Fix Python – Python (and Python C API): __new__ versus __init__ [duplicate]

Question

Asked By – Channel72

The question I’m about to ask seems to be a duplicate of Python’s use of __new__ and __init__?, but regardless, it’s still unclear to me exactly what the practical difference between __new__ and __init__ is.

Before you rush to tell me that __new__ is for creating objects and __init__ is for initializing objects, let me be clear: I get that. In fact, that distinction is quite natural to me, since I have experience in C++ where we have placement new, which similarly separates object allocation from initialization.

The Python C API tutorial explains it like this:

The new member is responsible for
creating (as opposed to initializing)
objects of the type. It is exposed in
Python as the __new__() method. …
One reason to implement a new method is to assure the initial values of
instance variables
.

So, yeah – I get what __new__ does, but despite this, I still don’t understand why it’s useful in Python. The example given says that __new__ might be useful if you want to “assure the initial values of instance variables”. Well, isn’t that exactly what __init__ will do?

In the C API tutorial, an example is shown where a new Type (called a “Noddy”) is created, and the Type’s __new__ function is defined. The Noddy type contains a string member called first, and this string member is initialized to an empty string like so:

static PyObject * Noddy_new(PyTypeObject *type, PyObject *args, PyObject *kwds)
{
    .....

    self->first = PyString_FromString("");
    if (self->first == NULL)
    {
       Py_DECREF(self);
       return NULL;
    }

    .....
}

Note that without the __new__ method defined here, we’d have to use PyType_GenericNew, which simply initializes all of the instance variable members to NULL. So the only benefit of the __new__ method is that the instance variable will start out as an empty string, as opposed to NULL. But why is this ever useful, since if we cared about making sure our instance variables are initialized to some default value, we could have just done that in the __init__ method?

Now we will see solution for issue: Python (and Python C API): __new__ versus __init__ [duplicate]


Answer

The difference mainly arises with mutable vs immutable types.

__new__ accepts a type as the first argument, and (usually) returns a new instance of that type. Thus it is suitable for use with both mutable and immutable types.

__init__ accepts an instance as the first argument and modifies the attributes of that instance. This is inappropriate for an immutable type, as it would allow them to be modified after creation by calling obj.__init__(*args).

Compare the behaviour of tuple and list:

>>> x = (1, 2)
>>> x
(1, 2)
>>> x.__init__([3, 4])
>>> x # tuple.__init__ does nothing
(1, 2)
>>> y = [1, 2]
>>> y
[1, 2]
>>> y.__init__([3, 4])
>>> y # list.__init__ reinitialises the object
[3, 4]

As to why they’re separate (aside from simple historical reasons): __new__ methods require a bunch of boilerplate to get right (the initial object creation, and then remembering to return the object at the end). __init__ methods, by contrast, are dead simple, since you just set whatever attributes you need to set.

Aside from __init__ methods being easier to write, and the mutable vs immutable distinction noted above, the separation can also be exploited to make calling the parent class __init__ in subclasses optional by setting up any absolutely required instance invariants in __new__. This is generally a dubious practice though – it’s usually clearer to just call the parent class __init__ methods as necessary.

This question is answered By – ncoghlan

This answer is collected from stackoverflow and reviewed by FixPython community admins, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5 , cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0