Boolean tests [was Re: Attack a sacred Python Cow]

Heiko Wundram modelnine at
Tue Jul 29 21:43:02 CEST 2008

Am 29.07.2008, 18:30 Uhr, schrieb Carl Banks <pavlovevidence at>:

> On Jul 29, 5:15 am, Heiko Wundram <modeln... at> wrote:
>> I can't dig up a simple example from code I wrote quickly, but because  
>> of the
>> fact that explicit comparisons always hamper polymorphism
> I'm not going to take your word for it.  Do you have code that
> demonstrates how "if x" improves polymorphism relative to simple
> explicit tests?

As I wrote in the second reply email I sent, check out my integer set  
recipe on ASPN (and to save you the search: To test whether the integer  
set is empty or not (in a polymorphic function which accepts any kind of  
sequence type), the explicit test would be, as you proposed elsewhere:  
len(x) > 0. This simply WILL NOT work with some sets of that respective  
type, because, as I documented for the __len__() method there: the return  
value of __len__() has to (had to?) be in the range 0 <= len < 2**31  
(which I think means, as I tested and implemented it on i386, that the  
return value has to fit in an ssize_t platform type, but someone with more  
knowledge of the interpreter internals might be able to comment here; I'm  
not in the mood for checking this out now).

Another reason why the test for __nonzero__() is beneficial, at least  
here: testing whether the set is empty or not is easy, because an empty  
set has no ranges, and a set with at least one element has at least one  
range (i.e., to test whether the set is non-empty, check whether the  
_ranges member, a list, is __nonzero__()); taking the len() of a set  
always means adding the size of the ranges together (even though this  
could of course be precomputed/cached, as the set type is immutable, but  
I'm not doing that in that recipe's code).

So, adding things up: the interpretation of __nonzero__(), i.e. the direct  
"conversion" to bool, for container-types, implements THE means to test  
whether the container is empty or not. Insisting on not using it, because  
a "simple explicit" test is supposedly better, will prove to not work in  
those cases where the container type might not have a representable length  
(because of the constraints on the return value of __len__()), even though  
the container has an empty/non-empty state.

I think this does make a very compelling use case for "if x" instead of  
"if len(x) > 0".

--- Heiko.

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