What is the difference between shallow copy, deepcopy and normal assignment operation?

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What is the difference between shallow copy, deepcopy and normal assignment operation?
import copy
a = "deepak"
b = 1, 2, 3, 4
c = [1, 2, 3, 4]
d = {1: 10, 2: 20, 3: 30}
a1 = copy.copy(a)
b1 = copy.copy(b)
c1 = copy.copy(c)
d1 = copy.copy(d)
print("immutable - id(a)==id(a1)", id(a) == id(a1))
print("immutable - id(b)==id(b1)", id(b) == id(b1))
print("mutable - id(c)==id(c1)", id(c) == id(c1))
print("mutable - id(d)==id(d1)", id(d) == id(d1))

I get the following results:

immutable - id(a)==id(a1) True
immutable - id(b)==id(b1) True
mutable - id(c)==id(c1) False
mutable - id(d)==id(d1) False

If I perform deepcopy:

a1 = copy.deepcopy(a)
b1 = copy.deepcopy(b)
c1 = copy.deepcopy(c)
d1 = copy.deepcopy(d)

results are the same:

immutable - id(a)==id(a1) True
immutable - id(b)==id(b1) True
mutable - id(c)==id(c1) False
mutable - id(d)==id(d1) False

If I work on assignment operations:

a1 = a
b1 = b
c1 = c
d1 = d

then results are:

immutable - id(a)==id(a1) True
immutable - id(b)==id(b1) True
mutable - id(c)==id(c1) True
mutable - id(d)==id(d1) True

Can somebody explain what exactly makes a difference between the copies? Is it something related to mutable & immutable objects? If so, can you please explain it to me?

Asked By: deeshank

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Answer #1:

Normal assignment operations will simply point the new variable towards the existing object. The docs explain the difference between shallow and deep copies:

The difference between shallow and deep copying is only relevant for
compound objects (objects that contain other objects, like lists or
class instances):

  • A shallow copy constructs a new compound object and then (to the extent possible) inserts references into it to the objects found in the original.

  • A deep copy constructs a new compound object and then, recursively, inserts copies into it of the objects found in the
    original.

Here’s a little demonstration:

import copy
a = [1, 2, 3]
b = [4, 5, 6]
c = [a, b]

Using normal assignment operatings to copy:

d = c
print id(c) == id(d)          # True - d is the same object as c
print id(c[0]) == id(d[0])    # True - d[0] is the same object as c[0]

Using a shallow copy:

d = copy.copy(c)
print id(c) == id(d)          # False - d is now a new object
print id(c[0]) == id(d[0])    # True - d[0] is the same object as c[0]

Using a deep copy:

d = copy.deepcopy(c)
print id(c) == id(d)          # False - d is now a new object
print id(c[0]) == id(d[0])    # False - d[0] is now a new object
Answered By: grc

Answer #2:

For immutable objects, there is no need for copying because the data will never change, so Python uses the same data; ids are always the same. For mutable objects, since they can potentially change, [shallow] copy creates a new object.

Deep copy is related to nested structures. If you have list of lists, then deepcopy copies the nested lists also, so it is a recursive copy. With just copy, you have a new outer list, but inner lists are references.

Assignment does not copy. It simply sets the reference to the old data. So you need copy to create a new list with the same contents.

Answered By: perreal

Answer #3:

For immutable objects, creating a copy don’t make much sense since they are not going to change. For mutable objects assignment,copy and deepcopy behaves differently. Lets talk about each of them with examples.

An assignment operation simply assigns the reference of source to destination e.g:

>>> i = [1,2,3]
>>> j=i
>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))
>>> ('0x10296f908', '0x10296f908') #Both addresses are identical

Now i and j technically refers to same list. Both i and j have same memory address. Any updation to either
of them will be reflected to the other. e.g:

>>> i.append(4)
>>> j
>>> [1,2,3,4] #Destination is updated
>>> j.append(5)
>>> i
>>> [1,2,3,4,5] #Source is updated

On the other hand copy and deepcopy creates a new copy of variable. So now changes to original variable will not be reflected
to the copy variable and vice versa. However copy(shallow copy), don’t creates a copy of nested objects, instead it just
copies the reference of nested objects. Deepcopy copies all the nested objects recursively.

Some examples to demonstrate behaviour of copy and deepcopy:

Flat list example using copy:

>>> import copy
>>> i = [1,2,3]
>>> j = copy.copy(i)
>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))
>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are different
>>> i.append(4)
>>> j
>>> [1,2,3] #Updation of original list didn't affected copied variable

Nested list example using copy:

>>> import copy
>>> i = [1,2,3,[4,5]]
>>> j = copy.copy(i)
>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))
>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are still different
>>> hex(id(i[3])), hex(id(j[3]))
>>> ('0x10296f908', '0x10296f908') #Nested lists have same address
>>> i[3].append(6)
>>> j
>>> [1,2,3,[4,5,6]] #Updation of original nested list updated the copy as well

Flat list example using deepcopy:

>>> import copy
>>> i = [1,2,3]
>>> j = copy.deepcopy(i)
>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))
>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are different
>>> i.append(4)
>>> j
>>> [1,2,3] #Updation of original list didn't affected copied variable

Nested list example using deepcopy:

>>> import copy
>>> i = [1,2,3,[4,5]]
>>> j = copy.deepcopy(i)
>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))
>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are still different
>>> hex(id(i[3])), hex(id(j[3]))
>>> ('0x10296f908', '0x102b9b7c8') #Nested lists have different addresses
>>> i[3].append(6)
>>> j
>>> [1,2,3,[4,5]] #Updation of original nested list didn't affected the copied variable    
Answered By: Sohaib Farooqi

Answer #4:

Let’s see in a graphical example how the following code is executed:

import copy
class Foo(object):
    def __init__(self):
        pass
a = [Foo(), Foo()]
shallow = copy.copy(a)
deep = copy.deepcopy(a)

enter image description here

Answered By: user1767754

Answer #5:

a, b, c, d, a1, b1, c1 and d1 are references to objects in memory, which are uniquely identified by their ids.

An assignment operation takes a reference to the object in memory and assigns that reference to a new name. c=[1,2,3,4] is an assignment that creates a new list object containing those four integers, and assigns the reference to that object to c. c1=c is an assignment that takes the same reference to the same object and assigns that to c1. Since the list is mutable, anything that happens to that list will be visible regardless of whether you access it through c or c1, because they both reference the same object.

c1=copy.copy(c) is a “shallow copy” that creates a new list and assigns the reference to the new list to c1. c still points to the original list. So, if you modify the list at c1, the list that c refers to will not change.

The concept of copying is irrelevant to immutable objects like integers and strings. Since you can’t modify those objects, there is never a need to have two copies of the same value in memory at different locations. So integers and strings, and some other objects to which the concept of copying does not apply, are simply reassigned. This is why your examples with a and b result in identical ids.

c1=copy.deepcopy(c) is a “deep copy”, but it functions the same as a shallow copy in this example. Deep copies differ from shallow copies in that shallow copies will make a new copy of the object itself, but any references inside that object will not themselves be copied. In your example, your list has only integers inside it (which are immutable), and as previously discussed there is no need to copy those. So the “deep” part of the deep copy does not apply. However, consider this more complex list:

e = [[1, 2],[4, 5, 6],[7, 8, 9]]

This is a list that contains other lists (you could also describe it as a two-dimensional array).

If you run a “shallow copy” on e, copying it to e1, you will find that the id of the list changes, but each copy of the list contains references to the same three lists — the lists with integers inside. That means that if you were to do e[0].append(3), then e would be [[1, 2, 3],[4, 5, 6],[7, 8, 9]]. But e1 would also be [[1, 2, 3],[4, 5, 6],[7, 8, 9]]. On the other hand, if you subsequently did e.append([10, 11, 12]), e would be [[1, 2, 3],[4, 5, 6],[7, 8, 9],[10, 11, 12]]. But e1 would still be [[1, 2, 3],[4, 5, 6],[7, 8, 9]]. That’s because the outer lists are separate objects that initially each contain three references to three inner lists. If you modify the inner lists, you can see those changes no matter if you are viewing them through one copy or the other. But if you modify one of the outer lists as above, then e contains three references to the original three lists plus one more reference to a new list. And e1 still only contains the original three references.

A ‘deep copy’ would not only duplicate the outer list, but it would also go inside the lists and duplicate the inner lists, so that the two resulting objects do not contain any of the same references (as far as mutable objects are concerned). If the inner lists had further lists (or other objects such as dictionaries) inside of them, they too would be duplicated. That’s the ‘deep’ part of the ‘deep copy’.

Answered By: Andrew Gorcester

Answer #6:

In python, when we assign objects like list, tuples, dict, etc to another object usually with a ‘ = ‘ sign, python creates copy’s by reference. That is, let’s say we have a list of list like this :

list1 = [ [ 'a' , 'b' , 'c' ] , [ 'd' , 'e' , 'f' ]  ]

and we assign another list to this list like :

list2 = list1

then if we print list2 in python terminal we’ll get this :

list2 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f ']  ]

Both list1 & list2 are pointing to same memory location, any change to any one them will result in changes visible in both objects, i.e both objects are pointing to same memory location.
If we change list1 like this :

list1[0][0] = 'x’
list1.append( [ 'g'] )

then both list1 and list2 will be :

list1 = [ [ 'x', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] , [ 'g'] ]
list2 = [ [ 'x', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] , [ 'g’ ] ]

Now coming to Shallow copy, when two objects are copied via shallow copy, the child object of both parent object refers to same memory location but any further new changes in any of the copied object will be independent to each other.
Let’s understand this with a small example. Suppose we have this small code snippet :

import copy
list1 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f ']  ]      # assigning a list
list2 = copy.copy(list1)       # shallow copy is done using copy function of copy module
list1.append ( [ 'g', 'h', 'i'] )   # appending another list to list1
print list1
list1 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] , [ 'g', 'h', 'i'] ]
list2 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] ]

notice, list2 remains unaffected, but if we make changes to child objects like :

list1[0][0] = 'x’

then both list1 and list2 will get change :

list1 = [ [ 'x', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] , [ 'g', 'h', 'i'] ]
list2 = [ [ 'x', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] ]

Now, Deep copy helps in creating completely isolated objects out of each other. If two objects are copied via Deep Copy then both parent & it’s child will be pointing to different memory location.
Example :

import copy
list1 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f ']  ]         # assigning a list
list2 = deepcopy.copy(list1)       # deep copy is done using deepcopy function of copy module
list1.append ( [ 'g', 'h', 'i'] )   # appending another list to list1
print list1
list1 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] , [ 'g', 'h', 'i'] ]
list2 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] ]

notice, list2 remains unaffected, but if we make changes to child objects like :

list1[0][0] = 'x’

then also list2 will be unaffected as all the child objects and parent object points to different memory location :

list1 = [ [ 'x', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f '] , [ 'g', 'h', 'i'] ]
list2 = [ [ 'a', 'b', 'c'] , [ 'd', 'e', ' f  ' ] ]

Hope it helps.

Answered By: Nitish Chauhan

Answer #7:

Deep copy is related to nested structures. If you have list of lists, then deepcopy copies the nested lists also, so it is a recursive copy. With just copy, you have a new outer list, but inner lists are references. Assignment does not copy.
For Ex

import copy
spam = [[0, 1, 2, 3], 4, 5]
cheese = copy.copy(spam)
cheese.append(3)
cheese[0].append(3)
print(spam)
print(cheese)

OutPut

[[0, 1, 2, 3, 3], 4, 5]
[[0, 1, 2, 3, 3], 4, 5, 3]
Copy method copy content of outer list to new list but inner list is still same for both list so if you make changes in inner list of any lists it will affects both list.

But if you use Deep copy then it will create new instance for inner list too.

import copy
spam = [[0, 1, 2, 3], 4, 5]
cheese = copy.deepcopy(spam)
cheese.append(3)
cheese[0].append(3)
print(spam)
print(cheese)

Output

[0, 1, 2, 3]
[[0, 1, 2, 3, 3], 4, 5, 3]

Answered By: Shubham Agarwal

Answer #8:

Below code demonstrates the difference between assignment, shallow copy using the copy method, shallow copy using the (slice) [:] and the deepcopy. Below example uses nested lists there by making the differences more evident.

from copy import deepcopy
########"List assignment (does not create a copy) ############
l1 = [1,2,3, [4,5,6], [7,8,9]]
l1_assigned = l1
print(l1)
print(l1_assigned)
print(id(l1), id(l1_assigned))
print(id(l1[3]), id(l1_assigned[3]))
print(id(l1[3][0]), id(l1_assigned[3][0]))
l1[3][0] = 100
l1.pop(4)
l1.remove(1)
print(l1)
print(l1_assigned)
print("###################################")
########"List copy using copy method (shallow copy)############
l2 = [1,2,3, [4,5,6], [7,8,9]]
l2_copy = l2.copy()
print(l2)
print(l2_copy)
print(id(l2), id(l2_copy))
print(id(l2[3]), id(l2_copy[3]))
print(id(l2[3][0]), id(l2_copy[3][0]))
l2[3][0] = 100
l2.pop(4)
l2.remove(1)
print(l2)
print(l2_copy)
print("###################################")
########"List copy using slice (shallow copy)############
l3 = [1,2,3, [4,5,6], [7,8,9]]
l3_slice = l3[:]
print(l3)
print(l3_slice)
print(id(l3), id(l3_slice))
print(id(l3[3]), id(l3_slice[3]))
print(id(l3[3][0]), id(l3_slice[3][0]))
l3[3][0] = 100
l3.pop(4)
l3.remove(1)
print(l3)
print(l3_slice)
print("###################################")
########"List copy using deepcopy ############
l4 = [1,2,3, [4,5,6], [7,8,9]]
l4_deep = deepcopy(l4)
print(l4)
print(l4_deep)
print(id(l4), id(l4_deep))
print(id(l4[3]), id(l4_deep[3]))
print(id(l4[3][0]), id(l4_deep[3][0]))
l4[3][0] = 100
l4.pop(4)
l4.remove(1)
print(l4)
print(l4_deep)
print("##########################")
print(l4[2], id(l4[2]))
print(l4_deep[3], id(l4_deep[3]))
print(l4[2][0], id(l4[2][0]))
print(l4_deep[3][0], id(l4_deep[3][0]))
Answered By: Sandeep

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