Using global variables in a function


How can I create or use a global variable in a function?

If I create a global variable in one function, how can I use that global variable in another function? Do I need to store the global variable in a local variable of the function which needs its access?

5/20/2018 10:47:45 AM

Accepted Answer

You can use a global variable within other functions by declaring it as global within each function that assigns a value to it:

globvar = 0

def set_globvar_to_one():
    global globvar    # Needed to modify global copy of globvar
    globvar = 1

def print_globvar():
    print(globvar)     # No need for global declaration to read value of globvar

print_globvar()       # Prints 1

I imagine the reason for it is that, since global variables are so dangerous, Python wants to make sure that you really know that's what you're playing with by explicitly requiring the global keyword.

See other answers if you want to share a global variable across modules.

8/11/2020 9:32:53 PM

If I'm understanding your situation correctly, what you're seeing is the result of how Python handles local (function) and global (module) namespaces.

Say you've got a module like this:

myGlobal = 5

def func1():
    myGlobal = 42

def func2():
    print myGlobal


You might expecting this to print 42, but instead it prints 5. As has already been mentioned, if you add a 'global' declaration to func1(), then func2() will print 42.

def func1():
    global myGlobal
    myGlobal = 42

What's going on here is that Python assumes that any name that is assigned to, anywhere within a function, is local to that function unless explicitly told otherwise. If it is only reading from a name, and the name doesn't exist locally, it will try to look up the name in any containing scopes (e.g. the module's global scope).

When you assign 42 to the name myGlobal, therefore, Python creates a local variable that shadows the global variable of the same name. That local goes out of scope and is garbage-collected when func1() returns; meanwhile, func2() can never see anything other than the (unmodified) global name. Note that this namespace decision happens at compile time, not at runtime -- if you were to read the value of myGlobal inside func1() before you assign to it, you'd get an UnboundLocalError, because Python has already decided that it must be a local variable but it has not had any value associated with it yet. But by using the 'global' statement, you tell Python that it should look elsewhere for the name instead of assigning to it locally.

(I believe that this behavior originated largely through an optimization of local namespaces -- without this behavior, Python's VM would need to perform at least three name lookups each time a new name is assigned to inside a function (to ensure that the name didn't already exist at module/builtin level), which would significantly slow down a very common operation.)


You may want to explore the notion of namespaces. In Python, the module is the natural place for global data:

Each module has its own private symbol table, which is used as the global symbol table by all functions defined in the module. Thus, the author of a module can use global variables in the module without worrying about accidental clashes with a user’s global variables. On the other hand, if you know what you are doing you can touch a module’s global variables with the same notation used to refer to its functions, modname.itemname.

A specific use of global-in-a-module is described here - How do I share global variables across modules?, and for completeness the contents are shared here:

The canonical way to share information across modules within a single program is to create a special configuration module (often called config or cfg). Just import the configuration module in all modules of your application; the module then becomes available as a global name. Because there is only one instance of each module, any changes made to the module object get reflected everywhere. For example:


x = 0   # Default value of the 'x' configuration setting


import config
config.x = 1


import config
import mod
print config.x

Python uses a simple heuristic to decide which scope it should load a variable from, between local and global. If a variable name appears on the left hand side of an assignment, but is not declared global, it is assumed to be local. If it does not appear on the left hand side of an assignment, it is assumed to be global.

>>> import dis
>>> def foo():
...     global bar
...     baz = 5
...     print bar
...     print baz
...     print quux
>>> dis.disassemble(foo.func_code)
  3           0 LOAD_CONST               1 (5)
              3 STORE_FAST               0 (baz)

  4           6 LOAD_GLOBAL              0 (bar)
              9 PRINT_ITEM          
             10 PRINT_NEWLINE       

  5          11 LOAD_FAST                0 (baz)
             14 PRINT_ITEM          
             15 PRINT_NEWLINE       

  6          16 LOAD_GLOBAL              1 (quux)
             19 PRINT_ITEM          
             20 PRINT_NEWLINE       
             21 LOAD_CONST               0 (None)
             24 RETURN_VALUE        

See how baz, which appears on the left side of an assignment in foo(), is the only LOAD_FAST variable.

If you want to refer to a global variable in a function, you can use the global keyword to declare which variables are global. You don't have to use it in all cases (as someone here incorrectly claims) - if the name referenced in an expression cannot be found in local scope or scopes in the functions in which this function is defined, it is looked up among global variables.

However, if you assign to a new variable not declared as global in the function, it is implicitly declared as local, and it can overshadow any existing global variable with the same name.

Also, global variables are useful, contrary to some OOP zealots who claim otherwise - especially for smaller scripts, where OOP is overkill.


If I create a global variable in one function, how can I use that variable in another function?

We can create a global with the following function:

def create_global_variable():
    global global_variable # must declare it to be a global first
    # modifications are thus reflected on the module's global scope
    global_variable = 'Foo' 

Writing a function does not actually run its code. So we call the create_global_variable function:

>>> create_global_variable()

Using globals without modification

You can just use it, so long as you don't expect to change which object it points to:

For example,

def use_global_variable():
    return global_variable + '!!!'

and now we can use the global variable:

>>> use_global_variable()

Modification of the global variable from inside a function

To point the global variable at a different object, you are required to use the global keyword again:

def change_global_variable():
    global global_variable
    global_variable = 'Bar'

Note that after writing this function, the code actually changing it has still not run:

>>> use_global_variable()

So after calling the function:

>>> change_global_variable()

we can see that the global variable has been changed. The global_variable name now points to 'Bar':

>>> use_global_variable()

Note that "global" in Python is not truly global - it's only global to the module level. So it is only available to functions written in the modules in which it is global. Functions remember the module in which they are written, so when they are exported into other modules, they still look in the module in which they were created to find global variables.

Local variables with the same name

If you create a local variable with the same name, it will overshadow a global variable:

def use_local_with_same_name_as_global():
    # bad name for a local variable, though.
    global_variable = 'Baz' 
    return global_variable + '!!!'

>>> use_local_with_same_name_as_global()

But using that misnamed local variable does not change the global variable:

>>> use_global_variable()

Note that you should avoid using the local variables with the same names as globals unless you know precisely what you are doing and have a very good reason to do so. I have not yet encountered such a reason.

We get the same behavior in classes

A follow on comment asks:

what to do if I want to create a global variable inside a function inside a class and want to use that variable inside another function inside another class?

Here I demonstrate we get the same behavior in methods as we do in regular functions:

class Foo:
    def foo(self):
        global global_variable
        global_variable = 'Foo'

class Bar:
    def bar(self):
        return global_variable + '!!!'


And now:

>>> Bar().bar()

But I would suggest instead of using global variables you use class attributes, to avoid cluttering the module namespace. Also note we don't use self arguments here - these could be class methods (handy if mutating the class attribute from the usual cls argument) or static methods (no self or cls).


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