Proper indentation for Python multiline strings


Question

What is the proper indentation for Python multiline strings within a function?

    def method():
        string = """line one
line two
line three"""

or

    def method():
        string = """line one
        line two
        line three"""

or something else?

It looks kind of weird to have the string hanging outside the function in the first example.

1
424
11/4/2015 3:32:00 AM

Accepted Answer

You probably want to line up with the """

def foo():
    string = """line one
             line two
             line three"""

Since the newlines and spaces are included in the string itself, you will have to postprocess it. If you don't want to do that and you have a whole lot of text, you might want to store it separately in a text file. If a text file does not work well for your application and you don't want to postprocess, I'd probably go with

def foo():
    string = ("this is an "
              "implicitly joined "
              "string")

If you want to postprocess a multiline string to trim out the parts you don't need, you should consider the textwrap module or the technique for postprocessing docstrings presented in PEP 257:

def trim(docstring):
    if not docstring:
        return ''
    # Convert tabs to spaces (following the normal Python rules)
    # and split into a list of lines:
    lines = docstring.expandtabs().splitlines()
    # Determine minimum indentation (first line doesn't count):
    indent = sys.maxint
    for line in lines[1:]:
        stripped = line.lstrip()
        if stripped:
            indent = min(indent, len(line) - len(stripped))
    # Remove indentation (first line is special):
    trimmed = [lines[0].strip()]
    if indent < sys.maxint:
        for line in lines[1:]:
            trimmed.append(line[indent:].rstrip())
    # Strip off trailing and leading blank lines:
    while trimmed and not trimmed[-1]:
        trimmed.pop()
    while trimmed and not trimmed[0]:
        trimmed.pop(0)
    # Return a single string:
    return '\n'.join(trimmed)
434
6/9/2013 9:58:20 AM

The textwrap.dedent function allows one to start with correct indentation in the source, and then strip it from the text before use.

The trade-off, as noted by some others, is that this is an extra function call on the literal; take this into account when deciding where to place these literals in your code.

import textwrap

def frobnicate(param):
    """ Frobnicate the scrognate param.

        The Weebly-Ruckford algorithm is employed to frobnicate
        the scrognate to within an inch of its life.

        """
    prepare_the_comfy_chair(param)
    log_message = textwrap.dedent("""\
            Prepare to frobnicate:
            Here it comes...
                Any moment now.
            And: Frobnicate!""")
    weebly(param, log_message)
    ruckford(param)

The trailing \ in the log message literal is to ensure that line break isn't in the literal; that way, the literal doesn't start with a blank line, and instead starts with the next full line.

The return value from textwrap.dedent is the input string with all common leading whitespace indentation removed on each line of the string. So the above log_message value will be:

Prepare to frobnicate:
Here it comes...
    Any moment now.
And: Frobnicate!

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