Max Max - 3 months ago 17x
Python Question

Which is the preferred way to concatenate a string in Python?

Since Python's

can't be changed, I was wondering how to concatenate a string more efficiently?

I can write like it:

s += stringfromelsewhere

or like this:

s = []


s = ''.join(s)

While writing this question, I found a good article talking about the topic.

But it's in Python 2.x., so the question would be did something change in Python 3?


The best way of appending a string to a string variable is to use + or +=. This is because it's readable and fast. They are also just as fast, which one you choose is a matter of taste, the latter one is the most common. Here are timings with the timeit module:

a = a + b:
a += b:

However, those who recommend having lists and appending to them and then joining those lists, do so because appending a string to a list is presumably very fast compared to extending a string. And this can be true, in some cases. Here for example is one million appends of a one-character string, first to a string, then to a list:

a += b:

OK, turns out that even when the resulting string is a million characters long, appending was still faster.

Now let's try with appending a thousand character long string a hundred thousand times:

a += b:

The end string therefore ends up being about 100MB long. That was pretty slow, appending to a list was much faster. That that timing doesn't include the final a.join(). So how long would that take?


Oups. Turns out even in this case, append/join is slower.

So where does this recommendation come from? Python 2?

a += b:

Well, append/join is marginally faster there if you are using extremely long strings (which you usually aren't, what would you have a string that's 100MB in memory?)

But the real clincher is Python 2.3. Where I won't even show you the timings, because it's so slow that it hasn't finished yet. These tests suddenly take minutes. Except for the append/join, which if just as fast as under later Pythons.

Yup. String concatenation was very slow in Python back in the stone age. But on 2.4 it isn't anymore (or at least Python 2.4.7), so the recommendation to use append/join became outdated in 2008, when Python 2.3 stopped being updated, and you should have stopped using it. :-)

(Update: Turns out when I did the testing more carefully that using + and += is faster for two strings on Python 2.3 as well. The recommendation to use ''.join() must be a misunderstanding)

However, this is CPython. Other implementations may have other concerns. And this is just yet another reason why premature optimization is the root of all evil. Don't use a technique that's supposed "faster" unless you first measure it.

Therefore the "best" version to do string concatenation is to use + or +=. And if that turns out to be slow for you, which is pretty unlikely, then do something else.

So why do I use a lot of append/join in my code? Because sometimes it's actually clearer. Especially when whatever you should concatenate together should be separated by spaces or commas or newlines.