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1.11 Using List Comprehensions Instead of map and filter

Credit: Luther Blissett

1.11.1 Problem

You want to perform an operation on all the elements of a list, but you'd like to avoid using map and filter because they can be hard to read and understand, particularly when they need lambda.

1.11.2 Solution

Say you want to create a new list by adding 23 to each item of some other list. In Python 1.5.2, the solution is:

thenewlist = map(lambda x: x + 23, theoldlist)

This is hardly the clearest code. Fortunately, since Python 2.0, we can use a list comprehension instead:

thenewlist = [x + 23 for x in theoldlist]

This is much clearer and more elegant.

Similarly, say you want the new list to comprise all items in the other list that are larger than 5. In Python 1.5.2, the solution is:

thenewlist = filter(lambda x: x > 5, theoldlist)

But in modern Python, we can use the following list comprehension:

thenewlist = [x for x in theoldlist if x > 5]

Now say you want to combine both list operations. In Python 1.5.2, the solution is quite complex:

thenewlist = map(lambda x: x+23, filter(lambda x: x>5, theoldlist))

A list comprehension affords far greater clarity, as we can both perform selection with the if clause and use some expression, such as adding 23, on the selected items:

thenewlist = [x + 23 for x in theoldlist if x > 5]

1.11.3 Discussion

Elegance and clarity, within a generally pragmatic attitude, are Python's core values. List comprehensions, added in Python 2.0, delightfully display how pragmatism can enhance both clarity and elegance. The built-in map and filter functions still have their uses, since they're arguably of equal elegance and clarity as list comprehensions when the lambda construct is not necessary. In fact, when their first argument is another built-in function (i.e., when lambda is not involved and there is no need to write a function just for the purpose of using it within a map or filter), they can be even faster than list comprehensions.

All in all, Python programs optimally written for 2.0 or later use far fewer map and filter calls than similar programs written for 1.5.2. Most of the map and filter calls (and quite a few explicit loops) are replaced with list comprehensions (which Python borrowed, after some prettying of the syntax, from Haskell, described at http://www.haskell.org). It's not an issue of wanting to play with a shiny new toy (although that desire, too, has its place in a programmer's heart)梩he point is that the toy, when used well, is a wonderfully useful instrument, further enhancing your Python programs' clarity, simplicity, and elegance.

1.11.4 See Also

The Reference Manual section on list displays (the other name for list comprehensions).

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