Author rhettinger
Recipients esam, phr, r.david.murray, rhettinger
Date 2009-10-17.23:43:14
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Here’s a summary of my research so far (including discussion with other
programmers, a Google code search, discussion on #python-dev on IRC, and
comparing the proposal to other APIs with start-arguments such as sum(),
reduce(), and enumerate()):

1. Showed several examples to other programmers and found that they did
not immediately get what the start argument was trying to do.  Was a
start argument the same as:

 reduce(max, seq, 0)     # zero when empty and never less than zero
 max(seq) if seq else 0  # zero when empty (only works for sequences)
 max(chain([0], seq)     # zero when empty and never less than zero

2. There is an issue of API complexity.  Even if a feature is useful and
clear, it may not be a good idea when the API of a function is already
complex.  In the case of min()/max(), we already have special handling
for one argument (treated as an iterator) versus no arguments (treated
an error versus multiple arguments (treated as an input sequence of
values).  We also have a key= argument.  Taken together, the min/max
functions already have a lot of features.

3.Beyond the complexity of having too many features in a function that
should be simple, there is also an issue of how those features would

 min(iterable, key=f, start=x)  # is the default value x or f(x)?
 min(start=x)          # should this be allowed?
 min(*args, start=x)   # if so, what is behavior when len(args)==0 or 1
or 2?

4. The argument about reduce(max, seq, 0) being confusing to
non-functional programmers isn’t persuasive since perfectly clear
(though multi-line) exception-catching or size-checking imperative forms
can be written, or one can can simply factor-out any recurring
expressions if they seem awkward or confusing:

    def max_or_zero(iterable):
        'Return zero if the iterable is empty or max(0, max(iterable))
        return functools.reduce(max, iterable, 0)

5. In the case of sequences, it can be clearer to write:

 max(seq) if seq else 0  
 max(seq + [0])     # or use itertools.chain()

6. A code search showed that max() is mostly used in a two-argument
form.  When it does get used with iterables, it doesn't seem common to
trap ValueErrors.
Date User Action Args
2009-10-17 23:43:22rhettingersetrecipients: + rhettinger, phr, r.david.murray, esam
2009-10-17 23:43:21rhettingersetmessageid: <>
2009-10-17 23:43:15rhettingerlinkissue7153 messages
2009-10-17 23:43:14rhettingercreate