Is it pythonic for a function to return multiple values?

Question :

Is it pythonic for a function to return multiple values?,

Answer :

In python, you can have a function return multiple values. Here’s a contrived example:

def divide(x, y):      quotient = x/y      remainder = x % y      return quotient, remainder      (q, r) = divide(22, 7)  

This seems very useful, but it looks like it can also be abused (“Well..function X already computes what we need as an intermediate value. Let’s have X return that value also”).

When should you draw the line and define a different method?


Absolutely (for the example you provided).

Tuples are first class citizens in Python

There is a builtin function divmod() that does exactly that.

q, r = divmod(x, y) # ((x - x%y)/y, x%y) Invariant: div*y + mod == x  

There are other examples: zip, enumerate, dict.items.

for i, e in enumerate([1, 3, 3]):      print "index=%d, element=%s" % (i, e)    # reverse keys and values in a dictionary  d = dict((v, k) for k, v in adict.items()) # or   d = dict(zip(adict.values(), adict.keys()))  

BTW, parentheses are not necessary most of the time.
Citation from

Tuples may be constructed in a number of ways:

  • Using a pair of parentheses to denote the empty tuple: ()
  • Using a trailing comma for a singleton tuple: a, or (a,)
  • Separating items with commas: a, b, c or (a, b, c)
  • Using the tuple() built-in: tuple() or tuple(iterable)

Functions should serve single purpose

Therefore they should return a single object. In your case this object is a tuple. Consider tuple as an ad-hoc compound data structure. There are languages where almost every single function returns multiple values (list in Lisp).

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Sometimes it is sufficient to return (x, y) instead of Point(x, y).

Named tuples

With the introduction of named tuples in Python 2.6 it is preferable in many cases to return named tuples instead of plain tuples.

>>> import collections  >>> Point = collections.namedtuple('Point', 'x y')  >>> x, y = Point(0, 1)  >>> p = Point(x, y)  >>> x, y, p  (0, 1, Point(x=0, y=1))  >>> p.x, p.y, p[0], p[1]  (0, 1, 0, 1)  >>> for i in p:  ...   print(i)  ...  0  1  

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Disclaimer :

The answers provided above are only to be used to guide the learning process. The questions above are open-ended questions, meaning that many answers are not fixed as above. I hope this article can be useful, Thank you