How do I get the number of elements in a list?


Question

Consider the following:

items = []
items.append("apple")
items.append("orange")
items.append("banana")

# FAKE METHOD:
items.amount()  # Should return 3

How do I get the number of elements in the list items?

1
1807
6/13/2019 9:49:44 AM

Accepted Answer

The len() function can be used with several different types in Python - both built-in types and library types. For example:

>>> len([1,2,3])
3

Official 2.x documentation is here: len()
Official 3.x documentation is here: len()

2509
2/13/2019 4:13:49 PM

How to get the size of a list?

To find the size of a list, use the builtin function, len:

items = []
items.append("apple")
items.append("orange")
items.append("banana")

And now:

len(items)

returns 3.

Explanation

Everything in Python is an object, including lists. All objects have a header of some sort in the C implementation.

Lists and other similar builtin objects with a "size" in Python, in particular, have an attribute called ob_size, where the number of elements in the object is cached. So checking the number of objects in a list is very fast.

But if you're checking if list size is zero or not, don't use len - instead, put the list in a boolean context - it treated as False if empty, True otherwise.

From the docs

len(s)

Return the length (the number of items) of an object. The argument may be a sequence (such as a string, bytes, tuple, list, or range) or a collection (such as a dictionary, set, or frozen set).

len is implemented with __len__, from the data model docs:

object.__len__(self)

Called to implement the built-in function len(). Should return the length of the object, an integer >= 0. Also, an object that doesn’t define a __nonzero__() [in Python 2 or __bool__() in Python 3] method and whose __len__() method returns zero is considered to be false in a Boolean context.

And we can also see that __len__ is a method of lists:

items.__len__()

returns 3.

Builtin types you can get the len (length) of

And in fact we see we can get this information for all of the described types:

>>> all(hasattr(cls, '__len__') for cls in (str, bytes, tuple, list, 
                                            xrange, dict, set, frozenset))
True

Do not use len to test for an empty or nonempty list

To test for a specific length, of course, simply test for equality:

if len(items) == required_length:
    ...

But there's a special case for testing for a zero length list or the inverse. In that case, do not test for equality.

Also, do not do:

if len(items): 
    ...

Instead, simply do:

if items:     # Then we have some items, not empty!
    ...

or

if not items: # Then we have an empty list!
    ...

I explain why here but in short, if items or if not items is both more readable and more performant.


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