Unpacking arguments: only named arguments may follow *expression

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Question :

Unpacking arguments: only named arguments may follow *expression

The following works beautifully in Python:

def f(x,y,z): return [x,y,z]



The elements of a get unpacked as if you had called it like f(3,1,2) and it returns [3,1,2]. Wonderful!

But I can’t unpack the elements of a into the first two arguments:


Instead of calling that like f(1,2,3), I get “SyntaxError: only named arguments may follow *expression”.

I’m just wondering why it has to be that way and if there’s any clever trick I might not be aware of for unpacking arrays into arbitrary parts of argument lists without resorting to temporary variables.

Asked By: dreeves


Answer #1:

As Raymond Hettinger’s answer points out, this may change has changed in Python 3 and here is a related proposal, which has been accepted.
Especially related to the current question, here’s one of the possible changes to that proposal that was discussed:

Only allow a starred expression as the last item in the exprlist. This would simplify the
unpacking code a bit and allow for the starred expression to be assigned an iterator. This
behavior was rejected because it would be too surprising.

So there are implementation reasons for the restriction with unpacking function arguments but it is indeed a little surprising!

In the meantime, here’s the workaround I was looking for, kind of obvious in retrospect:

Answered By: dreeves

Answer #2:

It doesn’t have to be that way. It was just rule that Guido found to be sensible.

In Python 3, the rules for unpacking have been liberalized somewhat:

>>> a, *b, c = range(10)
>>> a
>>> b
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]
>>> c

Depending on whether Guido feels it would improve the language, that liberalization could also be extended to function arguments.

See the discussion on extended iterable unpacking for some thoughts on why Python 3 changed the rules.

Answered By: Raymond Hettinger

Answer #3:

Thanks to the PEP 448 – Additional Unpacking Generalizations,

f(*a, 3)

is now accepted syntax starting from Python 3.5. Likewise you can use the double-star ** for keyword argument unpacking anywhere and either one can be used multiple times.

Answered By: Antti Haapala

Answer #4:

f is expecting 3 arguments (x, y, z, in that order).

Suppose L = [1,2]. When you call f(3, *L), what python does behind the scenes, is to call f(3, 1, 2), without really knowing the length of L.

So what happens if L was instead [1,2,3]?

Then, when you call f(3, *L), you’ll end up calling f(3,1,2,3), which will be an error because f is expecting exactly 3 arguments and you gave it 4.

Now, suppose L=[1,2]1. Look at what happens when you callf`:

>>> f(3,*L) # works fine
>>> f(*L) # will give you an error when f(1,2) is called; insufficient arguments

Now, you implicitly know when you call f(*L, 3) that 3 will be assigned to z, but python doesn’t know that. It only knows that the last j many elements of the input to f will be defined by the contents of L. But since it doesn’t know the value of len(L), it can’t make assumptions about whether f(*L,3) would have the correct number of arguments.

This however, is not the case with f(3,*L). In this case, python knows that all the arguments EXCEPT the first one will be defined by the contents of L.

But if you have named arguments f(x=1, y=2, z=3), then the arguments being assigned to by name will be bound first. Only then are the positional arguments bound. So you do f(*L, z=3). In that case, z is bound to 3 first, and then, the other values get bound.

Now interestingly, if you did f(*L, y=3), that would give you an error for trying to assign to y twice (once with the keyword, once again with the positional)

Hope this helps

Answered By: inspectorG4dget

Answer #5:

You can use f(*a, z=3) if you use f(*a, 3), it do not know how to unpack the parameter for you provided 2 parameters and 2 is the second.

Answered By: Jianzhong He

Answer #6:

Nice. This also works for tuples. Don’t forget the comma:

a = (1,2)
Answered By: strawbot

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