E_net4 E_net4 - 6 months ago 538
Python Question

Why is the use of len(SEQUENCE) in condition values considered incorrect by Pylint?

Considering this code snippet:

from os import walk

files = []
for (dirpath, _, filenames) in walk(mydir):
# more code that modifies files
if len(files) == 0: # <-- C1801
return None


I was alarmed by Pylint with this message regarding the line with the if statement:


[pylint] C1801:Do not use
len(SEQUENCE)
as condition value


The rule C1801, at first glance, did not sound very reasonable to me, and the definition on the reference guide does not explain why this is a problem. In fact, it downright calls it an incorrect use.


len-as-condition (C1801):
Do not use
len(SEQUENCE)
as condition value Used when Pylint detects incorrect use of len(sequence) inside conditions.



My search attempts have also failed to provide me a deeper explanation. I do understand that a sequence's length property may be lazily evaluated, and that
__len__
can be programmed to have side effects, but it is questionable whether that alone is problematic enough for Pylint to call such use incorrect. Hence, before I simply configure my project to ignore the rule, I would like to know whether I am missing something in my reasoning.

When is the use of
len(SEQ)
as a condition value problematic? What major situations is Pylint attempting to avoid with C1801?

Answer Source

When is the use of len(SEQ) as a condition value problematic? What major situations is Pylint attempting to avoid with C1801?

It’s not really problematic to use len(SEQUENCE) – though it may not be as efficient (see chepner’s comment). Regardless, Pylint checks code for compliance with the PEP 8 style guide which states that

For sequences, (strings, lists, tuples), use the fact that empty sequences are false.

Yes: if not seq:
     if seq:

No:  if len(seq):
     if not len(seq):

As an occasional Python programmer, who flits between languages, I’d consider the len(SEQUENCE) construct to be more readable and explicit (“Explicit is better then implicit”). However, using the fact that an empty sequence evaluates to False in a Boolean context is considered more “Pythonic”.