List2) List1 just becomes a reference to
> List2 and any modifications done to List1 affects List2. Ok I can live with
> this but I want to make a completely seperate copy not attached to the
> original in anyway.

Although your immediate question has been answered (you wanted
a deep copy, not a shallow one), I think you should take a
step back and consider whether you really need to do that much
copying in the first place.

With the proper approach, I find it's extremely rare to need to
copy anything in a Python program, and rarer still to need
deep copying. Generally, it's better for a function not to
modify objects passed to it, unless that's the purpose of
the function. If a function needs a local copy of an argument,
it should create one itself, and not put the burden on the

Also, there are some things about your code that suggest you
still do not fully understand how scoping and assignment work
in Python:

> def ApplySourceFunc(bob, final):
 >         ...
>         bob = final
>         final = []

These last two statements do not accomplish anything useful.
All they do is change which objects are referred to by the
parameter names 'bob' and 'final', which are local to the
function, and have no effect on anything outside it.

> def ApplyOperatorsLoop(aList):
 >         ...
>         final.append(iTemp)
>         ...

Here you are referring to the global variable 'final', not
the one passed as a parameter to ApplySourceFunc(). To get
the effect you seem to be after, you would need to pass
'final' on as a parameter to ApplyOperatorsLoop().

Here is how I would write this:

   def ApplySourceFunc(bob, final):
     for item in bob:
       ApplyOperatorsLoop(item, final)

   def ApplyOperatorsLoop(item, final):
     new_item = AddGetSpeed(item)
     if new_item:

   def AddGetSpeed(tList):
     if tList and tList[-1][0] == 0:
       new_tList = tList[:]
       new_tList[-1] = new_tList[-1][:]
       new_tList[-1][0] = "GetSpeed()"
       print "New Rule 'GetSpeed()' Added to the List"
       return new_tList
       return None

Notice how all the copying is done inside AddGetSpeed(),
it only copies what is needed, and the fact that the copying
is needed is encapsulated within the function; its callers
don't need to know.

I have also made use of some other common Python idioms:

* Whenever possible, it is simpler and clearer to iterate
   directly over the items of a list, rather than iterating
   over its indices and then indexing it.

* Almost any object can be used as a truth value. Non-empty
   lists count as true; empty lists and None count as false.

* The 'and' and 'or' operators short-circuit: if the first
   operand determines the result, the second operand is not

* Negative list indices are counted from the end of the
   list; e.g. aList[-1] means the last item of aList.

Hope that helps,

Greg Ewing, Computer Science Dept,
University of Canterbury,	
Christchurch, New Zealand

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