Default return values for out-of-bounds list item

Steven D'Aprano steve at
Fri Jan 22 03:28:23 CET 2010

On Thu, 21 Jan 2010 17:56:00 -0800, gburdell1 at wrote:

> Is there a built-in method in python that lets you specify a "default"
> value that will be returned whenever you try to access a list item that
> is out of bounds? 


> Basically, it would be a function like this:
> def item(x,index,default):
>    try:
>       return x[index]
>    except IndexError:
>       return default

That's probably the best way to do it.

> So if a=[0,1,2,3], then item(a,0,44)=0, item(a,1,44)=1, and item(a,
> 1000,44)=44, item(a,-1000,44)=44
> What I want to know is whether there is a built-in method or notation
> for this. What if, for example, we could do something like a [1000,44] ?

You can use slicing instead:

>>> a=[0,1,2,3]
>>> a[2:3]
>>> a[100:101]

and then detect the empty list and use default:

def item(x, index, default):
    a = x[index:index+1]
    return a[0] if a else default


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