Idiomatic Python Take 3: new-style classes¶
Someone (Lila) asked me a question about pickling and memory usage that led me on a chase through google, and along the way I was reminded that new-style classes do have one or two interesting points.
You may remember from the first day that there was a brief discussion of new-style classes. Basically, they’re classes that inherit from ‘object’ explicitly:
>>> class N(object): ... pass
and they have a bunch of neat features (covered here in detail). I’m going to talk about two of them: __slots__ and descriptors.
__slots__ are a memory optimization. As you know, you can assign any attribute you want to an object:
>>> n = N() >>> n.test = 'some string' >>> print n.test some string
Now, the way this is implemented behind the scenes is that there’s a dictionary hiding in ‘n’ (called ‘n.__dict__’) that holds all of the attributes. However, dictionaries consume a fair bit of memory above and beyond their contents, so it might be good to get rid of the dictionary in some circumstances and specify precisely what attributes a class has.
You can do that by creating a __slots__ entry:
>>> class M(object): ... __slots__ = ['x', 'y', 'z']
Now objects of type ‘M’ will contain only enough space to hold those three attributes, and nothing else.
A side consequence of this is that you can no longer assign to arbitrary attributes, however!
>>> m = M() >>> m.x = 5 >>> m.a = 10 Traceback (most recent call last): ... AttributeError: 'M' object has no attribute 'a'
This will look strangely like some kind of type declaration to people familiar with B&D languages, but I assure you that it is not! You are supposed to use __slots__ only for memory optimization...
Speaking of memory optimization (which is what got me onto this in the first place) apparently using new-style classes and __slots__ both dramatically decrease memory consumption:
Another nifty pair of features in new-style classes are managed attributes and descriptors.
You may know that in the olden days, you could intercept attribute access by overwriting __getattr__:
>>> class A: ... def __getattr__(self, name): ... if name == 'special': ... return 5 ... return self.__dict__[name] >>> a = A() >>> a.special 5
This turns out to be kind of inefficient, because every attribute access now goes through __getattr__. Plus, it’s a bit ugly and it can lead to buggy code.
Python 2.2 introduced “managed attributes”. With managed attributes, you can define functions that handle the get, set, and del operations for an attribute:
>>> class B(object): ... def _get_special(self): ... return 5 ... special = property(_get_special) >>> b = B() >>> b.special 5
If you wanted to provide a ‘_set_special’ function, you could do some really bizarre things:
>>> class B(object): ... def _get_special(self): ... return 5 ... def _set_special(self, value): ... print 'ignoring', value ... special = property(_get_special, _set_special) >>> b = B()
Now, retrieving the value of the ‘special’ attribute will give you ‘5’, no matter what you set it to:
>>> b.special 5 >>> b.special = 10 ignoring 10 >>> b.special 5
Ignoring the array of perverse uses you could apply, this is actually useful – for one example, you can now do internal consistency checking on attributes, intercepting inconsistent values before they actually get set.
Descriptors are a related feature that let you implement attribute access functions in a different way. First, let’s define a read-only descriptor:
>>> class D(object): ... def __get__(self, obj, type=None): ... print 'in get:', obj ... return 6
Now attach it to a class:
>>> class A(object): ... val = D()
>>> a = A() >>> a.val in get: <A object at ...> 6
What happens is that ‘a.val’ is checked for the presence of a __get__ function, and if such exists, it is called instead of returning ‘val’. You can also do this with __set__ and __delete__:
>>> class D(object): ... def __get__(self, obj, type=None): ... print 'in get' ... return 6 ... ... def __set__(self, obj, value): ... print 'in set:', value ... ... def __delete__(self, obj): ... print 'in del'
>>> class A(object): ... val = D() >>> a = A() >>> a.val = 15 in set: 15 >>> del a.val in del >>> print a.val in get 6
This can actually give you control over things like the types of objects that are assigned to particular classes: no mean thing.