What is getattr() exactly and how do I use it?


Question

I was reading about the getattr() function. The problem is that I still can't grasp the idea of its usage. The only thing I understand about getattr() is that getattr(li, "pop") is the same as calling li.pop.

I didn't understand when the book mentioned how you use it to get a reference to a function without knowing its name until run-time. Maybe this is me being a noob in programming, in general. Could anyone shed some light to the subject? When and how do I use this exactly?

1
252
6/10/2015 7:22:24 PM

Accepted Answer

getattr(object, 'x') is completely equivalent to object.x.

There's only two cases where getattr can be useful.

  • you can't write object.x, because you don't know in advance which attribute you want (it comes from a string). very useful for meta-programming.
  • you want to provide a default value. object.y will raise an AttributeError if there's no y. But getattr(object, 'y', 5) will return 5.
10
8/30/2019 11:42:36 AM

Objects in Python can have attributes -- data attributes and functions to work with those (methods). Actually, every object has built-in attributes.

For example you have an object person, that has several attributes: name, gender, etc.

You access these attributes (be it methods or data objects) usually writing: person.name, person.gender, person.the_method(), etc.

But what if you don't know the attribute's name at the time you write the program? For example you have attribute's name stored in a variable called attr_name.

if

attr_name = 'gender'

then, instead of writing

gender = person.gender

you can write

gender = getattr(person, attr_name)

Some practice:

Python 3.4.0 (default, Apr 11 2014, 13:05:11)

>>> class Person():
...     name = 'Victor'
...     def say(self, what):
...         print(self.name, what)
... 
>>> getattr(Person, 'name')
'Victor'
>>> attr_name = 'name'
>>> person = Person()
>>> getattr(person, attr_name)
'Victor'
>>> getattr(person, 'say')('Hello')
Victor Hello

getattr will raise AttributeError if attribute with the given name does not exist in the object:

>>> getattr(person, 'age')
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
AttributeError: 'Person' object has no attribute 'age'

But you can pass a default value as the third argument, which will be returned if such attribute does not exist:

>>> getattr(person, 'age', 0)
0

You can use getattr along with dir to iterate over all attribute names and get their values:

>>> dir(1000)
['__abs__', '__add__', ..., '__trunc__', '__xor__', 'bit_length', 'conjugate', 'denominator', 'from_bytes', 'imag', 'numerator', 'real', 'to_bytes']

>>> obj = 1000
>>> for attr_name in dir(obj):
...     attr_value = getattr(obj, attr_name)
...     print(attr_name, attr_value, callable(attr_value))
... 
__abs__ <method-wrapper '__abs__' of int object at 0x7f4e927c2f90> True
...
bit_length <built-in method bit_length of int object at 0x7f4e927c2f90> True
...

>>> getattr(1000, 'bit_length')()
10

A practical use for this would be to find all methods whose names start with test and call them.

Similar to getattr there is setattr which allows you to set an attribute of an object having its name:

>>> setattr(person, 'name', 'Andrew')
>>> person.name  # accessing instance attribute
'Andrew'
>>> Person.name  # accessing class attribute
'Victor'
>>>

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