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steve+comp.lang.python at pearwood.info
Fri Feb 3 00:04:39 EST 2012
On Fri, 03 Feb 2012 14:08:06 +1100, John O'Hagan wrote:
> I think we're 12 years late on this one. It's PEP 203 from 2000 and the
> key phrase was:
> "The in-place function should always return a new reference, either to
> the old `x' object if the operation was indeed performed in-place, or to
> a new object."
> If this had read:
> "The in-place function should return a reference to a new object if the
> operation was not performed in-place."
> or something like that, we wouldn't be discussing this.
And what should it return if the operation *is* performed in-place?
"Don't return anything" is not an option, Python doesn't have procedures.
That implies that __iadd__ etc. should return None. But two problems come
1) Using None as an out-of-band signal to the interpreter to say "don't
perform the assignment" makes it impossible for the augmented assignment
method to return None as the result. If we only think about numeric
operations like x += 1 then we might not care, but once you consider the
situation more widely the problem is clear:
x = Fact(foo)
y = Fact(bar)
x & y # Returns a composite Fact, or None if they are contradictory
With your suggestion, x &= y fails to work, but only sometimes. And when
it fails, it doesn't fail with an explicit exception, but silently fails
and then does the wrong thing. This makes debugging a horror.
2) And speaking of debugging, sometimes people forget to include the
return statement in methods. Normally, the left hand side of the
assignment then gets set to None, and the error is pretty obvious as soon
as you try to do something with it. But with your suggestion, instead of
getting an exception, it silently fails, and your code does the wrong
I suppose that they could have invented a new sentinel, or a special
exception to be raised as a signal, but that's piling complication on top
of complication, and it isn't clear to me that it's worth it for an
obscure corner case.
Yes, the current behaviour is a Gotcha, but it's a Gotcha that makes good
sense compared to the alternatives.
Ultimately, augmented assignment is *assignment*, just like it says on
the tin. t += x is syntactic sugar for t = t.__iadd__(x). It
can't and shouldn't fail to raise an exception if t is a tuple, because
tuple item assignment *must* fail.
The problem is that lists treat __iadd__ as an in-place optimization, and
this clashes with tuple immutability. But if lists *didn't* treat
__iadd__ as in-place, people would complain when they used it directly
without a tuple wrapper.
Perhaps lists shouldn't define += at all, but then people will complain
that mylist += another_list is slow. Telling them to use mylist.extend
instead just makes them cranky. After all, mylist + another_list works,
so why shouldn't += work?
Ultimately, there is no right answer, because the multitude of
requirements are contradictory. No matter what Python did, somebody would
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