list.pop(0) vs. collections.dequeue

Christian Heimes lists at
Sat Jan 23 00:17:17 CET 2010

Steve Howell wrote:
> That maybe would be an argument for just striking the paragraph from
> the tutorial.  If it's rare that people pop the head off the list in
> code that is performance critical or prominent, why bother to even
> mention it in the tutorial?

How else are you going to teach new Python developers that they should
favor append() and pop() in place of insert() and pop(0)? :)

> Impossible is a strong word.  You could be lazy about giving the
> memory back, and just wait till the whole list is garbage collected.
> I don't think there's anything in Python's contract that says memory
> has to be freed the exact moment you stop using it, especially since
> we're talking about doing an O(N) memmove just to free up one
> pointer's worth of memory.

Your proposal would increase the size of every list object of
sizeof(ptr) or ssize_t (32 or 64bits) in order to store the information
where the first element is. It would also unnecessarily complicate the
code and possible slow down a lot of list operations.

> I know the Python programmer could simply iterate through the list
> rather than popping off unused elements, but that just means that you
> not only tie up the memory for the pointers just as long, but you also
> prevent the objects themselves from being garbage collected.
> In my case I'm not really concerned about giving the memory back right
> away, it's more about keeping my code simple.  Once I'm done with an
> element, I do just want to pop it off and keep all the simplicity of
> the lists, but I am just concerned enough speed that for a 1000
> element list, I don't want to be doing 1000 memmoves for an average of
> 500 pointers, which effectively moves about a million bytes around for
> no reason.

The simplicity of Python is gained with some performance drawbacks. You
have to learn to use Python algorithms. You can't simply re implement a
fast C algorithm and expect it to be fast in Python, too.


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