max(), sum(), next()

Laszlo Nagy gandalf at
Wed Sep 3 21:18:15 CEST 2008

bearophileHUGS at wrote:
> Empty Python lists [] don't know the type of the items it will
> contain, so this sounds strange:
>>>> sum([])
> 0
> Because that [] may be an empty sequence of someobject:

You are right in that sum could be used to sum arbitrary objects. 
However, in 99.99% of the cases, you will be summing numerical values. 
When adding real numbers, the neutral element is zero. ( X + 0 = X) It 
is very logical to return zero for empty sequences.

Same way, if we would have a prod() function, it should return one for 
empty sequences because X*1 = X. The neutral element for this operation 
is one.

Of course this is not good for summing other types of objects. But how 
clumsy would it be to use

sum( L +[0] )


if L:
value = sum(L)
value = 0

instead of sum(L).

Once again, this is what sum() is used for in most cases, so this 
behavior is the "expected" one.

Another argument to convince you: the sum() function in SQL for empty 
row sets returns zero in most relational databases.

But of course it could have been implemented in a different way... I 
believe that there have been excessive discussions about this decision, 
and the current implementation is very good, if not the best.



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