Question

What does the * operator mean in Python, such as in code like zip(*x) or f(**k)?

  1. How is it handled internally in the interpreter?
  2. Does it affect performance at all? Is it fast or slow?
  3. When is it useful and when is it not?
  4. Should it be used in a function declaration or in a call?
1
540
3/22/2019 8:35:55 PM

Accepted Answer

The single star * unpacks the sequence/collection into positional arguments, so you can do this:

def sum(a, b):
    return a + b

values = (1, 2)

s = sum(*values)

This will unpack the tuple so that it actually executes as:

s = sum(1, 2)

The double star ** does the same, only using a dictionary and thus named arguments:

values = { 'a': 1, 'b': 2 }
s = sum(**values)

You can also combine:

def sum(a, b, c, d):
    return a + b + c + d

values1 = (1, 2)
values2 = { 'c': 10, 'd': 15 }
s = sum(*values1, **values2)

will execute as:

s = sum(1, 2, c=10, d=15)

Also see section 4.7.4 - Unpacking Argument Lists of the Python documentation.


Additionally you can define functions to take *x and **y arguments, this allows a function to accept any number of positional and/or named arguments that aren't specifically named in the declaration.

Example:

def sum(*values):
    s = 0
    for v in values:
        s = s + v
    return s

s = sum(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

or with **:

def get_a(**values):
    return values['a']

s = get_a(a=1, b=2)      # returns 1

this can allow you to specify a large number of optional parameters without having to declare them.

And again, you can combine:

def sum(*values, **options):
    s = 0
    for i in values:
        s = s + i
    if "neg" in options:
        if options["neg"]:
            s = -s
    return s

s = sum(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)            # returns 15
s = sum(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, neg=True)  # returns -15
s = sum(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, neg=False) # returns 15
831
8/28/2014 4:18:55 AM

One small point: these are not operators. Operators are used in expressions to create new values from existing values (1+2 becomes 3, for example. The * and ** here are part of the syntax of function declarations and calls.


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