Why do some functions have underscores "__" before and after the function name?


This “underscoring” seems to occur a lot, and I was wondering if this was a requirement in the Python language, or merely a matter of convention?

Also, could someone name and explain which functions tend to have the underscores, and why (__init__, for instance)?

Asked By: Chuck Testa



From the Python PEP 8 — Style Guide for Python Code:

Descriptive: Naming Styles

The following special forms using leading or trailing underscores are
recognized (these can generally be combined with any case convention):

  • _single_leading_underscore: weak “internal use” indicator. E.g. from M import * does not import objects whose name starts with an underscore.

  • single_trailing_underscore_: used by convention to avoid conflicts with Python keyword, e.g.

    Tkinter.Toplevel(master, class_='ClassName')

  • __double_leading_underscore: when naming a class attribute, invokes name mangling (inside class FooBar, __boo becomes _FooBar__boo; see below).

  • __double_leading_and_trailing_underscore__: “magic” objects or attributes that live in user-controlled namespaces. E.g. __init__,
    __import__ or __file__. Never invent such names; only use them as documented.

Note that names with double leading and trailing underscores are essentially reserved for Python itself: “Never invent such names; only use them as documented”.

Answered By: Michael Burr

Names surrounded by double underscores are “special” to Python. They’re listed in the Python Language Reference, section 3, “Data model”.

The other respondents are correct in describing the double leading and trailing underscores as a naming convention for “special” or “magic” methods.

While you can call these methods directly ([10, 20].__len__() for example), the presence of the underscores is a hint that these methods are intended to be invoked indirectly (len([10, 20]) for example). Most python operators have an associated “magic” method (for example, a[x] is the usual way of invoking a.__getitem__(x)).

Answered By: Raymond Hettinger

Actually I use _ method names when I need to differ between parent and child class names. I’ve read some codes that used this way of creating parent-child classes. As an example I can provide this code:

class ThreadableMixin:
   def start_worker(self):

   def worker(self):
    except tornado.web.HTTPError, e:
        logging.error("_worker problem", exc_info=True)

and the child that have a _worker method

class Handler(tornado.web.RequestHandler, ThreadableMixin):
   def _worker(self):
      self.res = self.render_string("template.html",
        title = _("Title"),
        data = self.application.db.query("select ... where object_id=%s", self.object_id)

Answered By: Omadbek Onorov

This convention is used for special variables or methods (so-called “magic method”) such as __init__ and __len__. These methods provides special syntactic features or do special things.

For example, __file__ indicates the location of Python file, __eq__ is executed when a == b expression is executed.

A user of course can make a custom special method, which is a very rare case, but often might modify some of the built-in special methods (e.g. you should initialize the class with __init__ that will be executed at first when an instance of a class is created).

class A:
    def __init__(self, a):  # use special method '__init__' for initializing
        self.a = a
    def __custom__(self):  # custom special method. you might almost do not use it
Answered By: Shagun Pruthi

Added an example to understand the use of __ in python. Here is the list of All __


Certain classes of identifiers (besides keywords) have special
meanings. Any use of * names, in any other context, that does not
follow explicitly documented use, is subject to breakage without

Access restriction using __

-  Contain only (A-z, 0-9, and _ )
-  Start with a lowercase letter or _.
-  Single leading _ :  private
-  Double leading __ :  strong private
-  Start & End  __ : Language defined Special Name of Object/ Method
-  Class names start with an uppercase letter.


class BankAccount(object):
    def __init__(self, name, money, password):
        self.name = name            # Public
        self._money = money         # Private : Package Level
        self.__password = password  # Super Private

    def earn_money(self, amount):
        self._money += amount
        print("Salary Received: ", amount, " Updated Balance is: ", self._money)

    def withdraw_money(self, amount):
        self._money -= amount
        print("Money Withdraw: ", amount, " Updated Balance is: ", self._money)

    def show_balance(self):
        print(" Current Balance is: ", self._money)

account = BankAccount("Hitesh", 1000, "PWD")  # Object Initalization

# Method Call

# Show Balance

print("PUBLIC ACCESS:", account.name)  # Public Access

# account._money is accessible because it is only hidden by convention
print("PROTECTED ACCESS:", account._money)  # Protected Access

# account.__password will throw error but account._BankAccount__password will not
# because __password is super private
print("PRIVATE ACCESS:", account._BankAccount__password)

# Method Call

# Show Balance

# account._money is accessible because it is only hidden by convention
print(account._money)  # Protected Access
Answered By: Hitesh Sahu

In Python, the use of an underscore in a function name indicates that the function is intended for internal use and should not be called directly by users. It is a convention used to indicate that the function is "private" and not part of the public API of the module. However, it is not enforced by the language and can still be called by the user if they choose to do so.

Answered By: Shakhrul Iman Siam