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Python Parameters, Functions and Arguments

In this eighth part of a nine-part series on the Python programming language, we focus strongly on two aspects of functions: parameters and arguments. This article is excerpted from chapter four of the book Python in a Nutshell, Second Edition, written by Alex Martelli (O'Reilly; ISBN: 0596100469). Copyright 2007 O'Reilly Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the publisher. Available from booksellers or direct from O'Reilly Media.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
  1. Python Parameters, Functions and Arguments
  2. Attributes of Function Objects
  3. Other attributes of function objects
  4. Kinds of arguments
By: O'Reilly Media
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October 30, 2008

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Parameters

Formal parameters that are just identifiers indicate mandatory parameters. Each call to the function must supply a corresponding value (argument) for each mandatory parameter.

In the comma-separated list of parameters, zero or more mandatory parameters may be followed by zero or more optional parameters, where each optional parameter has the syntax:

  identifier=expression

The def statement evaluates each such expression and saves a reference to the expression's value, known as the default value for the parameter, among the attributes of the function object. When a function call does not supply an argument corresponding to an optional parameter, the call binds the parameter's identifier to its default value for that execution of the function. Note that each default value gets computed when the def statement evaluates, not when the resulting function gets called. In particular, this means that the same object, the default value, gets bound to the optional parameter whenever the caller does not supply a corresponding argument. This can be tricky when the default value is a mutable object and the function body alters the parameter. For example:

  def f(x, y=[]):
     
y.append(x)
     
return y
 
print f(23)           # prints: [23]
  prinf f(42)           # prints: [23, 42]

The second print statement prints [23, 42] because the first call to f altered the default value of y, originally an empty list [], by appending 23 to it. If you want y to be bound to a new empty list object each time f is called with a single argument, use the following style instead:

  def f(x, y=None):
     
if y is None: y = []
     
y.append(x)
     
return y
 
print f(23)               # prints: [23]
  prinf f(42)               # prints: [42]

At the end of the parameters, you may optionally use either or both of the special forms *identifier1 and **identifier2 . If both forms are present, the form with two asterisks must be last. *identifier1 specifies that any call to the function may supply any number of extra positional arguments, while **identifier2  specifies that any call to the function may supply any number of extra named arguments (positional and named arguments are covered in "Calling Functions" on page 73). Every call to the function binds identifier1  to a tuple whose items are the extra positional arguments (or the empty tuple, if there are none). Similarly, identifier2  gets bound to a dictionary whose items are the names and values of the extra named arguments (or the empty dictionary, if there are none). Here's a function that accepts any number of positional arguments and returns their sum:

  def sum_args(*numbers):
     
return sum(numbers)
  print sum_args(23, 42)        # prints: 65

The number of parameters of a function, together with the parameters' names, the number of mandatory parameters, and the information on whether (at the end of the parameters) either or both of the single- and double-asterisk special forms are present, collectively form a specification known as the function's signature. A function's signature defines the ways in which you can call the function.



 
 
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