This section cover the decorator syntax and the concept of a decorator (or decorating) callable.
Decorators are a syntactic convenience, that allows a Python source file to say what it is going to do with the result of a function or a class statement before rather than after the statement. Decorators on function statements have been available since Python 2.4, and on class statements since Python 2.6.
In this section we describe the decorator syntax and give examples of its use. In addition, we will discuss functions (and other callables) that are specifically designed for use as decorators. They are also called decorators.
You can, and in medium sized or larger projects probably should, write your own decorators. The decorator code might, unfortunately, be a little complex. But it can greatly simplify the other code.
The decorator syntax¶
The decorator syntax uses the @ character. For function statements the following are equivalent:
# State, before defining f, that a_decorator will be applied to it. @a_decorator def f(...): ...
def f(...): ... # After defining f, apply a_decorator to it. f = a_decorator(f)
The benefits of using the decorator syntax are:
- The name of the function appears only once in the source file.
- The reader knows, before the possibly quite long definition of the function, that the decorator function will be applied to it.
The decorator syntax for a class statement is same, except of course that it applies to a class statement.
Unless you tell it not to, Python will create what is called a bound method when a function is an attribute of a class and you access it via an instance of a class. This may sound complicated but it does exactly what you want.
>>> class A(object): ... def method(*argv): ... return argv >>> a = A() >>> a.method <bound method A.method of <A object at 0x...>>
When we call the bound method the object a is passed as an argument.
>>> a.method('an arg') (<A object at 0x...>, 'an arg') >>> a.method('an arg') is a True
A static method is a way of suppressing the creation of a bound method when accessing a function.
>>> class A(object): ... @staticmethod ... def method(*argv): ... return argv >>> a = A() >>> a.method <function method at 0x...>
When we call a static method we don’t get any additional arguments.
>>> a.method('an arg') ('an arg',)
A class method is like a bound method except that the class of the instance is passed as an argument rather than the instance itself.
>>> class A(object): ... @classmethod ... def method(*argv): ... return argv >>> a = A() >>> a.method <bound method type.method of <class 'A'>>
When we call a class method the class of the instance is passed as an additional argument.
>>> a.method('an arg') (<class 'A'>, 'an arg') >>> a.method('an arg') is A True
In addition, class methods can be called on the class itself.
>>> A.method('an arg') (<class 'A'>, 'an arg')
Suppose we want to construct a lookup table, say containing the squares of positive integers for 0 to n.
For n small we can do it by hand:
>>> table = [0, 1, 4, 9, 16] >>> len(table), table (5, 9)
Because the formula is simple, we could also use a list comprehension:
>>> table = [i * i for i in range(5)] >>> len(table), table (5, 9)
Here’s another way, that uses a helper function (which we will call table). For a table of squares list comprehension is better, because we can write an expression that squares. But for some tables a complex sequence of statements is required.
>>> def table(n): ... value =  ... for i in range(n): ... value.append(i*i) ... return value >>> table = table(5)
We call the helper function table for three related reasons
- It indicates the purpose of the function.
- It ensures that the helper function is removed from the namespace once the table has been constructed.
- It conforms to the decorator syntax.
As before, we test the table and find that it works. >>> len(table), table (5, 9)
>>> def call(*argv, **kwargs): ... def call_fn(fn): ... return fn(*argv, **kwargs) ... return call_fn
>>> @call(5) ... def table(n): ... value =  ... for i in range(n): ... value.append(i*i) ... return value
>>> len(table), table (5, 9)
The decorator syntax can be nested. The following example is similar to the list comprehension approach, except that it uses a generator function rather than a generator expression.
>>> @list ... @call(5) ... def table(n): ... for i in range(n): ... yield i * i
We read this as saying:
The value of table is the list obtained by iterating over the function evaluated at n equal to 5.
The purpose of this example is illustrate some of the concepts. We are not saying that it is, or is not good programming practice. That will depend, in part, on the context.
As before, we test the table and find that it works.
>>> len(table), table (5, 9)
Class decorators before Python 2.6¶
Prior to Python 2.6 one could not write
@a_decorator class MyClass(...): # possibly many lines of code.
If you need to support earlier versions of Python, I recommend that you develop in Python 2.6 or later. This allows your mind and keyboarding to use decorators. Once the decorating code is stable refactor it to support earlier versions of Python, as follows.
# @a_decorator class MyClass(...): # possibly many lines of code. MyClass = a_decorator(MyClass) # if changed, change decorator comment.
This approach allows you to think and largely code using the class decorator point of view, at the cost of having to keep the decorator comment up to date when the decorator changes.