None None - 9 days ago 3
Python Question

Testing if a list contains another list with Python

How can I test if a list contains another list (ie. it's a subsequence). Say there was a function called contains:

contains([1,2], [-1, 0, 1, 2]) # Returns [2, 3] (contains returns [start, end])
contains([1,3], [-1, 0, 1, 2]) # Returns False
contains([1, 2], [[1, 2], 3) # Returns False
contains([[1, 2]], [[1, 2], 3]) # Returns [0, 0]


Edit:

contains([2, 1], [-1, 0, 1, 2]) # Returns False
contains([-1, 1, 2], [-1, 0, 1, 2]) # Returns False
contains([0, 1, 2], [-1, 0, 1, 2]) # Returns [1, 3]

Answer

Here is my version:

def contains(small, big):
    for i in xrange(len(big)-len(small)+1):
        for j in xrange(len(small)):
            if big[i+j] != small[j]:
                break
        else:
            return i, i+len(small)
    return False

It returns a tuple of (start, end+1) since I think that is more pythonic, as Andrew Jaffe points out in his comment. It does not slice any sublists so should be reasonably efficient.

One point of interest for newbies is that it uses the else clause on the for statement - this is not something I use very often but can be invaluable in situations like this.

This is identical to finding substrings in a string, so for large lists it may be more efficient to implement something like the Boyer-Moore algorithm.