Best way to check that you are at the beginning (the end) of an iterable?

Cameron Simpson cs at
Wed Sep 7 20:23:14 EDT 2011

On 07Sep2011 16:22, Laurent <laurent.payot at> wrote:
| I totally understand the performance issue that an hypothetical
| "istail" would bring, even if I think it would just be the programmer's
| responsibility not to use it when it's not certain that an end can
| be detected.

The trouble with these things is that their presence leads to stallable
code, often in libraries. Let the programmer write code dependent on
istail() without thinking of the stall case (or even the gratuitous
execution case, as in a generator with side effects in calling .next())
and have that buried in a utilities function.

Facilities like feof() in C and eof in Pascal already lead to lots of
code that runs happily with flat files and behaves badly in interactive
or piped input. It is _so_ easy to adopt a style like:

  while not eof(filehandle):
    line = filehandle.nextline()

that is it often thought that having offered the eof() function is a
design error. (Of course in the example above the usual python idiom
would win out from existing habit, but there are plenty of other
situations where is would just be _easy_ to rely of istail() in whatever

| But I don't see why *adding* something like "ishead" would be so bad
| (at worse by using a boolean somewhere as you mentioned).

It is not awful, but as remarked:
  - extra storage cost to _every_ iterable, for a rarely used facility
  - extra runtime cost to maintain the state
  - _retroactive_ burden on _every_ iterator implementation presently
    existing; every iterator sudden needs to implement and offer this
    extra facility to be generate purpose use
  - it is easy to provide the facility on the rare occasions when it is

Personally, I think point 3 above is the killer and 1 and 2 are serious
counter arguments.

| Anyway I was just asking if there is something better than enumerate. So
| the answer is no? The fact that I have to create a tuple with an
| incrementing integer for something as simple as checking that I'm at
| the head just sounds awfully unpythonic to me.

You can just use a boolean if you like. I have plent of loops like:

  first = true
  for i in iterable:
    if first:
      blah ...
    first = False

Cheap and easy. Cheers,
Cameron Simpson <cs at> DoD#743

Bye and bye, God caught his eye, - Epitaph for a waiter by David McCord

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