walrus walrus - 25 days ago 5
Python Question

Why does Python 3 allow "00" as a literal for 0 but not allow "01" as a literal for 1?

Why does Python 3 allow "00" as a literal for 0 but not allow "01" as a literal for 1? Is there a good reason? This inconsistency baffles me. (And we're talking about Python 3, which purposely broke backward compatibility in order to achieve goals like consistency.)

For example:

>>> from datetime import time
>>> time(16, 00)
datetime.time(16, 0)
>>> time(16, 01)
File "<stdin>", line 1
time(16, 01)
^
SyntaxError: invalid token
>>>

Answer

Per https://docs.python.org/3/reference/lexical_analysis.html#integer-literals:

Integer literals are described by the following lexical definitions:

integer        ::=  decimalinteger | octinteger | hexinteger | bininteger
decimalinteger ::=  nonzerodigit digit* | "0"+
nonzerodigit   ::=  "1"..."9"
digit          ::=  "0"..."9"
octinteger     ::=  "0" ("o" | "O") octdigit+
hexinteger     ::=  "0" ("x" | "X") hexdigit+
bininteger     ::=  "0" ("b" | "B") bindigit+
octdigit       ::=  "0"..."7"
hexdigit       ::=  digit | "a"..."f" | "A"..."F"
bindigit       ::=  "0" | "1"

There is no limit for the length of integer literals apart from what can be stored in available memory.

Note that leading zeros in a non-zero decimal number are not allowed. This is for disambiguation with C-style octal literals, which Python used before version 3.0.

As noted here, leading zeros in a non-zero decimal number are not allowed. "0"+ is legal as a very special case, which wasn't present in Python 2:

integer        ::=  decimalinteger | octinteger | hexinteger | bininteger
decimalinteger ::=  nonzerodigit digit* | "0"
octinteger     ::=  "0" ("o" | "O") octdigit+ | "0" octdigit+

SVN commit r55866 implemented PEP 3127 in the tokenizer, which forbids the old 0<octal> numbers. However, curiously, it also adds this note:

/* in any case, allow '0' as a literal */

with a special nonzero flag that only throws a SyntaxError if the following sequence of digits contains a nonzero digit.

This is odd because PEP 3127 does not allow this case:

This PEP proposes that the ability to specify an octal number by using a leading zero will be removed from the language in Python 3.0 (and the Python 3.0 preview mode of 2.6), and that a SyntaxError will be raised whenever a leading "0" is immediately followed by another digit.

(emphasis mine)

So, the fact that multiple zeros are allowed is technically violating the PEP, and was basically implemented as a special case by Georg Brandl. He made the corresponding documentation change to note that "0"+ was a valid case for decimalinteger (previously that had been covered under octinteger).

We'll probably never know exactly why Georg chose to make "0"+ valid - it may forever remain an odd corner case in Python.


UPDATE [28 Jul 2015]: This question led to a lively discussion thread on python-ideas in which Georg chimed in:

Steven D'Aprano wrote:

Why was it defined that way? [...] Why would we write 0000 to get zero?

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Georg

Later on, the thread spawned this bug report aiming to get rid of this special case. Here, Georg says:

I don't recall the reason for this deliberate change (as seen from the docs change).

I'm unable to come up with a good reason for this change now [...]

and thus we have it: the precise reason behind this inconsistency is lost to time.

Finally, note that the bug report was rejected: leading zeros will continue to be accepted only on zero integers for the rest of Python 3.x.