python unpack objects

Python how to unpack tuple, list and dictionary

There are various cases that you want to unpack your python objects such as tuple, list or dictionary into individual variables, so that you can easily access the individual items. In this article I will be sharing with you how to unpack these different python objects and how it can be useful when working with the *args and **kwargs in the function.

Let’s get started.

Unpack python tuple objects

Let’s say we have a tuple object called shape which describes the height, width and channel of an image, we shall be able to unpack it to 3 separate variables by doing below:

shape = (500, 300, 3)
height, width, channel = shape
print(height, width, channel)

And you can see each item inside the tuple has been assigned to the individual variables with a meaningful name, which increases the readability of your code. Below is the output:

500 300 3

It’s definitely more elegant than accessing each items by index, e.g. shape[0], shape[1], shape[2].

What if we just need to access a few items in a big tuple which has many items? Here we need to introduce the _ (unnamed variable) and * (unpack arbitrary number of items)

For example,  if we just want to extract the first and the last item from the below tuple, we can let the rest of the items go into a unnamed variable.

toto_result = (4,11,14,23,28,47,24)
first, *_, last = toto_result
print(first, last)

So the above will give the below output:

4 24

If you are curious what is inside the “_”, you can try to print it out. and you would see it’s actually a list of the rest of items between the first and last item.

[11, 14, 23, 28, 47]

The most popular use case of the packing and unpacking is to pass around as parameters to function which accepts arbitrary number of arguments (*args). Let’s look at an example:

def sum(*numbers):
    total = 0
    for n in numbers:
        total += n
    return total

For the above sum function, it accepts any number of arguments and sum up the values. The * here is trying to pack all the arguments passed to this function and put it into a tuple called numbers. If you are going to sum up the values for all the items in toto_result, directly pass in the toto_result would not work.

toto_resut = (4,11,14,23,28,47,24)
#sum(toto_result) would raise TypeError

So what we can do is to unpack the items from the tuple then pass it the sum function:

total = sum(*toto_resut)
print(total)
#output should be 151

Unpack python list objects

Unpacking the list object is similar to the unpacking operations on tuple object. If we replace the tuple to list in the above example, it should be working perfectly.

shape = [500, 300, 3]
height, width, channel = shape
print(height, width, channel)
#output shall be 500 300 3

toto_result = [4,11,14,23,28,47,24]
first, *_, last = toto_result
print(first, last)
#output shall be 4 24

total = sum(*toto_resut) 
print(total) 
#output should be also 151

Unpack python dictionary objects

Unlike the list or tuple, unpacking the dictionary probably only useful when you wants to pass the dictionary as the keyword arguments into a function (**kwargs).

For instance, in the below function, you can pass in all your keyword arguments one by one.

def print_header(**headers):
    for header in headers:
        print(header, headers[header])

print_header(Host="Mozilla/5.0", referer = "https://www.codeforests.com")

Or if you have a dictionary like below, you can just unpack it and pass to the function:

headers = {'Host': 'www.codeforests.com', 'referer' : 'https://www.codeforests.com'}
print_header(**headers)

It will generate the same result as previously, but the code is more concise.

Host www.codeforests.com
referer https://www.codeforests.com

With this unpacking operator, you can also combine multiple dictionaries as per below:

headers = {'Host': 'www.codeforests.com', 'referer' : 'https://www.codeforests.com'}
extra_header = {'user-agent': 'Mozilla/5.0'}

new_header = {**headers, **extra_header}

The output of the new_header will be like below:

{'Host': 'www.codeforests.com',
 'referer': 'https://www.codeforests.com',
 'user-agent': 'Mozilla/5.0'}

Conclusion

The unpacking operation is very usefully especially when dealing with the *args and **kwargs. There is one thing worth noting on the unamed variable (_) which I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Please use it with caution, as if you notice, the python interactive interpreter also uses _ to store the last executed expression. So do take note on this potential conflict. See the below example:

codeforests interactive interpreter conflicts

As per always, welcome any comments or questions.

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