12.14. Passing Mutable ObjectsΒΆ

Take a look at the following code example. Can you predict what will happen when you run it?

Use Show CodeLens to step through the code to see why the assignment to the formal parameter y inside double did not affect the argument num. An assignment to a formal parameter inside a function never affects the argument in the caller.

On the other hand, if you are passing a mutable object, such as a list, to a function, and the function alters the object’s state, that state change will be visible to the caller when the function returns. Take a look at the following example.

Try stepping through this in codelens to see what happens. The state of the list referenced by lst is altered by changeit, and since mylst is an alias for lst, mylst is affected by the actions taken by the function.

Look closely at this line:

lst[0] = "Michigan"

That statement modifies the state of lst by changing the value in slot 0. Although that line may appear to contradict the statement above that β€œan assignment to a formal parameter inside a function never affects the argument in the caller,” note that there is a difference between assigning to a slot of a list, and assigning to the list variable itself. To see that difference, try changing that line to the following:

lst = ["Michigan", "Wolverines"]

Then, run again. This time, mylist is not altered. To understand why, use CodeLens to step carefully through the code and observe how the assignment to lst causes it to refer to a separate list.

Take a moment to experiment some more with the changeit function. Change the body of the function to the following:

lst.append("Michigan Wolverines")

Step through using CodeLens. You should see that mylst is affected by this change, since the state of the list is altered.

Then, try again with this as the body:

lst = lst + ["Michigan Wolverines"]

Step through using CodeLens. Here, we create a new list using the concatenation operator, and mylst is not affected by the change.

Understanding the techniques that functions can and cannot use to alter the state of mutable parameters is important. You may want to take some time to study the information on this page more thoroughly and play with the examples until you feel confident about your grasp of the material.

Check Your Understanding

    What is the output of the following code fragment?

    def myfun(lst):
        lst = [1, 2, 3]
    
    mylist = ['a', 'b']
    myfun(mylist)
    print(mylist)
    
  • [β€˜a’, β€˜b’]

  • Correct! mylist is not changed by the assignment in myfun.

  • [1, 2, 3]

  • Incorrect. mylist is not changed by the assignment in myfun.

    What is the output of the following code fragment?

    def myfun(lst):
        del lst[0]
    
    mylist = ['a', 'b']
    myfun(mylist)
    print(mylist)
    
  • [β€˜a’, β€˜b’]

  • Incorrect. myfun alters the state of the list object by removing the value at slot 0.

  • [β€˜b’]

  • Correct! myfun alters the state of the list object by removing the value at slot 0.

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