How do you use the ellipsis slicing syntax in Python?

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This came up in Hidden features of Python, but I can"t see good documentation or examples that explain how the feature works.

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How do you use the ellipsis slicing syntax in Python? ellipsis: Questions

What does the Ellipsis object do?

4 answers

While idly surfing the namespace I noticed an odd looking object called Ellipsis, it does not seem to be or do anything special, but it"s a globally available builtin.

After a search I found that it is used in some obscure variant of the slicing syntax by Numpy and Scipy... but almost nothing else.

Was this object added to the language specifically to support Numpy + Scipy? Does Ellipsis have any generic meaning or use at all?

D:workspace
umpy>python
Python 2.4.4 (#71, Oct 18 2006, 08:34:43) [MSC v.1310 32 bit (Intel)] on win32
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> Ellipsis
Ellipsis
671

Answer #1

This came up in another question recently. I"ll elaborate on my answer from there:

Ellipsis is an object that can appear in slice notation. For example:

myList[1:2, ..., 0]

Its interpretation is purely up to whatever implements the __getitem__ function and sees Ellipsis objects there, but its main (and intended) use is in the numpy third-party library, which adds a multidimensional array type. Since there are more than one dimensions, slicing becomes more complex than just a start and stop index; it is useful to be able to slice in multiple dimensions as well. E.g., given a 4x4 array, the top left area would be defined by the slice [:2,:2]:

>>> a
array([[ 1,  2,  3,  4],
       [ 5,  6,  7,  8],
       [ 9, 10, 11, 12],
       [13, 14, 15, 16]])

>>> a[:2,:2]  # top left
array([[1, 2],
       [5, 6]])

Extending this further, Ellipsis is used here to indicate a placeholder for the rest of the array dimensions not specified. Think of it as indicating the full slice [:] for all the dimensions in the gap it is placed, so for a 3d array, a[...,0] is the same as a[:,:,0] and for 4d, a[:,:,:,0], similarly, a[0,...,0] is a[0,:,:,0] (with however many colons in the middle make up the full number of dimensions in the array).

Interestingly, in python3, the Ellipsis literal (...) is usable outside the slice syntax, so you can actually write:

>>> ...
Ellipsis

Other than the various numeric types, no, I don"t think it"s used. As far as I"m aware, it was added purely for numpy use and has no core support other than providing the object and corresponding syntax. The object being there didn"t require this, but the literal "..." support for slices did.

671

Answer #2

In Python 3, you can¹ use the Ellipsis literal ... as a “nop” placeholder for code that hasn"t been written yet:

def will_do_something():
    ...

This is not magic; any expression can be used instead of ..., e.g.:

def will_do_something():
    1

(Can"t use the word “sanctioned”, but I can say that this use was not outrightly rejected by Guido.)

¬π "can" not in {"must", "should"}

How do you use the ellipsis slicing syntax in Python? ellipsis: Questions

What do ellipsis [...] mean in a list?

4 answers

I was playing around in python. I used the following code in IDLE:

p  = [1, 2]
p[1:1] = [p]
print p

The output was:

[1, [...], 2]

What is this […]? Interestingly I could now use this as a list of list of list up to infinity i.e.

p[1][1][1]....

I could write the above as long as I wanted and it would still work.

EDIT:

  • How is it represented in memory?
  • What"s its use? Examples of some cases where it is useful would be helpful.
  • Any link to official documentation would be really useful.
201

Answer #1

This is what your code created

enter image description here

It"s a list where the first and last elements are pointing to two numbers (1 and 2) and where the middle element is pointing to the list itself.

In Common Lisp when printing circular structures is enabled such an object would be printed as

#1=#(1 #1# 2)

meaning that there is an object (labelled 1 with #1=) that is a vector with three elements, the second being the object itself (back-referenced with #1#).

In Python instead you just get the information that the structure is circular with [...].

In this specific case the description is not ambiguous (it"s backward pointing to a list but there is only one list so it must be that one). In other cases may be however ambiguous... for example in

[1, [2, [...], 3]]

the backward reference could either point to the outer or to the inner list. These two different structures printed in the same way can be created with

x = [1, [2, 3]]
x[1][1:1] = [x[1]]

y = [1, [2, 3]]
y[1][1:1] = [y]

print(x)
print(y)

and they would be in memory as

enter image description here

exp

How do I merge two dictionaries in a single expression (taking union of dictionaries)?

5 answers

Carl Meyer By Carl Meyer

I have two Python dictionaries, and I want to write a single expression that returns these two dictionaries, merged (i.e. taking the union). The update() method would be what I need, if it returned its result instead of modifying a dictionary in-place.

>>> x = {"a": 1, "b": 2}
>>> y = {"b": 10, "c": 11}
>>> z = x.update(y)
>>> print(z)
None
>>> x
{"a": 1, "b": 10, "c": 11}

How can I get that final merged dictionary in z, not x?

(To be extra-clear, the last-one-wins conflict-handling of dict.update() is what I"m looking for as well.)

5839

Answer #1

How can I merge two Python dictionaries in a single expression?

For dictionaries x and y, z becomes a shallowly-merged dictionary with values from y replacing those from x.

  • In Python 3.9.0 or greater (released 17 October 2020): PEP-584, discussed here, was implemented and provides the simplest method:

    z = x | y          # NOTE: 3.9+ ONLY
    
  • In Python 3.5 or greater:

    z = {**x, **y}
    
  • In Python 2, (or 3.4 or lower) write a function:

    def merge_two_dicts(x, y):
        z = x.copy()   # start with keys and values of x
        z.update(y)    # modifies z with keys and values of y
        return z
    

    and now:

    z = merge_two_dicts(x, y)
    

Explanation

Say you have two dictionaries and you want to merge them into a new dictionary without altering the original dictionaries:

x = {"a": 1, "b": 2}
y = {"b": 3, "c": 4}

The desired result is to get a new dictionary (z) with the values merged, and the second dictionary"s values overwriting those from the first.

>>> z
{"a": 1, "b": 3, "c": 4}

A new syntax for this, proposed in PEP 448 and available as of Python 3.5, is

z = {**x, **y}

And it is indeed a single expression.

Note that we can merge in with literal notation as well:

z = {**x, "foo": 1, "bar": 2, **y}

and now:

>>> z
{"a": 1, "b": 3, "foo": 1, "bar": 2, "c": 4}

It is now showing as implemented in the release schedule for 3.5, PEP 478, and it has now made its way into the What"s New in Python 3.5 document.

However, since many organizations are still on Python 2, you may wish to do this in a backward-compatible way. The classically Pythonic way, available in Python 2 and Python 3.0-3.4, is to do this as a two-step process:

z = x.copy()
z.update(y) # which returns None since it mutates z

In both approaches, y will come second and its values will replace x"s values, thus b will point to 3 in our final result.

Not yet on Python 3.5, but want a single expression

If you are not yet on Python 3.5 or need to write backward-compatible code, and you want this in a single expression, the most performant while the correct approach is to put it in a function:

def merge_two_dicts(x, y):
    """Given two dictionaries, merge them into a new dict as a shallow copy."""
    z = x.copy()
    z.update(y)
    return z

and then you have a single expression:

z = merge_two_dicts(x, y)

You can also make a function to merge an arbitrary number of dictionaries, from zero to a very large number:

def merge_dicts(*dict_args):
    """
    Given any number of dictionaries, shallow copy and merge into a new dict,
    precedence goes to key-value pairs in latter dictionaries.
    """
    result = {}
    for dictionary in dict_args:
        result.update(dictionary)
    return result

This function will work in Python 2 and 3 for all dictionaries. e.g. given dictionaries a to g:

z = merge_dicts(a, b, c, d, e, f, g) 

and key-value pairs in g will take precedence over dictionaries a to f, and so on.

Critiques of Other Answers

Don"t use what you see in the formerly accepted answer:

z = dict(x.items() + y.items())

In Python 2, you create two lists in memory for each dict, create a third list in memory with length equal to the length of the first two put together, and then discard all three lists to create the dict. In Python 3, this will fail because you"re adding two dict_items objects together, not two lists -

>>> c = dict(a.items() + b.items())
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: unsupported operand type(s) for +: "dict_items" and "dict_items"

and you would have to explicitly create them as lists, e.g. z = dict(list(x.items()) + list(y.items())). This is a waste of resources and computation power.

Similarly, taking the union of items() in Python 3 (viewitems() in Python 2.7) will also fail when values are unhashable objects (like lists, for example). Even if your values are hashable, since sets are semantically unordered, the behavior is undefined in regards to precedence. So don"t do this:

>>> c = dict(a.items() | b.items())

This example demonstrates what happens when values are unhashable:

>>> x = {"a": []}
>>> y = {"b": []}
>>> dict(x.items() | y.items())
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: unhashable type: "list"

Here"s an example where y should have precedence, but instead the value from x is retained due to the arbitrary order of sets:

>>> x = {"a": 2}
>>> y = {"a": 1}
>>> dict(x.items() | y.items())
{"a": 2}

Another hack you should not use:

z = dict(x, **y)

This uses the dict constructor and is very fast and memory-efficient (even slightly more so than our two-step process) but unless you know precisely what is happening here (that is, the second dict is being passed as keyword arguments to the dict constructor), it"s difficult to read, it"s not the intended usage, and so it is not Pythonic.

Here"s an example of the usage being remediated in django.

Dictionaries are intended to take hashable keys (e.g. frozensets or tuples), but this method fails in Python 3 when keys are not strings.

>>> c = dict(a, **b)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: keyword arguments must be strings

From the mailing list, Guido van Rossum, the creator of the language, wrote:

I am fine with declaring dict({}, **{1:3}) illegal, since after all it is abuse of the ** mechanism.

and

Apparently dict(x, **y) is going around as "cool hack" for "call x.update(y) and return x". Personally, I find it more despicable than cool.

It is my understanding (as well as the understanding of the creator of the language) that the intended usage for dict(**y) is for creating dictionaries for readability purposes, e.g.:

dict(a=1, b=10, c=11)

instead of

{"a": 1, "b": 10, "c": 11}

Response to comments

Despite what Guido says, dict(x, **y) is in line with the dict specification, which btw. works for both Python 2 and 3. The fact that this only works for string keys is a direct consequence of how keyword parameters work and not a short-coming of dict. Nor is using the ** operator in this place an abuse of the mechanism, in fact, ** was designed precisely to pass dictionaries as keywords.

Again, it doesn"t work for 3 when keys are not strings. The implicit calling contract is that namespaces take ordinary dictionaries, while users must only pass keyword arguments that are strings. All other callables enforced it. dict broke this consistency in Python 2:

>>> foo(**{("a", "b"): None})
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: foo() keywords must be strings
>>> dict(**{("a", "b"): None})
{("a", "b"): None}

This inconsistency was bad given other implementations of Python (PyPy, Jython, IronPython). Thus it was fixed in Python 3, as this usage could be a breaking change.

I submit to you that it is malicious incompetence to intentionally write code that only works in one version of a language or that only works given certain arbitrary constraints.

More comments:

dict(x.items() + y.items()) is still the most readable solution for Python 2. Readability counts.

My response: merge_two_dicts(x, y) actually seems much clearer to me, if we"re actually concerned about readability. And it is not forward compatible, as Python 2 is increasingly deprecated.

{**x, **y} does not seem to handle nested dictionaries. the contents of nested keys are simply overwritten, not merged [...] I ended up being burnt by these answers that do not merge recursively and I was surprised no one mentioned it. In my interpretation of the word "merging" these answers describe "updating one dict with another", and not merging.

Yes. I must refer you back to the question, which is asking for a shallow merge of two dictionaries, with the first"s values being overwritten by the second"s - in a single expression.

Assuming two dictionaries of dictionaries, one might recursively merge them in a single function, but you should be careful not to modify the dictionaries from either source, and the surest way to avoid that is to make a copy when assigning values. As keys must be hashable and are usually therefore immutable, it is pointless to copy them:

from copy import deepcopy

def dict_of_dicts_merge(x, y):
    z = {}
    overlapping_keys = x.keys() & y.keys()
    for key in overlapping_keys:
        z[key] = dict_of_dicts_merge(x[key], y[key])
    for key in x.keys() - overlapping_keys:
        z[key] = deepcopy(x[key])
    for key in y.keys() - overlapping_keys:
        z[key] = deepcopy(y[key])
    return z

Usage:

>>> x = {"a":{1:{}}, "b": {2:{}}}
>>> y = {"b":{10:{}}, "c": {11:{}}}
>>> dict_of_dicts_merge(x, y)
{"b": {2: {}, 10: {}}, "a": {1: {}}, "c": {11: {}}}

Coming up with contingencies for other value types is far beyond the scope of this question, so I will point you at my answer to the canonical question on a "Dictionaries of dictionaries merge".

Less Performant But Correct Ad-hocs

These approaches are less performant, but they will provide correct behavior. They will be much less performant than copy and update or the new unpacking because they iterate through each key-value pair at a higher level of abstraction, but they do respect the order of precedence (latter dictionaries have precedence)

You can also chain the dictionaries manually inside a dict comprehension:

{k: v for d in dicts for k, v in d.items()} # iteritems in Python 2.7

or in Python 2.6 (and perhaps as early as 2.4 when generator expressions were introduced):

dict((k, v) for d in dicts for k, v in d.items()) # iteritems in Python 2

itertools.chain will chain the iterators over the key-value pairs in the correct order:

from itertools import chain
z = dict(chain(x.items(), y.items())) # iteritems in Python 2

Performance Analysis

I"m only going to do the performance analysis of the usages known to behave correctly. (Self-contained so you can copy and paste yourself.)

from timeit import repeat
from itertools import chain

x = dict.fromkeys("abcdefg")
y = dict.fromkeys("efghijk")

def merge_two_dicts(x, y):
    z = x.copy()
    z.update(y)
    return z

min(repeat(lambda: {**x, **y}))
min(repeat(lambda: merge_two_dicts(x, y)))
min(repeat(lambda: {k: v for d in (x, y) for k, v in d.items()}))
min(repeat(lambda: dict(chain(x.items(), y.items()))))
min(repeat(lambda: dict(item for d in (x, y) for item in d.items())))

In Python 3.8.1, NixOS:

>>> min(repeat(lambda: {**x, **y}))
1.0804965235292912
>>> min(repeat(lambda: merge_two_dicts(x, y)))
1.636518670246005
>>> min(repeat(lambda: {k: v for d in (x, y) for k, v in d.items()}))
3.1779992282390594
>>> min(repeat(lambda: dict(chain(x.items(), y.items()))))
2.740647904574871
>>> min(repeat(lambda: dict(item for d in (x, y) for item in d.items())))
4.266070580109954
$ uname -a
Linux nixos 4.19.113 #1-NixOS SMP Wed Mar 25 07:06:15 UTC 2020 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Resources on Dictionaries

5839

Answer #2

In your case, what you can do is:

z = dict(list(x.items()) + list(y.items()))

This will, as you want it, put the final dict in z, and make the value for key b be properly overridden by the second (y) dict"s value:

>>> x = {"a":1, "b": 2}
>>> y = {"b":10, "c": 11}
>>> z = dict(list(x.items()) + list(y.items()))
>>> z
{"a": 1, "c": 11, "b": 10}

If you use Python 2, you can even remove the list() calls. To create z:

>>> z = dict(x.items() + y.items())
>>> z
{"a": 1, "c": 11, "b": 10}

If you use Python version 3.9.0a4 or greater, then you can directly use:

x = {"a":1, "b": 2}
y = {"b":10, "c": 11}
z = x | y
print(z)
{"a": 1, "c": 11, "b": 10}

5839

Answer #3

An alternative:

z = x.copy()
z.update(y)

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