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Pre-PEP: reverse iteration methods

 
 
Christoph Becker-Freyseng
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      09-24-2003
I like the idea of having some iterator.backwards, backwards(iterator) etc.

However especially reading Andrew Dalke's postings and replies (and
having thought about using internally len() and so on --- but then
thinking of iterator maybe having *no* __len__)
I now think that reverse iteration is not well defined when __len__
can't be defined (and sometimes even if it is). This is not the case for
list-like objects as they
have a predictable fixed length (even if the __len__-method isn't
actually implemented).
Let me give an example:

class NaturalNumbers:
def __init__(self):
self.n= 0
def __iter__(self):
return self
def next(self):
self.n+=1
return self.n


This is surely ordered but defining the reverse-order is difficult.
Maybe it should always return infty then.

Or think about a "Tape-Iterator". An object that reads data from e.g. a
file forwards/next and backwards/iter_backwards.
What would you expect to get if tape is at position x and you say
tape.backwards()?
Should it be the last byte of the file or maybe that on position x-1 ?
This shows that we can get into trouble when we have already iterated
"in the right direction" and then start to do "backwards".

While reverse-iteration is a sound idea we need a clear definition of
what is meant!


I thought of the following (I give multiple possibilies named a,b,c, ...
finally only one may be used):
1. If iterator has fixed/determined length (so it could be converted
into a regular list):
a) iterator.iter_backwards() creates an independent reverse-iterator:
1.1)
l2= list(iterator)
l1= list(iterator.iter_backwards())
l2.reverse()
l1 and l2 have to be equal
1.2)
l1= list(iterator.iter_backwards())
l2= list(iterator)
l2.reverse()
l1 and l2 have to be equal
(next cases as examples for simplicity)
1.3)
it= range(4)
it.next()
l1= list(it.iter_backwards())
l2= list(it)
-> l1 == [3,2,1]
l2 == [1,2,3]
1.4)
it= range(4)
itBack= it.iter_backwards()
l1= [itBack.next(), itBack.next(), itBack.next()]
l2= [it.next(), it.next(), it.next()]
-> l1= [3,2,1]
l2= [0,1,2]
b) iterator.iter_backwards() creates a dependent reverse-iterator:
1.1) 1.2) like in a)
(next cases as examples for simplicity)
1.3)
it= range(4)
it.next()
l1= list(it.iter_backwards())
l2= list(it)
-> l1 == [0,]
l2 == [0,1,2,3]
1.4)
it= range(4)
itBack= it.iter_backwards()
l1= [itBack.next(), itBack.next(), itBack.next()]
l2= [it.next(), it.next(), it.next()]
-> l1= [3,2,1]
l2= [1,2,3]
2. Infinite/non-determined iterators:
They should implement reverse-iteration in a way that
iterator.next()
iterator.iter_backwards().next()
is a nop
and
iterator.iter_backwards().next()
iterator.next()
is a nop, too.
Or if there are more backward than forward-steps should raise some
StopBackwardIterator



I'm sure there are a lot more and probably better definitions, so I hope
we will find a useful one.


Christoph Becker-Freyseng







 
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Christos TZOTZIOY Georgiou
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      09-24-2003
On Wed, 24 Sep 2003 00:30:31 GMT, rumours say that "Raymond Hettinger"
<(E-Mail Removed)> might have written:

>Abstract
>========
>
>This proposal is to extend the API of several sequence types
>to include methods for iterating over the sequence in reverse.


-0

I believe this should be a function in itertools.

For indexable sequences, a little modification of itertools.islice would
do the trick, since it can't at the moment; it's designed for forward
iteration.

Helpful error messages:
>>> itertools.islice(lst, len(lst)-1, -1, -1)

ValueError: Stop argument must be an integer or None.
>>> itertools.islice(lst, len(lst)-1, None, -1)

ValueError: Step must be one or larger for islice().

For non-indexable sequences (eg a file object), things get hairier, but
given enough memory, it's not hard.
--
TZOTZIOY, I speak England very best,
Microsoft Security Alert: the Matrix began as open source.
 
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Bob Gailer
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      09-24-2003
At 06:30 PM 9/23/2003, you wrote:

>Here is a discussion draft of a potential PEP.
>The ideas grew out of the discussion on pep-284.
>Comments are invited. Dart throwing is optional.
>
>The discussion so far has focused on how to modify the operand of for x in.
>
>There is another viewpoint: consider that we are modifying the behavior of
>for x in
>
>In APL we often modify the behavior of a primitive operator by adding
>something to the operator itself. For example
>+/A means apply + along the last last dimension of the array A. (e.g. sum
>the elements in each row of the matrix A)
>To sum along the columns change the expression to =+/[1]A where the index
>modifies the / operator.
>
>Could this open the door to some fundamentally new Python syntax that
>would support the modification of keyword behavior? e.g.:
>
>for x in[-1] list:
>for[-1] x in list:
>for x in[-1] list:for x in[-1] list:
>for.reverse x in list:
>for x out list:
>rof x in list:
>
>Let's brainstorm?


Bob Gailer
http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/(E-Mail Removed)
303 442 2625


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Irmen de Jong
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      09-24-2003
Raymond Hettinger wrote:
> Add a method called iter_backwards() to sequence objects that can benefit
> from it. The above examples then simplify to::


I'm not too fond of the name "iter_backwards". I think it is too long
(with respect to the already existing "iter" built-in function).

It's just my feeling towards the name, but to me "iter_backwards" sounds
more like an action that is performed on the object it is called on
(a real method so to speak, not a factory method):
"seq.iter_backwards()" reads to me at first glance: 'iterate over the
seq in backward direction'. Not: 'return a reverse iterator object'.
('iter' reads like the verb/action 'iterate' instead of a noun).

Instead, "backwards_iter", "back_iter" or preferrably just "riter"
reads more natural to me:
"seq.back_iter()" reads to me at first glance: 'get a backwards iteration
object for seq'. ('iter' reads like the noun 'iterator', not a verb).



> No language syntax changes are needed.


Making it a method, indeed. But then there is this difference
between *forward* iteration and *backward* iteration, right?

iter(seq) --> get a (forward) iterator for seq
seq.riter() --> get a (backward) iterator for seq

How is this easily explained to new people? Why not keep it
orthogonal:

iter(seq) and riter(seq)
~or~
seq.iter() and seq.riter()

For what it's worth (probably nothing, but hey), in C++ STL
we have seq.begin() that returns a forward iterator, and
seq.rbegin() that returns a backward iterator.


> * Should tuples be included?

Don't really care. Are there any reasons why they shouldn't?

> * Should file objects be included?

Don't care. I've never had to read a file in reverse.

> * Should enumerate() be included?

I think it should.


--Irmen de Jong

 
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Raymond Hettinger
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      09-24-2003
[Raymond]
> >Abstract
> >========
> >
> >This proposal is to extend the API of several sequence types
> >to include methods for iterating over the sequence in reverse.


[Christos TZOTZIOY Georgiou]
> -0
>
> I believe this should be a function in itertools.
>
> For indexable sequences, a little modification of itertools.islice would
> do the trick, since it can't at the moment; it's designed for forward
> iteration.
>
> Helpful error messages:
> >>> itertools.islice(lst, len(lst)-1, -1, -1)

> ValueError: Stop argument must be an integer or None.
> >>> itertools.islice(lst, len(lst)-1, None, -1)

> ValueError: Step must be one or larger for islice().
>
> For non-indexable sequences (eg a file object), things get hairier, but
> given enough memory, it's not hard.


Here's a quick and dirty implementation of your idea (kept separate
from islice for clarity). On the plus side, it is somewhat clean and
easy to use. On the minus side:
* It's slower than custom iterator methods
* It behaves badly with infinite iterators as inputs
* For non-indexables, it silently transitions into a
non-lazy, memory intensive mode with a long
delay on the first call. In my opinion, this defeats
the purpose of using iterators in the first place.

def ireverse(obj):
assert not hasattr(obj, 'keys')
try:
for i in xrange(len(obj)-1, -1, -1):
yield obj[i]
except (AttributeError, TypeError):
x = list(obj) # XXX fails with infinite iterators
x.reverse()
for elem in x:
yield elem

for i in ireverse(xrange(5)):
print i

for c in ireverse('abcde'):
print c

for elem in ireverse(['atom', 'beta', 'curry']):
print elem

for line in ireverse(file('/autoexec.bat')):
print line.rstrip()

for x in reverse(itertools.count()):
# Never gets here and Python dies with a MemoryError
# from the infinite loop
pass


Raymond Hettinger



 
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Peter Otten
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      09-24-2003
Raymond Hettinger wrote:

> * It behaves badly with infinite iterators as inputs


[...]

> def ireverse(obj):
> assert not hasattr(obj, 'keys')


# let inifinite iterators identify themselves
assert not hasattr(obj, 'infinite')

> try:
> for i in xrange(len(obj)-1, -1, -1):
> yield obj[i]
> except (AttributeError, TypeError):
> x = list(obj) # XXX fails with infinite iterators
> x.reverse()
> for elem in x:
> yield elem


As infinite iterators are rare, it would not be too cumbersome to let them
identify themselves as such.

Peter
 
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Andrew Dalke
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      09-24-2003
Stephen Horne:
> To me, the reason to use a method (or property) is simply that most
> types cannot be efficiently 'backwardised'.


Which is why my function looks for an '__riter__' under
the covers, so that an object can provide a specialized
implementation, if possible.

If it can't, I then proposed an implementation which will
iterate in reverse through lists and list-like interfaces (things
indexed by 0, 1, ... len(obj)-1). There is a problem though
in that my attempt at a 'generic' reverse implementation
will give strange errors in dictionary-like interfaces.

> For instance, iterators in
> general would have to be buffered into a list an then the resulting
> list iterated backwards. That could be useful, but the overhead is
> sufficient that I think explicitly writing 'list (x).backward ()'
> rather than 'x.backward ()' would be a good thing.


Those objects which implement a 'reverse_iterate' /
'backward' / whatever are identical to those which would
implement a __riter__ accessed under the covers.

My question is, what to do about objects which *don't*
provide a special method. Should there still be a standard
way to do a reverse iteration through them?

The only two I can think of are:
- assume
for i in range(len(obj)-1, -1, -1): yield obj[i]
works as a backup. It doesn't quite work because of
dictionaries.

- assume that storing all elements in a temporary
list and doing a reverse on the temp list is okay.
As you point out, it is the most generic but doesn't
work if memory is a problem. (There's also a
concern about proper destruction order if you want
to delete elements from a list starting from the end.)

- (There's a third, which is O(n**2). At every request,
iterate through the list to find the last element.)

If there is an acceptable solution (which needn't be
perfect, just practicable) then it's a good reason to
have it be a builtin over a special method.

I still point out that there are many other ways of
doing iteration and I don't see what makes reverse
iteration so important to get its own method.

Andrew
(E-Mail Removed)



 
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Andrew Dalke
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      09-24-2003
Me:
> The only two I can think of are:


> for i in range(len(obj)-1, -1, -1): yield obj[i]


Peter Otten proposed a nice variation; assume negative
indicies work. Then there's no need to assume len
works.

Andrew
(E-Mail Removed)


 
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Christos TZOTZIOY Georgiou
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      09-24-2003
On Wed, 24 Sep 2003 20:46:16 +0200, rumours say that Peter Otten
<(E-Mail Removed)> might have written:

> # let inifinite iterators identify themselves
> assert not hasattr(obj, 'infinite')
>
>As infinite iterators are rare, it would not be too cumbersome to let them
>identify themselves as such.


This is an interesting idea.
--
TZOTZIOY, I speak England very best,
Microsoft Security Alert: the Matrix began as open source.
 
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David Eppstein
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      09-25-2003
> > # let inifinite iterators identify themselves
> > assert not hasattr(obj, 'infinite')
> >
> >As infinite iterators are rare, it would not be too cumbersome to let them
> >identify themselves as such.


It would be quite cumbersome to have to identify simple generators as
infinite or finite manually, and impossible (halting problem) to do so
reliably automatically.

--
David Eppstein http://www.ics.uci.edu/~eppstein/
Univ. of California, Irvine, School of Information & Computer Science
 
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