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Behaviour of increment and decrement operators in Python


Question

I notice that a pre-increment/decrement operator can be applied on a variable (like ++count). It compiles, but it does not actually change the value of the variable!

What is the behavior of the pre-increment/decrement operators (++/--) in Python?

Why does Python deviate from the behavior of these operators seen in C/C++?

2014/12/03
1
824
12/3/2014 1:17:02 PM

Accepted Answer

++ is not an operator. It is two + operators. The + operator is the identity operator, which does nothing. (Clarification: the + and - unary operators only work on numbers, but I presume that you wouldn't expect a hypothetical ++ operator to work on strings.)

++count

Parses as

+(+count)

Which translates to

count

You have to use the slightly longer += operator to do what you want to do:

count += 1

I suspect the ++ and -- operators were left out for consistency and simplicity. I don't know the exact argument Guido van Rossum gave for the decision, but I can imagine a few arguments:

  • Simpler parsing. Technically, parsing ++count is ambiguous, as it could be +, +, count (two unary + operators) just as easily as it could be ++, count (one unary ++ operator). It's not a significant syntactic ambiguity, but it does exist.
  • Simpler language. ++ is nothing more than a synonym for += 1. It was a shorthand invented because C compilers were stupid and didn't know how to optimize a += 1 into the inc instruction most computers have. In this day of optimizing compilers and bytecode interpreted languages, adding operators to a language to allow programmers to optimize their code is usually frowned upon, especially in a language like Python that is designed to be consistent and readable.
  • Confusing side-effects. One common newbie error in languages with ++ operators is mixing up the differences (both in precedence and in return value) between the pre- and post-increment/decrement operators, and Python likes to eliminate language "gotcha"-s. The precedence issues of pre-/post-increment in C are pretty hairy, and incredibly easy to mess up.
2020/05/17
1085
5/17/2020 9:56:59 AM

When you want to increment or decrement, you typically want to do that on an integer. Like so:

b++

But in Python, integers are immutable. That is you can't change them. This is because the integer objects can be used under several names. Try this:

>>> b = 5
>>> a = 5
>>> id(a)
162334512
>>> id(b)
162334512
>>> a is b
True

a and b above are actually the same object. If you incremented a, you would also increment b. That's not what you want. So you have to reassign. Like this:

b = b + 1

Or simpler:

b += 1

Which will reassign b to b+1. That is not an increment operator, because it does not increment b, it reassigns it.

In short: Python behaves differently here, because it is not C, and is not a low level wrapper around machine code, but a high-level dynamic language, where increments don't make sense, and also are not as necessary as in C, where you use them every time you have a loop, for example.

2017/06/09

While the others answers are correct in so far as they show what a mere + usually does (namely, leave the number as it is, if it is one), they are incomplete in so far as they don't explain what happens.

To be exact, +x evaluates to x.__pos__() and ++x to x.__pos__().__pos__().

I could imagine a VERY weird class structure (Children, don't do this at home!) like this:

class ValueKeeper(object):
    def __init__(self, value): self.value = value
    def __str__(self): return str(self.value)

class A(ValueKeeper):
    def __pos__(self):
        print 'called A.__pos__'
        return B(self.value - 3)

class B(ValueKeeper):
    def __pos__(self):
        print 'called B.__pos__'
        return A(self.value + 19)

x = A(430)
print x, type(x)
print +x, type(+x)
print ++x, type(++x)
print +++x, type(+++x)
2012/06/26

Python does not have these operators, but if you really need them you can write a function having the same functionality.

def PreIncrement(name, local={}):
    #Equivalent to ++name
    if name in local:
        local[name]+=1
        return local[name]
    globals()[name]+=1
    return globals()[name]

def PostIncrement(name, local={}):
    #Equivalent to name++
    if name in local:
        local[name]+=1
        return local[name]-1
    globals()[name]+=1
    return globals()[name]-1

Usage:

x = 1
y = PreIncrement('x') #y and x are both 2
a = 1
b = PostIncrement('a') #b is 1 and a is 2

Inside a function you have to add locals() as a second argument if you want to change local variable, otherwise it will try to change global.

x = 1
def test():
    x = 10
    y = PreIncrement('x') #y will be 2, local x will be still 10 and global x will be changed to 2
    z = PreIncrement('x', locals()) #z will be 11, local x will be 11 and global x will be unaltered
test()

Also with these functions you can do:

x = 1
print(PreIncrement('x'))   #print(x+=1) is illegal!

But in my opinion following approach is much clearer:

x = 1
x+=1
print(x)

Decrement operators:

def PreDecrement(name, local={}):
    #Equivalent to --name
    if name in local:
        local[name]-=1
        return local[name]
    globals()[name]-=1
    return globals()[name]

def PostDecrement(name, local={}):
    #Equivalent to name--
    if name in local:
        local[name]-=1
        return local[name]+1
    globals()[name]-=1
    return globals()[name]+1

I used these functions in my module translating javascript to python.

2014/10/05

In Python, a distinction between expressions and statements is rigidly enforced, in contrast to languages such as Common Lisp, Scheme, or Ruby.

Wikipedia

So by introducing such operators, you would break the expression/statement split.

For the same reason you can't write

if x = 0:
  y = 1

as you can in some other languages where such distinction is not preserved.

2012/01/25

TL;DR

Python does not have unary increment/decrement operators (--/++). Instead, to increment a value, use

a += 1

More detail and gotchas

But be careful here. If you're coming from C, even this is different in python. Python doesn't have "variables" in the sense that C does, instead python uses names and objects, and in python ints are immutable.

so lets say you do

a = 1

What this means in python is: create an object of type int having value 1 and bind the name a to it. The object is an instance of int having value 1, and the name a refers to it. The name a and the object to which it refers are distinct.

Now lets say you do

a += 1

Since ints are immutable, what happens here is as follows:

  1. look up the object that a refers to (it is an int with id 0x559239eeb380)
  2. look up the value of object 0x559239eeb380 (it is 1)
  3. add 1 to that value (1 + 1 = 2)
  4. create a new int object with value 2 (it has object id 0x559239eeb3a0)
  5. rebind the name a to this new object
  6. Now a refers to object 0x559239eeb3a0 and the original object (0x559239eeb380) is no longer refered to by the name a. If there aren't any other names refering to the original object it will be garbage collected later.

Give it a try yourself:

a = 1
print(hex(id(a)))
a += 1
print(hex(id(a)))
2019/01/18

Source: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1485841
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