Python one-liners with list comprehension and ternary operation

15 Most Powerful Python One-liners You Can’t Skip


One-liner in Python refers to a short code snippet that achieves some powerful operations. It’s popular and widely used in Python community as it makes the code more concise and easier to understand. In this article, I will be sharing some most commonly used Python one-liners that would definitely speed up your coding without compromising any clarity.

Let’s start from the basis.

Ternary operations

Ternary operation allows you to evaluate a value based on the condition being true or false. Instead of writing a few lines of if/else statements, you can simply do it with one line of code:

x = 1
y = 2

result = 1 if x > 0 and y > x else -1
# 1

#re-assign x to 6 if it is evaluated as False
x = x or 6

Assign values for multiple variables

You can assign values for multiple variables simultaneously as per below. (You may want to check this article to understand what is going on under the hood)

key, value = "user", "password"

print(key, value)
#('user', 'password')

Swap variables

To swap the values of the variables, simply perform the below without having a temp variable which is usually required by other programming languages like Java or C.

key, value = value, key

print(key, value) 
#('password', 'user')

Swap elements in a list

Imagine you have a list of users as per below, and you would like to swap the first element with last element:

users = ["admin", "anonymous1", "anonymous2"]

Since list is mutable, you can re-assign the values of first and last elements by swapping their sequence as per below:

users[0], users[2] = users[2], users[0]
# or users[0], users[-1] = users[-1], users[0]

#['anonymous2', 'anonymous1', 'admin']

Further more, if the requirement is to swap the elements at the odd and even positions in a list, e.g. in the below list:

numbers = list(range(10))
#[0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

We would like to swap the elements of the 2nd and 1st, 4th and 3rd, and so on. It can be achieved by performing the below list slicing with assignment operation:

numbers[::2], numbers[1::2] = numbers[1::2], numbers[0::2]

#[1, 0, 3, 2, 5, 4, 7, 6, 9, 8]

Replace elements in a list

To further expend the above example, if we want to replace the elements on every odd/even position in a list, for instance to 0, we can do the re-assignment with below:

numbers[1::2] = [0]*len(numbers[1::2])

#[0, 0, 2, 0, 4, 0, 6, 0, 8, 0]

Of course there is an alternative way with list comprehension, we shall touch on it later.

Generate list with list comprehension

By using list comprehension, you can easily generate new a list with certain filtering conditions from the current sequence object. For instance, the below will generate a list of even numbers between 1 to 20:

even_nums = [i for i in range(1, 20) if i%2 == 0]

#[2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18]

Create sub list from a list

Similarly, you can get a sub list from the existing list with the list comprehension as per below:

[i for i in even_nums if i <5]
# 2, 4

Manipulating elements in the list

With list comprehension, you can also transform your list of elements into another format. For instance, to convert the integers to alphabets:

alphabets = [chr(65+i) for i in even_nums]
# ['C', 'E', 'G', 'I', 'K', 'M', 'O', 'Q', 'S']

Or convert the upper case into lower case:

[i.lower() for i in alphabets]
#['c', 'e', 'g', 'i', 'k', 'm', 'o', 'q', 's']

And all the above can be done without list comprehension as well:

list(map(lambda x : chr(65+x), even_nums))
#['C', 'E', 'G', 'I', 'K', 'M', 'O', 'Q', 'S']

list(map(str.lower, alphabets))
#['c', 'e', 'g', 'i', 'k', 'm', 'o', 'q', 's']

Another real world example would be to use list comprehension to list out all the .ipynb files from current folder and its sub folders (excluding the checkpoint files):

import os

[f for d in os.walk(".") if not ".ipynb_checkpoints" in d[0]
             for f in d[2] if f.endswith(".ipynb")]

Flatten a list of sequences

If you have a list of sequence objects as per below, and you would like to flatten them into 1 dimensional:

a = [[1,2], [3,4], [5,6,7]]

You can use multiple for expressions in list comprehension to flatten it:

b = [y for x in a for y in x]

#[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

Alternatively, you can make use of the itertools module to get the same result:

import itertools


Ternary operation with list comprehension

In the previous ternary operation example, we have discussed how to replace the elements in the even position of a list. Here is the alternative using list comprehension in conjunction with a ternary expression:

numbers = list(range(10))
[y if i % 2 == 0 else 0 for i, y in enumerate(numbers)]
#[0, 0, 2, 0, 4, 0, 6, 0, 8, 0]

Generate a dictionary with dictionary comprehension

To derive a dictionary from a list, you can use dictionary comprehension as per below:

even_nums_dict = {chr(65+i):v for i, v in enumerate(even_nums)}

#{'A': 2, 'B': 4, 'C': 6, 'D': 8, 'E': 10, 'F': 12, 'G': 14, 'H': 16, 'I': 18}

Generate a set with set comprehension

Similar operation is also available for set data type when you want to derive elements from a list to set:

even_nums_set = {chr(65+i) for i in even_nums}
#{'C', 'E', 'G', 'I', 'K', 'M', 'O', 'Q', 'S'}

When using the built-in data type set, you shall expect that it only keeps the unique values. For instance, you can use set to remove duplicate values:

a = [1,2,2,4,6,7]
unique = set(a)

#{1, 2, 4, 6, 7}

More Python comprehension examples can be found here.

Read file into generator

Reading files can be done in one-liner as per below:

text = (line.strip() for line in open('response.html', 'r'))

Take note the parentheses are used in above generator expression rather than [], when [] is used, it returns a list.

One-liner with Python -c command

Sometimes you may want to run code snippets without entering into the Python interactive mode. You can execute the code with Python -c option in command line window. For instance, check the current Python version:

python -c "import sys; print(sys.version.split()[0])"


Or check the value of the environment variable:

python -c "import os;print(os.getenv('PATH').split(';'))"


In this article, we have reviewed through some commonly used Python one-liners which would greatly improve your code readability and coding productivity. There are definitely more to be covered, and every Pythonista would have his/her own list of favorite one-liners. Sometimes you will also need to consider the code performance before you use it rather simply pursuing the conciseness of the code.

As the general rule of thumb, you shall not use/innovate something that confusing ,difficult to read or totally not benefiting either in readability or productivity.

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