Short description of the scoping rules?


What exactly are the Python scoping rules?

If I have some code:

class Foo:
   def spam.....
      for code4..:

Where is x found? Some possible choices include the list below:

  1. In the enclosing source file
  2. In the class namespace
  3. In the function definition
  4. In the for loop index variable
  5. Inside the for loop

Also there is the context during execution, when the function spam is passed somewhere else. And maybe lambda functions pass a bit differently?

There must be a simple reference or algorithm somewhere. It"s a confusing world for intermediate Python programmers.

Answer rating: 432

Actually, a concise rule for Python Scope resolution, from Learning Python, 3rd. Ed.. (These rules are specific to variable names, not attributes. If you reference it without a period, these rules apply.)


  • Local ‚Äî Names assigned in any way within a function (def or lambda), and not declared global in that function

  • Enclosing-function ‚Äî Names assigned in the local scope of any and all statically enclosing functions (def or lambda), from inner to outer

  • Global (module) ‚Äî Names assigned at the top-level of a module file, or by executing a global statement in a def within the file

  • Built-in (Python) ‚Äî Names preassigned in the built-in names module: open, range, SyntaxError, etc

So, in the case of

class Foo:
    def spam():
        for code4:

The for loop does not have its own namespace. In LEGB order, the scopes would be

  • L: Local in def spam (in code3, code4, and code5)
  • E: Any enclosing functions (if the whole example were in another def)
  • G: Were there any x declared globally in the module (in code1)?
  • B: Any builtin x in Python.

x will never be found in code2 (even in cases where you might expect it would, see Antti"s answer or here).

Answer rating: 158

Essentially, the only thing in Python that introduces a new scope is a function definition. Classes are a bit of a special case in that anything defined directly in the body is placed in the class"s namespace, but they are not directly accessible from within the methods (or nested classes) they contain.

In your example there are only 3 scopes where x will be searched in:

  • spam"s scope - containing everything defined in code3 and code5 (as well as code4, your loop variable)

  • The global scope - containing everything defined in code1, as well as Foo (and whatever changes after it)

  • The builtins namespace. A bit of a special case - this contains the various Python builtin functions and types such as len() and str(). Generally this shouldn"t be modified by any user code, so expect it to contain the standard functions and nothing else.

More scopes only appear when you introduce a nested function (or lambda) into the picture. These will behave pretty much as you"d expect however. The nested function can access everything in the local scope, as well as anything in the enclosing function"s scope. eg.

def foo():
    def bar():
        print x  # Accesses x from foo"s scope
    bar()  # Prints 4
    bar()  # Prints 5


Variables in scopes other than the local function"s variables can be accessed, but can"t be rebound to new parameters without further syntax. Instead, assignment will create a new local variable instead of affecting the variable in the parent scope. For example:

global_var1 = []
global_var2 = 1

def func():
    # This is OK: It"s just accessing, not rebinding

    # This won"t affect global_var2. Instead it creates a new variable
    global_var2 = 2 

    local1 = 4
    def embedded_func():
        # Again, this doen"t affect func"s local1 variable.  It creates a 
        # new local variable also called local1 instead.
        local1 = 5
        print local1

    embedded_func() # Prints 5
    print local1    # Prints 4

In order to actually modify the bindings of global variables from within a function scope, you need to specify that the variable is global with the global keyword. Eg:

global_var = 4
def change_global():
    global global_var
    global_var = global_var + 1

Currently there is no way to do the same for variables in enclosing function scopes, but Python 3 introduces a new keyword, "nonlocal" which will act in a similar way to global, but for nested function scopes.

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