What's the canonical way to check for type in Python?

Question:

How do I check if an object is of a given type, or if it inherits from a given type?

How do I check if the object o is of type str?


Beginners often wrongly expect the string to already be "a number" – either expecting Python 3.x input to convert type, or expecting that a string like '1' is also simultaneously an integer. This is the wrong canonical for those questions. Please carefully read the question and then use How do I check if a string represents a number (float or int)?, How can I read inputs as numbers? and/or Asking the user for input until they give a valid response as appropriate.

Asked By: Herge

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Answers:

isinstance(o, str)

Link to docs

isinstance(o, str) will return True if o is an str or is of a type that inherits from str.

type(o) is str will return True if and only if o is a str. It will return False if o is of a type that inherits from str.

Answered By: Herge

Use isinstance to check if o is an instance of str or any subclass of str:

if isinstance(o, str):

To check if the type of o is exactly str, excluding subclasses of str:

if type(o) is str:

Another alternative to the above:

if issubclass(type(o), str):

See Built-in Functions in the Python Library Reference for relevant information.


Checking for strings in Python 2

For Python 2, this is a better way to check if o is a string:

if isinstance(o, basestring):

because this will also catch Unicode strings. unicode is not a subclass of str; whereas, both str and unicode are subclasses of basestring. In Python 3, basestring no longer exists since there’s a strict separation of strings (str) and binary data (bytes).

Alternatively, isinstance accepts a tuple of classes. This will return True if o is an instance of any subclass of any of (str, unicode):

if isinstance(o, (str, unicode)):
Answered By: Fredrik Johansson

I think the cool thing about using a dynamic language like Python is you really shouldn’t have to check something like that.

I would just call the required methods on your object and catch an AttributeError. Later on this will allow you to call your methods with other (seemingly unrelated) objects to accomplish different tasks, such as mocking an object for testing.

I’ve used this a lot when getting data off the web with urllib2.urlopen() which returns a file like object. This can in turn can be passed to almost any method that reads from a file, because it implements the same read() method as a real file.

But I’m sure there is a time and place for using isinstance(), otherwise it probably wouldn’t be there 🙂

Answered By: Will Harding

The most Pythonic way to check the type of an object is… not to check it.

Since Python encourages Duck Typing, you should just try...except to use the object’s methods the way you want to use them. So if your function is looking for a writable file object, don’t check that it’s a subclass of file, just try to use its .write() method!

Of course, sometimes these nice abstractions break down and isinstance(obj, cls) is what you need. But use sparingly.

Answered By: Dan Lenski

To Hugo:

You probably mean list rather than array, but that points to the whole problem with type checking – you don’t want to know if the object in question is a list, you want to know if it’s some kind of sequence or if it’s a single object. So try to use it like a sequence.

Say you want to add the object to an existing sequence, or if it’s a sequence of objects, add them all

try:
   my_sequence.extend(o)
except TypeError:
  my_sequence.append(o)

One trick with this is if you are working with strings and/or sequences of strings – that’s tricky, as a string is often thought of as a single object, but it’s also a sequence of characters. Worse than that, as it’s really a sequence of single-length strings.

I usually choose to design my API so that it only accepts either a single value or a sequence – it makes things easier. It’s not hard to put a [ ] around your single value when you pass it in if need be.

(Though this can cause errors with strings, as they do look like (are) sequences.)

Answered By: Chris Barker

After the question was asked and answered, type hints were added to Python. Type hints in Python allow types to be checked but in a very different way from statically typed languages. Type hints in Python associate the expected types of arguments with functions as runtime accessible data associated with functions and this allows for types to be checked. Example of type hint syntax:

def foo(i: int):
    return i

foo(5)
foo('oops')

In this case we want an error to be triggered for foo('oops') since the annotated type of the argument is int. The added type hint does not cause an error to occur when the script is run normally. However, it adds attributes to the function describing the expected types that other programs can query and use to check for type errors.

One of these other programs that can be used to find the type error is mypy:

mypy script.py
script.py:12: error: Argument 1 to "foo" has incompatible type "str"; expected "int"

(You might need to install mypy from your package manager. I don’t think it comes with CPython but seems to have some level of “officialness”.)

Type checking this way is different from type checking in statically typed compiled languages. Because types are dynamic in Python, type checking must be done at runtime, which imposes a cost — even on correct programs — if we insist that it happen at every chance. Explicit type checks may also be more restrictive than needed and cause unnecessary errors (e.g. does the argument really need to be of exactly list type or is anything iterable sufficient?).

The upside of explicit type checking is that it can catch errors earlier and give clearer error messages than duck typing. The exact requirements of a duck type can only be expressed with external documentation (hopefully it’s thorough and accurate) and errors from incompatible types can occur far from where they originate.

Python’s type hints are meant to offer a compromise where types can be specified and checked but there is no additional cost during usual code execution.

The typing package offers type variables that can be used in type hints to express needed behaviors without requiring particular types. For example, it includes variables such as Iterable and Callable for hints to specify the need for any type with those behaviors.

While type hints are the most Pythonic way to check types, it’s often even more Pythonic to not check types at all and rely on duck typing. Type hints are relatively new and the jury is still out on when they’re the most Pythonic solution. A relatively uncontroversial but very general comparison: Type hints provide a form of documentation that can be enforced, allow code to generate earlier and easier to understand errors, can catch errors that duck typing can’t, and can be checked statically (in an unusual sense but it’s still outside of runtime). On the other hand, duck typing has been the Pythonic way for a long time, doesn’t impose the cognitive overhead of static typing, is less verbose, and will accept all viable types and then some.

Answered By: Praxeolitic

For more complex type validations I like typeguard‘s approach of validating based on python type hint annotations:

from typeguard import check_type
from typing import List

try:
    check_type('mylist', [1, 2], List[int])
except TypeError as e:
    print(e)

You can perform very complex validations in very clean and readable fashion.

check_type('foo', [1, 3.14], List[Union[int, float]])
# vs
isinstance(foo, list) and all(isinstance(a, (int, float)) for a in foo) 
Answered By: Granitosaurus

You can check for type of a variable using __name__ of a type.

Ex:

>>> a = [1,2,3,4]  
>>> b = 1  
>>> type(a).__name__
'list'
>>> type(a).__name__ == 'list'
True
>>> type(b).__name__ == 'list'
False
>>> type(b).__name__
'int'
Answered By: Yerramsetty Rohit

I think the best way is to typing well your variables. You can do this by using the "typing" library.

Example:

from typing import NewType
UserId = NewType ('UserId', int)
some_id = UserId (524313`)

See https://docs.python.org/3/library/typing.html.

Answered By: cherah30

A simple way to check type is to compare it with something whose type you know.

>>> a  = 1
>>> type(a) == type(1)
True
>>> b = 'abc'
>>> type(b) == type('')
True
Answered By: Ultrablendz

The accepted answer answers the question in that it provides the answers to the asked questions.

Q: What is the best way to check whether a given object is of a given type? How about checking whether the object inherits from a given type?

A: Use isinstance, issubclass, type to check based on types.

As other answers and comments are quick to point out however, there’s a lot more to the idea of "type-checking" than that in python. Since the addition of Python 3 and type hints, much has changed as well. Below, I go over some of the difficulties with type checking, duck typing, and exception handling. For those that think type checking isn’t what is needed (it usually isn’t, but we’re here), I also point out how type hints can be used instead.

Type Checking

Type checking is not always an appropriate thing to do in python. Consider the following example:

def sum(nums):
    """Expect an iterable of integers and return the sum."""
    result = 0
    for n in nums:
        result += n
    return result

To check if the input is an iterable of integers, we run into a major issue. The only way to check if every element is an integer would be to loop through to check each element. But if we loop through the entire iterator, then there will be nothing left for intended code. We have two options in this kind of situation.

  1. Check as we loop.

  2. Check beforehand but store everything as we check.

Option 1 has the downside of complicating our code, especially if we need to perform similar checks in many places. It forces us to move type checking from the top of the function to everywhere we use the iterable in our code.

Option 2 has the obvious downside that it destroys the entire purpose of iterators. The entire point is to not store the data because we shouldn’t need to.

One might also think that checking if checking all of the elements is too much then perhaps we can just check if the input itself is of the type iterable, but there isn’t actually any iterable base class. Any type implementing __iter__ is iterable.

Exception Handling and Duck Typing

An alternative approach would be to forgo type checking altogether and focus on exception handling and duck typing instead. That is to say, wrap your code in a try-except block and catch any errors that occur. Alternatively, don’t do anything and let exceptions rise naturally from your code.

Here’s one way to go about catching an exception.

def sum(nums):
    """Try to catch exceptions?"""
    try:
        result = 0
        for n in nums:
            result += n
        return result
    except TypeError as e:
        print(e)

Compared to the options before, this is certainly better. We’re checking as we run the code. If there’s a TypeError anywhere, we’ll know. We don’t have to place a check everywhere that we loop through the input. And we don’t have to store the input as we iterate over it.

Furthermore, this approach enables duck typing. Rather than checking for specific types, we have moved to checking for specific behaviors and look for when the input fails to behave as expected (in this case, looping through nums and being able to add n).

However, the exact reasons which make exception handling nice can also be their downfall.

  1. A float isn’t an int, but it satisfies the behavioral requirements to work.

  2. It is also bad practice to wrap the entire code with a try-except block.

At first these may not seem like issues, but here’s some reasons that may change your mind.

  1. A user can no longer expect our function to return an int as intended. This may break code elsewhere.

  2. Since exceptions can come from a wide variety of sources, using the try-except on the whole code block may end up catching exceptions you didn’t intend to. We only wanted to check if nums was iterable and had integer elements.

  3. Ideally we’d like to catch exceptions our code generators and raise, in their place, more informative exceptions. It’s not fun when an exception is raised from someone else’s code with no explanation other than a line you didn’t write and that some TypeError occured.

In order to fix the exception handling in response to the above points, our code would then become this… abomination.

def sum(nums):
    """
    Try to catch all of our exceptions only.
    Re-raise them with more specific details.
    """
    result = 0

    try:
        iter(nums)
    except TypeError as e:
        raise TypeError("nums must be iterable")

    for n in nums:
        try:
            result += int(n)
        except TypeError as e:
            raise TypeError("stopped mid iteration since a non-integer was found")

    return result

You can kinda see where this is going. The more we try to "properly" check things, the worse our code is looking. Compared to the original code, this isn’t readable at all.

We could argue perhaps this is a bit extreme. But on the other hand, this is only a very simple example. In practice, your code is probably much more complicated than this.

Type Hints

We’ve seen what happens when we try to modify our small example to "enable type checking". Rather than focusing on trying to force specific types, type hinting allows for a way to make types clear to users.

from typing import Iterable

def sum(nums: Iterable[int]) -> int:
    result = 0
    for n in nums:
        result += n
    return result

Here are some advantages to using type-hints.

  • The code actually looks good now!

  • Static type analysis may be performed by your editor if you use type hints!

  • They are stored on the function/class, making them dynamically usable e.g. typeguard and dataclasses.

  • They show up for functions when using help(...).

  • No need to sanity check if your input type is right based on a description or worse lack thereof.

  • You can "type" hint based on structure e.g. "does it have this attribute?" without requiring subclassing by the user.

The downside to type hinting?

  • Type hints are nothing more than syntax and special text on their own. It isn’t the same as type checking.

In other words, it doesn’t actually answer the question because it doesn’t provide type checking. Regardless, however, if you are here for type checking, then you should be type hinting as well. Of course, if you’ve come to the conclusion that type checking isn’t actually necessary but you want some semblance of typing, then type hints are for you.

In Python 3.10, you can use | in isinstance:

>>> isinstance('1223', int | str) 
True

>>> isinstance('abcd', int | str) 
True
Answered By: SuperNova
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