correct way to define class variables in Python


I noticed that in Python, people initialize their class attributes in two different ways.

The first way is like this:

class MyClass:
  __element1 = 123
  __element2 = "this is Africa"

  def __init__(self):
    #pass or something else

The other style looks like:

class MyClass:
  def __init__(self):
    self.__element1 = 123
    self.__element2 = "this is Africa"

Which is the correct way to initialize class attributes?

Asked By: jeanc



Neither way is necessarily correct or incorrect, they are just two different kinds of class elements:

  • Elements outside the __init__ method are static elements; they belong to the class.
  • Elements inside the __init__ method are elements of the object (self); they don’t belong to the class.

You’ll see it more clearly with some code:

class MyClass:
    static_elem = 123

    def __init__(self):
        self.object_elem = 456

c1 = MyClass()
c2 = MyClass()

# Initial values of both elements
>>> print c1.static_elem, c1.object_elem 
123 456
>>> print c2.static_elem, c2.object_elem
123 456

# Nothing new so far ...

# Let's try changing the static element
MyClass.static_elem = 999

>>> print c1.static_elem, c1.object_elem
999 456
>>> print c2.static_elem, c2.object_elem
999 456

# Now, let's try changing the object element
c1.object_elem = 888

>>> print c1.static_elem, c1.object_elem
999 888
>>> print c2.static_elem, c2.object_elem
999 456

As you can see, when we changed the class element, it changed for both objects. But, when we changed the object element, the other object remained unchanged.

Answered By: juliomalegria

I think this sample explains the difference between the styles:

#!/usr/bin/env python

class MyClass:
    element1 = "Hello"

    def __init__(self):
        self.element2 = "World"

obj = MyClass()

print dir(MyClass)
print "--"
print dir(obj)
print "--"
print obj.element1 
print obj.element2
print MyClass.element1 + " " + MyClass.element2
['__doc__', '__init__', '__module__', 'element1']
['__doc__', '__init__', '__module__', 'element1', 'element2']
Hello World
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "./", line 17, in <module>
    print MyClass.element2
AttributeError: class MyClass has no attribute 'element2'

element1 is bound to the class, element2 is bound to an instance of the class.

Answered By: James Polley
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