Skip to main content

Python : Turning a sequence into an iterator without iter(), keeping the sequences' properties intact

From time to time, we have come across questions like -- How can I make an iterator out of a sequence without explicitly calling the iter() function?

A follow-up question to that would be -- Can we preserve the sequences' properties intact, with just adding the needed properties to make it an iterator?

In answering these, we are also answering the obviously inferred question -- How can I expand functionalities of a class without modifying the class itself?

All of these questions have the same answer -- a simple one: By subclassing the class in question and adding/overloading attributes/methods to meet the requirements.

Let's see this in action:

I'm gonna show how we can extend the properties of a list, which is a sequence (type of iterable), to make it an iterator, while keeping the original properties of being a sequence. I'll be using Python 3.

The Python language protocol defines that, for some object to become an iterator, it needs to implement the iterator protocol, which essentially means the object must have the following two dunder methods:

  1. __iter__: which must return the instantiated object itself
  2. __next__: returns the next element of the object, raises StopIteration when the iterator is exhausted. Just to note, this is called just next() in Python 2.

So, first let's see what a vanilla list class contains:

>>> list.__iter__
<slot wrapper '__iter__' of 'list' objects>

It contains __iter__, that's good, one requirement is met. Let's check for __next__:

>>> list.__next__
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
AttributeError: type object 'list' has no attribute '__next__'

Hmmmm, no __next__. So, we need to implement __next__ magic method, while keeping all the existing properties of list as is.

Let's create out new class, which subclasses list:

class MyList(list):
    def __init__(self, list_):
        # Calling `list`'s constructor to preserve
        # the properties of `list`
        self.list_ = list_
        # Current index
        self.cur_idx = -1
        # Maximum index
        self.max_idx = len(list_) - 1

    # If `list` did not contain `__iter`, we would
    # need to implement `__iter__` like below
    # def __iter__(self):
    #     return self

    # Implementing `__next__` for `next()`
    def __next__(self):
        self.cur_idx += 1
        # raising `StopIteration` when the
        # iterator is exhausted
        if self.cur_idx > self.max_idx:
            raise StopIteration('Iterator exhausted!')
        return self.list_[self.cur_idx]

That's that! Now, let's see how it goes:

>>> from collections import Sequence, Iterator

>>> base_list = [1, 2, 3]
>>> isinstance(base_list, Sequence)
>>> isinstance(base_list, Iterator)

>>> my_list = MyList(base_list)
>>> isinstance(my_list, Sequence)
>>> isinstance(my_list, Iterator)

Perfect. Now, let's check out the next() call for fun:

>>> for _ in range(len(base_list)+1):
...     next(my_list)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 2, in <module>
  File "/home/foobar/", line 18, in __next__
    raise StopIteration('Iterator exhausted!')
StopIteration: Iterator exhausted!

Works as expected! Now, we can also iterate over it to prove that we still have the sequences' properties intact:

>>> for i in my_list:
...     print(i)

It has them intact, indeed.

As you can imagine, the above would be applicable for tuple and str too, basically, for any type of sequence object.

In practice, one would rarely need to subclass the list like this to implement the iterator protocol, as simply calling the iter() would do the same thing. This is just a see in action type example of classs' attribute/method extension (applicable to overloading too) functionalities by subclassing.

Happy coding! Thanks!


Comments powered by Disqus