What is a clean, pythonic way to have multiple constructors in Python?


I can't find a definitive answer for this. As far as I know, you can't have multiple __init__ functions in a Python class. So how do I solve this problem?

Suppose I have a class called Cheese with the number_of_holes property. How can I have two ways of creating cheese objects...

  1. One that takes a number of holes like this: parmesan = Cheese(num_holes = 15)
  2. And one that takes no arguments and just randomizes the number_of_holes property: gouda = Cheese()

I can think of only one way to do this, but this seems clunky:

class Cheese():
    def __init__(self, num_holes = 0):
        if (num_holes == 0):
            # randomize number_of_holes
            number_of_holes = num_holes

What do you say? Is there another way?

9/26/2019 8:34:16 PM

Accepted Answer

Actually None is much better for "magic" values:

class Cheese():
    def __init__(self, num_holes = None):
        if num_holes is None:

Now if you want complete freedom of adding more parameters:

class Cheese():
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        #args -- tuple of anonymous arguments
        #kwargs -- dictionary of named arguments
        self.num_holes = kwargs.get('num_holes',random_holes())

To better explain the concept of *args and **kwargs (you can actually change these names):

def f(*args, **kwargs):
   print 'args: ', args, ' kwargs: ', kwargs

>>> f('a')
args:  ('a',)  kwargs:  {}
>>> f(ar='a')
args:  ()  kwargs:  {'ar': 'a'}
>>> f(1,2,param=3)
args:  (1, 2)  kwargs:  {'param': 3}

3/7/2016 12:41:58 AM

One should definitely prefer the solutions already posted, but since no one mentioned this solution yet, I think it is worth mentioning for completeness.

The @classmethod approach can be modified to provide an alternative constructor which does not invoke the default constructor (__init__). Instead, an instance is created using __new__.

This could be used if the type of initialization cannot be selected based on the type of the constructor argument, and the constructors do not share code.


class MyClass(set):

    def __init__(self, filename):
        self._value = load_from_file(filename)

    def from_somewhere(cls, somename):
        obj = cls.__new__(cls)  # Does not call __init__
        super(MyClass, obj).__init__()  # Don't forget to call any polymorphic base class initializers
        obj._value = load_from_somewhere(somename)
        return obj

All of these answers are excellent if you want to use optional parameters, but another Pythonic possibility is to use a classmethod to generate a factory-style pseudo-constructor:

def __init__(self, num_holes):

  # do stuff with the number

def fromRandom(cls):

  return cls( # some-random-number )

Why do you think your solution is "clunky"? Personally I would prefer one constructor with default values over multiple overloaded constructors in situations like yours (Python does not support method overloading anyway):

def __init__(self, num_holes=None):
    if num_holes is None:
        # Construct a gouda
        # custom cheese
    # common initialization

For really complex cases with lots of different constructors, it might be cleaner to use different factory functions instead:

def create_gouda(cls):
    c = Cheese()
    # ...
    return c

def create_cheddar(cls):
    # ...

In your cheese example you might want to use a Gouda subclass of Cheese though...


Those are good ideas for your implementation, but if you are presenting a cheese making interface to a user. They don't care how many holes the cheese has or what internals go into making cheese. The user of your code just wants "gouda" or "parmesean" right?

So why not do this:

from cheeses import make_gouda, make_parmesean

gouda = make_gouda()
paremesean = make_parmesean()

And then you can use any of the methods above to actually implement the functions:

class Cheese(object):
    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        #args -- tuple of anonymous arguments
        #kwargs -- dictionary of named arguments
        self.num_holes = kwargs.get('num_holes',random_holes())

def make_gouda():
    return Cheese()

def make_paremesean():
    return Cheese(num_holes=15)

This is a good encapsulation technique, and I think it is more Pythonic. To me this way of doing things fits more in line more with duck typing. You are simply asking for a gouda object and you don't really care what class it is.


Use num_holes=None as a default, instead. Then check for whether num_holes is None, and if so, randomize. That's what I generally see, anyway.

More radically different construction methods may warrant a classmethod that returns an instance of cls.


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