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Python 'is' vs '=='

wangonya profile image Kinyanjui Wangonya Originally published at wangonya.com on ・2 min read

A lot of times when I'm doing ifs in Python, I find myself wondering whether to use is or == for the check.

# do I do
if a is b:
    ...

# or
if a == b:
    ...

It can be a bit confusing if you're new to Python, and it's easy to assume the two can be used interchangeably. So, what's the difference?

is

The is operator checks if both elements point to the same object. Let's fire up a python console to help illustrate this:

$ python3
Python 3.7.4
[Clang 10.0.1 (clang-1001.0.46.4)] on darwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.

>>> a = []
>>> b = []
>>> c = a

>>> a
[]
>>> b
[]
>>> c
[]
>>>

So, we've declared three variables and assigned them values. a and b are both empty lists, and c = a. We can see that all three variables contain an empty list. Using is to compare them:

>>> a is b
False
>>> b is c
False
>>> a is c
True

Despite the fact that a and b seem identical (in that they're both empty lists), the variables a and b do not point to the same object, therefore a is b evaluates to False. The same goes for b is c.

Conversely, because we assigned the variable a to c, they both point to the same object, thus a is c is True.

==

== on the other hand checks if both elements contain equal values. Whether or not they point to the same object doesn't matter here.

>>> a == b
True
>>> b == c
True
>>> a == c
True

All checks using == evaluate to True, because the values of a, b and c are all equal. If d = [1, 2, 3] is introduced, a == d, b == d and c == d would all be False, because the values are not equal.

So if you want to check that elements point to the same object, use is. If you're only interested in the equality of the values, use ==.

Posted on Sep 7 '19 by:

Discussion

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Very nice, but a word of warning, identity (what is checks) is generally a language implementation detail, not something that should be relied upon.

Consider:

spam = 42
eggs = spam
print(spam is eggs)  # True
print(spam is 42)  # True

spam = 420
eggs = spam
print(spam is eggs)  # True
print(spam is 420)  # False

That same example might not work precisely that way in another implementation of Python.

Mutable and immutable values behave very differently in terms of assignment and identity.

Except in some extremely rare, hack-y scenarios, you should only see is in the context of is None.

 

Interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

Except in some extremely rare, hack-y scenarios, you should only see is in the context of is None.

You know, I wanted to mention something similar to this but didn't because we wouldn't usually do if a is None... a better way would be if not a - so I didn't know exactly how to frame it.

 

Well, no, you wouldn't want to do that. if not a is the accepted shorthand for if a == False, but False and None are distinct values. You should always explicitly test for None, although you can implicitly test for "not None":

if foo:
    # foo has value (not None) OR foo is True

if not foo:
    # foo is False

if foo is None:
    # foo is None

There's actually a bit more to it than that. if not checks "truthyness", not just equality to False. So not foo will evaluate to True if foo is any of these and more:

  1. False
  2. None
  3. 0
  4. []
  5. {}
  6. ""

The same thing applies in the other direction, if [1] will succeed because the list is not empty, empty list are "falsey" whereas lists containing elements are "truthy".

The lesson here is pretty much don't use if without an explicit comparison (== or is) unless you're sure you know how truthy the value will be in all cases.

 

There are some corner cases when you would like to use the full comparison form. For example if None is used as an "no argument value was passed" flag:

def foo(a=None):
 if not a:
  print("No value provided")

it will print message for calls foo(), foo(0), foo(""), foo([]).

Yes, it's always best to test for the presence of None explicitly, rather than implicitly.

 

wouldn't 'is' be used in s scenario where we're comparing pointers like in a linked list?

while p is not q :
p = p.next

I think that is how 'is' should be used.

I've not used linked lists much so I wouldn't know but yeah, I guess that would work.

Well, Python doesn't have pointers, per se, nor would there ordinarily be a cause to implement your own linked list. It's virtually always best to use Python's own data structures, or at least build upon them.

yes.. but if you needed something fancy like a left leaning red black tree or a concurrent skip list you'd need 'is' to work for you for completeness.

(ps. I know they don't really have "pointers" but in these scenarios you use it like a pointer)

 

If you try to compare a variable with a literal using is or is not you will get a syntax warning like this:

>>> x=1
>>> x is 0
<stdin>:1: SyntaxWarning: "is" with a literal. Did you mean "=="?
False
>>> x is not 0
<stdin>:1: SyntaxWarning: "is not" with a literal. Did you mean "!="?
True
 

I'm so happy to see a fellow Kenyan here.Thank you.

 

Isn't a is b essentially the same as id(a) == id(b)?

 

Haven't tried it out on a console, but it makes sense. I think it's the same.

 

The most basic explanation would be that is presents syntax sugar for

id(x) = id(y)

In terms of CPython this would represent if pointer leading to x equals to the pointer leading to y.

Don't forget that CPython stores all its objects on the heap.

 

Nice explanation, I used to compare if s in PHP , but this is interesting

 
 

So basically

is

checks to see if the variable is the same space in memory, while

==

checks to see if the value is identical?

 

That's how I understand it, yes.