append to non-existing list

Steven D'Aprano steve at
Wed Nov 9 17:08:44 CET 2005

On Wed, 09 Nov 2005 13:46:52 +0100, Yves Glodt wrote:

> My question is: Is there no way to append to a non existing list?
> I am lazy for declaring it first, IMHO it bloats the code, and (don't 
> know if it's good to say that here) where I come from (php) I was used 
> to not-needing it...

But what happens if the non-existent list you try to append to is actually
a non-existent dict, or worse, a non-existent float? You'll get errors and
maybe even crash your computer and wipe the hard disk clear.


How is appending to a non-existent object supposed to work?


What object does the name "something" refer to? Does it even have an
append method? How can you tell what methods it has if it doesn't exist

No, you can't append to a non-existent list, just as you can't add two
non-existent numbers together.

If PHP allows you to append to non-existent lists, then it is a poor
design decision, and it obviously only works because PHP is much more
limited than Python. Consider the following code:

class PList(list):
    def append(self, obj):
        print "Appending object to PList"
        self.__class__.append(self, obj)  # call the superclass

class QList(list):
    def append(self, obj):
        print "QList append is being called"
        self.__class__.append(self, obj)

class RList(QList):
    def append(self, obj):
        self.__class__.append(self, obj)
        print "Now calling RList append"

something.append("hello world")  # call append on a non-existent object

What should Python do? Should "something" be a RList, QList, PList or
ordinary list?


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