15.6. Function Wrapping and Decorators

This section introduces an advanced python concept called function wrapping and a special syntax for it called decorators. It is not necessary to use decorators in your programming, but they are an elegant way to do function wrapping, and it will be helpful for you to understand what they do when you see them in other people’s code.

In Python, functions are “first class” objects, meaning they can be treated like any other object. Beyond calling functions, we can also reference them, pass them as arguments to other functions, or return them. Although we cannot directly manipulate the behavior of a function, we can wrap it in another function that does something before or after the original function is called or change the arguments that a function takes. This is called function wrapping.

We could write a function compose that accepts two functions as arguments and returns a new function that calls the first function with the output of the second function:

def compose(func1, func2): # func1 and func2 are functions
    return lambda x: func1(func2(x)) # return a *new* function that calls func1 with the output of func2

For example, below, we had a function subtract_32 that accepts a number as an argument and returns 32 subtracted from that number, and a function multiply_5_9 that accepts a number as an argument and returns the product of that number and 5/9. We can create a new function that “composes” these two functions by executing subtract_32 first and then passing its output to multiply_5_9 (which happens to be how we can convert Fahrenheit temperatures to Celsius temperatures):

Function wrapping is a powerful idea that can be applied to many problems but it can be difficult to grasp at first. For example, suppose we wanted to write a function that adds logging to another function. That is, we want to write a function addLogging that accepts a function as an argument and returns a new function that calls the original function but prints something before and after the function is called. In the code below, addLogging is analogous to the compose function except: 1. it accepts one argument (rather than two) 2. it is defined using def (rather than lambda) 3. it calls print() before and after the function is called (rather than calling one function with the output of the other).

This kind of function wrapping is common enough that Python provides a special syntax for it called decorators. A decorator is a function that accepts a function as an argument and returns a new function. The new function is usually a “wrapped” version of the original function. The decorator syntax is to place an @ symbol followed by the name of the decorator function on the line before the function definition. Now, we can wrap our double function with the addLogging decorator by placing @addLogging on the line before the function definition. This is equivalent to calling addLogging with double as an argument and assigning the result to double:

We can now easily “enable” or “disable” logging by commenting out the @addLogging line. This is much easier than having to change the code inside the double function itself.

To give another example, suppose we wanted to “password protect” access to calling a function. We could create a function passwordProtect that will wrap our function inside of code that ensures the user has the correct password.

Try running the code below and entering the correct password (password123) when prompted. Then, try running the code again and entering an incorrect password. Notice that the printSecretMessage function is only called if the user enters the correct password.

Although this example is made up for illustration, this kind of function wrapping can be used in web applications to protect access to sensitive pages. For example, code for a Web server might wrap code that transmits personal information with a decorator that checks if the user is logged in. Decorators give us a convenient syntax for modifying the behavior of functions we write.

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