This lesson is being piloted (Beta version)

# Special methods

## Overview

Teaching: 25 min
Exercises: 15 min
Questions
• How can classes allow their instances to work with standard Python operators?

• How can classes allow their instances to behave like iterables or collections?

• How can classes allow their instances to be called like functions?

Objectives
• Be able to implement methods like __add__, __eq__, and __gt__.

• Be able to implement methods like __len__, __iter__, and __reversed__.

• Be able to implement the __call__ method.

In the previous episodes, we built a Triangle class that could represent a triangle by storing the lengths of its sides. Now, mathematically speaking, two triangles with identical sides are the same triangle. Let’s see if Python agrees with this.

a_triangle = Triangle([3, 4, 5])
the_same_triangle = Triangle([3, 4, 5])
if a_triangle == the_same_triangle:
print("Python thinks that these triangles are the same.")
else:
print("Python thinks that these are different triangles.")

Python thinks that these are different triangles.


So, despite these triangles having been constructed with exactly the same side lengths, Python distinguishes between them. By default, Python will only consider two objects to be the same if they are identical:

a_triangle = Triangle([3, 4, 5])
duplicate_triangle = a_triangle
if a_triangle == duplicate_triangle:
print("Python thinks that these triangles are the same.")
else:
print("Python thinks that these are different triangles.")

Python thinks that these triangles are the same.


This isn’t great for our triangle example—we would much prefer if we could compare equality of triangles without having to compare the side_lengths property by hand. Fortunately, Python gives us a way of doing this. If we implement the __eq__ method of Triangle, then Python learns how to compare triangles.

class Triangle(Polygon):
def __init__(self, side_lengths):
# Triangles have three sides
super().__init__(side_lengths)
assert len(self.side_lengths) == 3

@classmethod
def equilateral(cls, side_length):
return cls([side_length] * 3)

def area(self):
'''Returns the area of the triangle.'''
a, b, c = self.side_lengths
p = (a + b + c) / 2
return (p * (p - a) * (p - b) * (p - c)) ** 0.5

def __eq__(self, other):
'''Returns True if the triangle self and the triangle other
are the same triangle'''
if not isinstance(other, Triangle):
return False
else:
# Check all permutations
if self.side_lengths == other.side_lengths:
return True
elif (self.side_lengths[1:] + [self.side_lengths[1]] ==
other.side_lengths):
return True
elif ([self.side_lengths[2]] + self.side_lengths[:-1] ==
other.side_lengths):
return True
return False

a_triangle = Triangle([3, 4, 5])
the_same_triangle = Triangle([3, 4, 5])
if a_triangle == the_same_triangle:
print("Python thinks that these triangles are the same.")
else:
print("Python thinks that these are different triangles.")

Python thinks that these triangles are the same.


Great! We can compare equality. __eq__ is the second example we’ve seen of a so-called “special”, “magic”, or “dunder” (short for “double underscore”) method. These are methods that Python ascribes a special meaning to; it guards the names of these with a double underscore __ on each side, so it is unlikely to collide with a name you might want to use for a method of your own. These methods allow us to enable instances of our classes to behave more like Python objects you’re used to dealing with, using the typical set of operators, rather than needing to use method calls for everything.

Let’s look at some more examples of these. Firstly, wouldn’t it be nice if we got something more descriptive when Python referred to our Triangles?

a_triangle

<__main__.Triangle at 0x1235e7b00>


We can do this by implementing the __repr__ method (short for “representation”). This is designed to be something that looks like Python code—ideally, something that if you pasted it back in, you’d get the same (or at least a similar) object. For the Triangle, this could look like:

    def __repr__(self):
return f'Triangle({self.side_lengths})'


Testing this now gives:

a_triangle = Triangle([3, 4, 5])
a_triangle

Triangle([3, 4, 5])


## Other comparisons

What about if we want to know how two objects compare to each other? We can do this by implementing __lt__, __gt__, __le__, __ge__, and __ne__, representing <, >, <=, >=, and != respectively. For example, an implementation of __lt__ might look like:

    def sides_with_max_first(self):
max_index = self.side_lengths.index(max(self.side_lengths))
if max_index == 0:
return self.side_lengths
elif max_index == 1:
return self.side_lengths[1:] + [self.side_lengths[0]]
else:
return [self.side_lengths[2]] + [self.side_lengths[:2]]

def __lt__(self, other):
if self.area() != other.area():
return self.area() < other.area()
elif self.perimeter() != other.perimeter():
return self.perimeter() < other.perimeter()
elif self == other:
return False
else:
return self.sides_with_max_first() < other.sides_with_max_first()


Testing this:

a_triangle = Triangle([3, 4, 5])
b_triangle = Triangle([5, 12, 13])
a_triangle < b_triangle

True


Python then does two very nice things for us: firstly, since we have defined __lt__, it can now sort lists of Triangles for us. And while we could leave only the < operator defined, this could be confusing for those using the class; fortunately, given implementations of __eq__ and __lt__, Python can automatically generate the other relational operators using the functools.total_ordering decorator.

from functools import total_ordering

@total_ordering
class Triangle(Polygon):
...


## Sorting random triangles

Add a class method that generates a triangle with three random edge lengths (for example, using random.random(). Use this to construct and sort a list of 10 random triangles.

## Solution

Add an import at the top of the file:

from random import random


Also add new class method:

    @classmethod
def random(cls):
'''Returns a triangle with three random length sides in the
range [0, 1).
If the sum of the two short sides isn't longer than the
long side (and so the triangle doesn't close), then try
again. There is an infinitesimal probability that this
method will never return, as randomness keeps delivering
invalid triangles.'''

random_triangle = cls([random(), random(), random()])
while isinstance(random_triangle.area(), complex):
random_triangle = cls([random(), random(), random()])
return random_triangle


Testing this:

random_triangles = [Triangle.random() for _ in range(10)]
[triangle.area() for triangle in sorted(random_triangles)]


## Arithmetic

In the same way that __lt__ and friends correspond to relational operators, arithmetic operations like +, -, *, etc. can be defined with methods like __add__, __sub__, and __mul__.

Define a new class ErrorBar to represent a number with an associated error in Gaussian statistics. Add __init__, __repr__, __add__, __sub__, __mul__, and __truediv__ methods, making the (very unreasonable) assumption that all errors are uncorrelated.

## Solution

class ErrorBar:
def __init__(self, centre, error):
self.centre = centre
self.error = error

def __repr__(self):
return f'{self.centre} ± {self.error}'

centre = self.centre + other.centre
error = (self.error ** 2 + other.error ** 2) ** 0.5
return ErrorBar(centre, error)

def __sub__(self, other):
centre = self.centre - other.centre
error = (self.error ** 2 + other.error ** 2) ** 0.5
return ErrorBar(centre, error)

def __mul__(self, other):
centre = self.centre * other.centre
error = centre * ((self.error / self.centre) ** 2 +
(other.error / other.centre) ** 2) ** 0.5
return ErrorBar(centre, error)

def __truediv__(self, other):
centre = self.centre / other.centre
error = centre * ((self.error / self.centre) ** 2 +
(other.error / other.centre) ** 2) ** 0.5
return ErrorBar(centre, error)


## Callable objects

By implementing the __call__ method, we can allow instances of a class to be called like functions. For example, returning to the FunctionPlotter example:

from numpy import linspace, sin
from matplotlib.colors import is_color_like
from matplotlib.pyplot import subplots

class FunctionPlotter:
def __init__(self, color='red', linewidth=1, x_min=-10, x_max=10):
self.color = color
self.linewidth = linewidth
self.x_min = x_min
self.x_max = x_max

@property
def color(self):
return self._color

@color.setter
def color(self, color):
assert is_color_like(color)
self._color = color

def plot(self, function):
'''Plot a function of a single argument.
The line is plotted in the colour specified by color, and with width
linewidth.'''
fig, ax = subplots()
x = linspace(self.x_min, self.x_max, 1000)
ax.plot(x, function(x), color=self._color, linewidth=self.linewidth)

def __call__(self, *args, **kwargs):
return self.plot(*args, **kwargs)

plotter = FunctionPlotter()
plotter(sin)


## Subclassing with __call__

Do we need to redefine __call__ on each subclass of FunctionPlotter to get the correct version of the plot() function? Why/why not?

## Solution

No; self returns the current instance, so the call to self.plot() will pick up the correct version of plot() for whichever class the instance is.

## Collections and iterables

Python also gives us the power to make our objects behave like iterable or collection types (for example tuples, lists, dicts, and generators). For example, to let instances of the class behave with the len() function, we implement __len__(). For example, adding this to the Polygon class:

    def __len__(self):
return len(self.side_lengths)


will define the length of the object as the number of edges that the Polygon has. (Note that we shouldn’t make this the perimeter—Python expects len() to return a non-negative integer.) Testing this,

a_polygon = Polygon([1, 2, 3, 4, 5])
print(len(a_polygon))

5


We can also let our code loop over elements of our objects by implementing the __iter__() method, which should return an iterator; this is a particular type of object in Python that makes things like for loops work. We can get one of these from any iterable via the iter() function.

     def __iter__(self):
return iter(self.side_lengths)


We can now iterate through the sides of our Polygons without having to get the side_lengths property each time.

a_polygon = Polygon([1, 2, 3, 4, 5])
for side_length in a_polygon:
print(side_length)

1
2
3
4
5


## In reverse

The reversed() function returns an iterator over the elements of an iterable or collection going backwards. This is implemented for classes via the __reversed__ method. Implement this for the Polygon class, and test your implementation.

## Solution

Method:

    def __reversed__(self):
return reversed(self.side_lengths)


Test:

a_polygon = Polygon([1, 2, 3, 4, 5])
for side_length in reversed(a_polygon):
print(side_length)

5
4
3
2
1


## Getting specific elements

You can also allow your code to access elements via square brackets, just like with lists. The __getitem__() method does this, taking the index (or key) being sought as its argument.

For a non-dict-like collection, __getitem__() can work for both integer indices and for slices.

Implement __getitem__() for the Polygon class. Since in our current implementation of Polygon, it doesn’t make sense to take a subset of the sides, requesting a slice should raise IndexError; only requesting a single element with an integer index should work.

## Solution

Implementation:

    def __getitem__(self, key):
if type(key) is int:
return self.side_lengths[key]
else:
raise IndexError


Test:

a_polygon = Polygon([1, 2, 3, 4, 5])
print(a_polygon[2])

3


## for loops with __getitem__()

Once a class has __getitem__() defined, then Python will automatically work out how to loop over it, even in the absence of __iter__() (although adding this does make it more efficient). Even beter, when __len__() is also implemented, then Python automatically knows how to reversed() the class as well.

Test this by removing the implementations of __iter__() and __reversed__() from Polygon and testing the loops forwards and backwards again.

## More dunder methods

Python offers many more dunder methods than could possibly be covered in this episode. A full listing, categorised by the functions that they serve, can be found in the Python documentation

## Key Points

• Implement methods like __eq__, __add__, and __gt__ to allow operations such as arithmetic and comparisons.

• Implement __repr__ to get more meaningful printouts when you output an object.

• Implement methods like __len__, __iter__, and __reversed__ to make instances of a class behave like a collection or iterable.

• Implement the __call__ method to make instances of a class callable like functions.