Class Variable Access and Assignment

Mike Meyer mwm at
Thu Nov 3 19:37:08 CET 2005

Antoon Pardon <apardon at> writes:
>> What would you expect to get if you wrote b.a = b.a + 2?
> I would expect a result consistent with the fact that both times
> b.a would refer to the same object.

Except they *don't*. This happens in any language that resolves
references at run time. Changing that would be changing a fundamental
- and *important* - feature of Python. Arbitrary restrictions to
prevent a single case of this from doing something people who aren't
used to suvh behavior are kludges, and would constitute a wart on the
language, pure and simple.

If you think this is bad, you should consider Jensen's device. It uses
call-by-name, which Python doesn't have. This defers evauation of an
argument until the actual use of the argument. You can fake it in
python by passing strings that you eval and/or lambdas that you call -
I'm not going to work out the details.

Here's the function:

real procedure SIGMA(x, i, n);
   value n;
   real x; integer i, n;
   real s;
   s := 0;
   for i := 1 step 1 until n do
      s := s + x;
   SIGMA := s;

The object referred to by "x" in the body of the loop is different
*every pass through the loop*, at least in the expected usage. That
usage is SIGMA(a(i), i, 10). Call-by-name evaluates a(i) when x is
mentioned. Since i changes with each pass through the loop, a(i) is a
different element in the array. So SIGMA(a(i), i, 10) is sum(a[:10])
(give or take). But SIGMA(a(i) * b(i), i, 10) is sum([a(i) * b(i) for
i in xrange(10)]) (more or less).

This isn't insane, it's a feature. It's a *very powerful*
feature. Yes, it causes behavior that's unexpected and appears to be
wrong to people who aren't used to resolving names at run time. They
need to get used to it. Then they can start taking advantage of it.

> I think it even less sane, if the same occurce of b.a refers to two
> different objects, like in b.a += 2

That's a wart in +=, nothing less. The fix to that is to remove +=
from the language, but it's a bit late for that.

Mike Meyer <mwm at>
Independent WWW/Perforce/FreeBSD/Unix consultant, email for more information.

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