Speed of Nested Functions & Lambda Expressions

Duncan Booth duncan.booth at invalid.invalid
Wed Oct 24 09:52:46 CEST 2007

beginner <zyzhu2000 at gmail.com> wrote:

> It is really convenient to use nested functions and lambda
> expressions. What I'd like to know is if Python compiles fn_inner()
> only once and change the binding of v every time fn_outer() is called
> or if Python compile and generate a new function object every time. If
> it is the latter, will there be a huge performance hit? Would someone
> give some hint about how exactly Python does this internally?

You can use Python's bytecode disassembler to see what actually gets 
executed here:

>>> def fn_outer(v):
    def fn_inner():
        print "V:%d,%d" % (v,a)


>>> import dis
>>> dis.dis(fn_outer)
  2           0 LOAD_DEREF               1 (v)
              3 LOAD_CONST               1 (2)
              6 BINARY_MULTIPLY     
              7 STORE_DEREF              0 (a)

  3          10 LOAD_CLOSURE             0 (a)
             13 LOAD_CLOSURE             1 (v)
             16 BUILD_TUPLE              2
             19 LOAD_CONST               2 (<code object fn_inner at 
01177218, file "<pyshell#3>", line 3>)
             22 MAKE_CLOSURE             0
             25 STORE_FAST               1 (fn_inner)

  6          28 LOAD_FAST                1 (fn_inner)
             31 CALL_FUNCTION            0
             34 POP_TOP             
             35 LOAD_CONST               0 (None)
             38 RETURN_VALUE        

When you execute the 'def' statement, the two scoped variables a and v 
are built into a tuple on the stack, the compiled code object for the 
inner function is also pushed onto the stack and then the function is 
created by the 'MAKE_CLOSURE' instruction. This is then stored in a 
local variable (STORE_FAST) which is then loaded and called.

So the function definition is pretty fast, BUT notice how fn_inner is 
referenced by STORE_FAST/LOAD_FAST whereas a and v are referenced by 

The code for fn_inner also uses LOAD_DEREF to get at the scoped 

  4           0 LOAD_CONST               1 ('V:%d,%d')
              3 LOAD_DEREF               1 (v)
              6 LOAD_DEREF               0 (a)
              9 BUILD_TUPLE              2
             12 BINARY_MODULO       
             13 PRINT_ITEM          
             14 PRINT_NEWLINE       
             15 LOAD_CONST               0 (None)
             18 RETURN_VALUE        

(its a bit harder to disassemble that one, I stuck a call to dis.dis 
inside fn_outer to get that)

If you do some timings you'll find that LOAD_DEREF/STORE_DEREF are 
rather slower than LOAD_FAST/STORE_FAST, so while the overhead for 
creating the function is minimal you could find that if you access the 
variables a lot (even in fn_outer) there may be a measurable slow-down.

If timings show that it is a code hotspot then you might find it better 
to nest the function but pass any required values in as parameters (but 
if you don't have evidence for this just write whatever is clearest).

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