17.6. Deep and Shallow CopiesΒΆ

Earlier when we discussed cloning and aliasing lists we had mentioned that simply cloning a list using [:] would take care of any issues with having two lists unintentionally connected to each other. That was definitely true for making shallow copies (copying a list at the highest level), but as we get into nested data, and nested lists in particular, the rules become a bit more complicated. We can have second-level aliasing in these cases, which means we need to make deep copies.

When you copy a nested list, you do not also get copies of the internal lists. This means that if you perform a mutation operation on one of the original sublists, the copied version will also change. We can see this happen in the following nested list, which only has two levels.

Assuming that you don’t want to have aliased lists inside of your nested list, then you’ll need to perform nested iteration.

Or, equivalently, you could take advantage of the slice operator to do the copying of the inner list.

This process above works fine when there are only two layers or levels in a nested list. However, if we want to make a copy of a nested list that has more than two levels, then we recommend using the copy module. In the copy module there is a method called deepcopy that will take care of the operation for you.

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