Lab 9

Stats 159/259 - Lab 9 - 11/2/15


  1. A quick discussion about scope
  2. Structured code review exercise
  3. Work on your projects

Scope in Python

First, a couple of definitions:

Name: A name in python is a reference to a python object. For example:

# Create an object named a
a = [1, 2, 3]
# Create a new NAME for the object named a
b = a
# a and b should be equivalent
a == b
# Are the two objects exactly the same? (i.e. are 'a' and 'b' just two
# different names for the same object?)
a is b
# Create a new object that is equivalent to a
c = [1, 2, 3]
# a and c are equivalent, but are they the same object?
a == c
a is c

Block: A block in Python is a piece of code that is executed as a unit. Examples of blocks include: the body of a function, modules, class definitions, and script files.

Scope: A scope defines the visibility of a name in a given block. If an object with a given name is defined within a code block, then the scope of that object includes the given block.

Why is any of this important? Misunderstanding scope can cause headaches in some situations; most commonly when you have several objects that have the same name in different scopes. For example:

a = 10

def print_a():
    a = 20
    print a

# Which number gets printed?

The previous example deals with an issue called name resolution, i.e. figuring out which object you mean when you use the given name. If a name is unique, then name resolution is easy, but if there are different objects with the same name in different scopes, then name resolution is a little more involved (although pretty straightforward, once you understand it).

There is a rule-of-thumb for Python name resolution: the LEGB rule. It specifies the order of name resolution when there are multiple scopes. It is analogous to the order of operations in arithmatic (PEMDAS). The LEGB rule states the order that scopes are searched for a given name:

  1. L ocal
  2. E nvironment
  3. G lobal
  4. B uiltin

To understand this rule, we should define another term: environment. An envirnoment is just the set of all scopes that are visible to a given block. For example, if you define a function within a module (as we do all the time) then the environment for code within that function includes the function scope, and the module scope.

Now, back to name resolution: The key thing to remember is that Python will search through the local scope first, then work it’s way outward. If it hasn’t found anything in the environment, it will move on to variables defined with global scope. If it still hasn’t found an object with the given name, it moves on to it’s own set of built-in functions. If at that point it still hasn’t found any object with the given name, it will throw a NameError exception.

There is one final term that should be defined here, and that’s namespace. A namepace is essentially just a lookup table that relates every name to an underlying object. You can think of a namespace as a python dictionary, where the key corresponds to the name, and the value is the underlying python object:

namespace = {"name1":object1, "name2":object2} #...

This helps illuminate how one object can have multiple names: it’s just the same object, stored in the dictionary under multiple keys. The concept of namespace is useful with regards to naming resolution because all that name resolution really is is a search through the keys of the namespace dictionaries. The search starts with the local namespace; if there is no key in the dictionary corresponding to the given name, it moves on to the environment namespace, etc.

In practical terms, name resolution has a couple big implications:

  1. You have to be careful what you name things. There are certain built-ins with set names and if you name an object with the same name as one of the built-ins, the LEGB rule dictates that the name will now resolve to your object rather than the built-in. For example:

    int = 1
    # Try to convert a float to an int:

    Another common example: keywordargs:

    from pprint import pprint
    def print_my_type(a):
        print type(a)
    def print_my_type(a, type="pretty"):
        Print the type of the input. The type kwarg specifies how to print
        the information.
        if type == "pretty": pprint(type(a))
        else: print type(a)
    # type is still okay outside the scope of the print_me function
  2. Naming different objects with the same name in different scopes. This happens all the time, but you just have to be aware of the scope of your objects to be able to figure out which object you’re referring to (see original example).

That’s it for the brief intro to scope. If you’re curious and would like to learn more (scope and name resolution are important features of all computer languages, not just python), you might want to check out:

Python’s execution model

You can also check out the wikipedia pages for scope and name resolution

Exercise: Code Review

In this exercise, you will be critiquing each others’ solutions to HW2. This may be nervewracking, as it is likely (with the exception of your project work) the first time you’ve exposed your code to the critical eyes of others. Although it may seem scary, as we’ve mentioned before, critical code review is one of if not the best and fastest ways to improve your programming ability. Learning how to accept and dole-out constructive criticism is a very important and over-looked skill, so we’re going to try to develop it a bit today.

  1. Get into your teams (doesn’t have to be your project team)
  2. One member of your team will create a GitHub repo called code_review_practice (or something like that)
  3. Everybody else in the team fork that repo and set up your remotes (just like the lab6 exercise)
  4. Every member of the group should now copy their solutions from HW2 and put them into the code_review_practice repo with a format like <your_name>
  5. Also add Jarrod’s solutions to the repo.
  6. As a group, choose three functions from that you will review.
  7. Using the GitHub code review model we’ve been practicing in class, review each of the 3 functions you’ve selected. It’s up to you how you decide to do this (you can split up into subgroups etc). When reviewing the functions, keep the following characteristics in mind:
    • code clarity / readability
    • brevity
    • code performance (you may want to use ipython’s %timeit feature for some basic code profiling)
  8. At the end of the exercise (~45 min), your group should have analyzed each other’s (and Jarrod’s) solutions to Share your findings amongst yourselves, with specific reference to the three characteristics above. Summarize your thoughts in a file. This file could contain, for example, a listing of positive and negative examples of code with respect to clarity, brevity, and performance.

We won’t be “grading” the, but we will look at it to see what you came up with and provide our own feedback.

Project work

The rest of the class time is for you to work on your projects!