Multi-dimensional list initialization

Ian Kelly ian.g.kelly at
Wed Nov 7 00:52:00 CET 2012

On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 3:41 PM, Andrew Robinson
<andrew3 at> wrote:
>>      Q: What about other mutable objects like sets or dicts?
>>      A: No, the elements are never copied.
> They aren't list multiplication compatible in any event! It's a total
> nonsense objection.
> If these are inconsistent in my idea -- OBVIOUSLY -- they are inconsistent
> in Python's present implementation.  You can't even reference duplicate them
> NOW.
>>>> { 1:'a', 2:'b', 3:'c' } * 2
> Traceback (most recent call last):
>   File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
> TypeError: unsupported operand type(s) for *: 'dict' and 'int'

The objection is not nonsense; you've merely misconstrued it.  If
[[1,2,3]] * 4 is expected to create a mutable matrix of 1s, 2s, and
3s, then one would expect [[{}]] * 4 to create a mutable matrix of
dicts.  If the dicts are not copied, then this fails for the same

>>      Q: How about if I use delegation to proxy a list?
>>      A: Oh no, they definitely won't be copied.
> Give an example usage of why someone would want to do this.  Then we can
> discuss it.

Seriously?  Read a book on design patterns.  You might start at SO:

>> Losing consistency in favour of saving a few characters for something as
>> uncommon as list multiplication is a poor tradeoff. That's why this
>> proposal has been rejected again and again and again every time it has
>> been suggested.
> Please link to the objection being proposed to the developers, and their
> reasoning for rejecting it.
> I think you are exaggerating.

>From Google:

Note that in two out of these four cases, the reporter was trying to
multiply lists of dicts, not just lists of lists.

> Besides, 2D arrays are *not* rare and people *have* to copy internals of
> them very often.
> The copy speed will be the same or *faster*, and the typing less -- and the
> psychological mistakes *less*, the elegance more.

List multiplication is not potentially useful for copying 2D lists,
only for initializing them.  For copying an existing nested list,
you're still stuck with either copy.deepcopy() or a list

> It's hardly going to confuse anyone to say that lists are copied with list
> multiplication, but the elements are not.
> Every time someone passes a list to a function, they *know* that the list is
> passed by value -- and the elements are passed by reference.  People in
> Python are USED to lists being "the" way to weird behavior that other
> languages don't do.

Incorrect.  Python uses what is commonly known as call-by-object, not
call-by-value or call-by-reference.  Passing the list by value would
imply that the list is copied, and that appends or removes to the list
inside the function would not affect the original list.  This is not
what Python does; the list inside the function and the list passed in
are the same list.  At the same time, the function does not have
access to the original reference to the list and cannot reassign it by
reassigning its own reference, so it is not call-by-reference
semantics either.

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