How do lexical closures work?

StackOverflow

While I was investigating a problem I had with lexical closures in Javascript code, I came along this problem in Python:

flist = []

for i in xrange(3):
    def func(x): return x * i
    flist.append(func)

for f in flist:
    print f(2)

Note that this example mindfully avoids lambda. It prints "4 4 4", which is surprising. I"d expect "0 2 4".

This equivalent Perl code does it right:

my @flist = ();

foreach my $i (0 .. 2)
{
    push(@flist, sub {$i * $_[0]});
}

foreach my $f (@flist)
{
    print $f->(2), "
";
}

"0 2 4" is printed.

Can you please explain the difference ?


Update:

The problem is not with i being global. This displays the same behavior:

flist = []

def outer():
    for i in xrange(3):
        def inner(x): return x * i
        flist.append(inner)

outer()
#~ print i   # commented because it causes an error

for f in flist:
    print f(2)

As the commented line shows, i is unknown at that point. Still, it prints "4 4 4".

Answer rating: 158

Python is actually behaving as defined. Three separate functions are created, but they each have the closure of the environment they"re defined in - in this case, the global environment (or the outer function"s environment if the loop is placed inside another function). This is exactly the problem, though - in this environment, i is mutated, and the closures all refer to the same i.

Here is the best solution I can come up with - create a function creater and invoke that instead. This will force different environments for each of the functions created, with a different i in each one.

flist = []

for i in xrange(3):
    def funcC(j):
        def func(x): return x * j
        return func
    flist.append(funcC(i))

for f in flist:
    print f(2)

This is what happens when you mix side effects and functional programming.

Answer rating: 157

The functions defined in the loop keep accessing the same variable i while its value changes. At the end of the loop, all the functions point to the same variable, which is holding the last value in the loop: the effect is what reported in the example.

In order to evaluate i and use its value, a common pattern is to set it as a parameter default: parameter defaults are evaluated when the def statement is executed, and thus the value of the loop variable is frozen.

The following works as expected:

flist = []

for i in xrange(3):
    def func(x, i=i): # the *value* of i is copied in func() environment
        return x * i
    flist.append(func)

for f in flist:
    print f(2)




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