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Let me explain why list comprehensions are good and useful.

Why are list comprehensions good? Why are list comprehensions useful?

Let me pick a very simple example. I have a list of numbers and I want to create another list with the squares. Here is the code in a for loop:

nums = [42, -73, 0, 10, -16]

squares = []
for num in nums:
    squares.append(num ** 2)

How does this work?

  • create an empty list;
  • iterate over the source list; and
  • append the modified values.

Easy enough, right?

Let's go with another example. I have a list of months and I want another list with the first 3 letters. Here is the code in a for loop:

month_names = ["January", "June", "December"]

initials = []
for month in month_names:
    initials.append(month[:3])

How does this work?

  • create an empty list;
  • iterate over the source list; and
  • append the modified values.

Notice that the descriptions of the 2 tasks are the same! What's the only difference? The way in which we modify the original values:

  • For the squares, we took a number and squared it with num ** 2.
  • For the months, we took a name and sliced it with month[:3].

In other words, when you have a task like this:

“Take a list with values and build a new list of modified values”

You just have to fill in the blanks in this code:

original_list = ... # List with original data.

new_list = []
for element in new_list:
    new_list.append(... element ...)
    # modify the element ^^^^^

We have this recipe that is fairly easy to understand. Not only that, it is also fairly common. Going over a list and creating a new one is a common task. So, Python decided to take that recipe and make it shorter! That's where list comprehensions come in.

A list comprehension takes that recipe and makes it shorter. Here is the comparison side-by-side:

original_list = ... # List with original data.

# Loop in 3 lines.
new_list = []
for element in new_list:
    new_list.append(... element ...)
    # modify the element ^^^^^

# Shorter list comprehension.
new_list = [... element ... for element in original_list]
# Modify element ^^^^^

Fine, but if list comprehensions are just a shorter version of that recipe, why is the order different? List comprehensions switch up the order to highlight the only thing that changes: The way in which we modify the original elements!

Do you see what I mean? List comprehensions emphasise the data transformation. Why?

Because that's the main thing, the most important thing. And that, in my opinion, is the best argument in favour of list comprehensions.

I hope you enjoyed this write-up. Feel free to leave your thoughts below!

This article was generated automatically from this thread I published on Twitter @mathsppblog. Then it was edited lightly.

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