Python – List comprehension vs. lambda + filter

filterfunctional-programminglambdalistpython

I happened to find myself having a basic filtering need: I have a list and I have to filter it by an attribute of the items.

My code looked like this:

my_list = [x for x in my_list if x.attribute == value]

But then I thought, wouldn't it be better to write it like this?

my_list = filter(lambda x: x.attribute == value, my_list)

It's more readable, and if needed for performance the lambda could be taken out to gain something.

Question is: are there any caveats in using the second way? Any performance difference? Am I missing the Pythonic Way™ entirely and should do it in yet another way (such as using itemgetter instead of the lambda)?

Best Solution

It is strange how much beauty varies for different people. I find the list comprehension much clearer than filter+lambda, but use whichever you find easier.

There are two things that may slow down your use of filter.

The first is the function call overhead: as soon as you use a Python function (whether created by def or lambda) it is likely that filter will be slower than the list comprehension. It almost certainly is not enough to matter, and you shouldn't think much about performance until you've timed your code and found it to be a bottleneck, but the difference will be there.

The other overhead that might apply is that the lambda is being forced to access a scoped variable (value). That is slower than accessing a local variable and in Python 2.x the list comprehension only accesses local variables. If you are using Python 3.x the list comprehension runs in a separate function so it will also be accessing value through a closure and this difference won't apply.

The other option to consider is to use a generator instead of a list comprehension:

def filterbyvalue(seq, value):
   for el in seq:
       if el.attribute==value: yield el

Then in your main code (which is where readability really matters) you've replaced both list comprehension and filter with a hopefully meaningful function name.