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Function Objects

One interesting consequence of the Python world-view is that a function is an object of the class function, a subclass of callable. The common feature that all callables share is that they have a very simple interface: they can be called. Other callables include the built-in functions, generator functions (which have the yield statement instead of the return statement) and things called lambdas.

Sometimes we don't want to call and evaluate a function. Sometimes we want to do other things to or with a function. For example, the various factory functions (int, long, float, complex) can be used with the isinstance function instead of being called to create a new object.

For example, isinstance(2,int) has a value of True. It uses the int function, but doesn't apply the int function.

A function object is created with the def statement. Primarily, we want to evaluate the function objects we create. However, because a function is an object, it has attributes, and it can be manipulated to a limited extent.

From a syntax point of view, a name followed by ()'s is a function call. You can think of the ()'s as the "call" operator: they require evaluation of the arguments, then they apply the function.

name ( arguments )

When we use a function name without ()'s, we are talking about the function object. There are a number of manipulations that you might want to do with a function object.

Call The Function. By far, the most common use for a function object is to call it. When we follow a function name with ()'s, we are calling the function: evaluating the arguments, and applying the function. Calling the function is the most common manipulation.

Alias The Function. This is dangerous, because it can make a program obscure. However, it can also simplify the evoluation and enhancement of software. Imagine that the first version of our program had two functions named rollDie and rollDice. The definitions might look like the following.

def rollDie():
    return random.randrange(1,7)
def rollDice():
    return random.randrange(1,7) + random.randrange(1,7)

When we wanted to expand our program to handle five-dice games, we realized we could generalize this function.

def rollNDice( n=2 ):
    t= 0
    for d in range(n):
        t += random.randrange( 1, 7 )
    return t

It is important to remove the duplicated algorithm in all three versions of our dice rolling function. Since rollDie and rollDice are just special cases of rollNDice, we should replace them with something like the following.

def rollDie():
    return rollNDice( 1 )
def rollDice():
    return rollNDice()

This revised definition of rollDice is really just an another name for the ollNDice. Because a function is an object assigned to a variable, we can have multiple variables assigned to the function. Here's how we create an alias to a function.

rollDice = rollNDice


Function alias definitions helps maintaining compatibility between old and new releases of software. It is not something that should be done as a general practice; we need to be careful providing multiple names for a given function. This can be a simplification. It can also be a big performance improvement for certain types of functions that are heavily used deep within nested loops.

Function Attributes. A function object has a number of attributes. We can interrogate those attributes, and to a limited extend, we can change some of these attributes. For more information, see section 3.2 of the Python Language Reference and section of the Python Library Reference.

func_doc, __doc__

Docstring from the first line of the function's body.

func_name, __name__

Function name from the def statement.


Name of the module in which the function name was defined.


Tuple with default values to be assigned to each argument that has a default value. This is a subset of the parameters, starting with the first parameter that has a default value.


The actual code object that is the suite of statements in the body of this function.


The dictionary that defines the global namespace for the module that defines this function. This is m.__dict__ of the module which defined this function.

func_dict, __dict__

The dictionary that defines the local namespace for the attributes of this function.

You can set and get your own function attributes, also.

def rollDie():
    return random.randrange(1,7)
rollDie.version= "1.0"
rollDie.authoor= "sfl"

  Published under the terms of the Open Publication License Design by Interspire