Finding the instance reference of an object [long and probably boring]

greg greg at
Tue Nov 11 04:21:32 CET 2008

Arnaud Delobelle wrote:
> But in the course of conversation I might refer to
> Napoleon, meaning Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821) or Napoleon III (1808
> - 1873).

That's more like referring to the name 'Napoleon' in
two different namespaces. The original binding still
exists, you're just switching contexts.

> My point was to get away from a model for Python which was built on its
> likely implementation and to hint that we can build one using the naive
> concept of 'name for a thing' instead.

I don't believe it's possible to build any complete and
correct model of Python behaviour without including some
concept equivalent to a reference.

You can talk about names written on PostIt notes and
such like, but that only gets you a short way. It doesn't
easily handle names in different namespaces, or references
that exist without simple names, e.g. list and tuple
items. Trying to repair these deficiencies only leads to
increasingly bizarre and contrived mental pictures.

On the other hand, if you explicitly include the concept
of a reference from the beginning, everything is quite
clear and consistent.

In other words, the model should be as simple as possible
but no simpler. Leaving out references makes it too

Another point I'd like to make is that there is nothing
inherently low-level about the concept of a reference.
It doesn't have to be implemented as a memory address or
any other particular machine-level thing. It's possible to
talk about Python object references in a completely
implementation-independent way.

Also, just because you don't explicitly refer to them and
manipulate them at the language level doesn't mean they
don't exist. To think otherwise is like thinking that air
doesn't exist just because you can't see it. There are
plenty of experiments which clearly indicate its existence.
Likewise, there are plenty of experiments that you can
perform with any Python interpreter that reveal the
existence of references, or something equivalent to them.


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