Functional programming with python [101]

December 14, 2017

Functional Programming with Python

As very well explained by David Mertz, a director of Python Software Foundation:

Python is not a functional programming language, but it is a multi-paradigm language that makes functional programming easy to perform, and easy to mix with other programming styles.

Main goal of this post is to have a quick look on some functional programming tools in Python, which are lambda reduce andmap . I will try to solve some simple tasks with functional and non-functional style. You can find a few more examples on the github repository.

1. lambda

Python supports the creation of anonymous functions (i.e. functions that are not bound to a name) at runtime, using a construct called "lambda". This is not exactly the same as lambda in functional programming languages, but it is a very powerful concept that's well integrated into Python and is often used in conjunction with typical functional concepts like filter(), map() and reduce().
If you are familiar with ECMA6, lambda has similar syntax with arrow => function.
Syntax: lambda input: output
You can use the given input, on :right side of colon.
Lets start coding with a function called reverseString, which simply returns the reverse of given string. You can write the code in regular function definition as:

def reverseString(string): 
  return string[::-1]

And we can write the same function using lambda as follows:

reverseString = lambda string: string[::-1]

Greet given name as Hello ${name}

# regular definition
def greet(name):
  return 'Hello ' + name

# lambda definition
greet = lambda name: 'Hello ' + name

lambda in Python comes with limitations, consider followings when using it:

  • does not accept multiple definitions

  • you can not make assignment on lambda function's body.

2. map( )

Map function, iterates through given iterable and applies the given function on each individual elements.

Syntax: map(function, iterable_list)

# If you are using Python 2.x, import print_function
# from __future__ import print_function   

primaryColors = ['red', 'green', 'blue']

# regular definition
for color in primaryColors:

# map definition
map(print, primaryColors)

Cool, isn't it?

How Python's Map Function works

map returns an 'iterator' object in Python, as explained in Python docs:

object representing a stream of data. Repeated calls to the iterator's __next__() method (or passing it to the built-in function next()) return successive items in the stream.

I am not going to deep dive into definitions and limitations on this post, let's get back to coding. To combine what we've learned so far, let's greet a bunch of people.

people = ['Mahmut', 'Elliot', 'Lee', 'Brady', 'Tanya']

# start with regular one as usual

def greet(name): 
  return 'Hello ' + name
for person in people: 

greet = lambda person: 'Hello ' + person
map(print, map(greet, people))

As explained in Python docs, we can use result of map function - which is map(greet, people) part- as iterable.
Also because map takes function as first input and lambda actually is a function, we can use lambda inside map definition.

map(lambda person: print('Hello ' + person), people)

Finally, we have a pure functional definition doing stuffs in one line of code. Let's check reduce function next.

3. reduce( )

If you are familiar with ECMA6 syntax, reduce in Python has quite similar syntax and functionality.
Syntax: reduce(function, sequence, *[initial_value])

The function reduce(func, seq) continually applies the function func() to the sequence seq. It returns a single value as explained in this document.

Let's check very common example shared in the doc.

reduce(lambda x, y: x + y, [47, 11, 42, 13])

How Python's Reduce Function works

reduce(func, seq)

Returns the sum of numbers array, which is an integer value, instead array of numbers. So what reduce does is simply;

  • get the first element of iterable or initial value → seq[0]

  • apply given function on it → func(seq[0])

  • initialize output section with result of func → output = func(seq[0])

  • get second element of iterable → seq[1]

  • execute given multiple parameters function on it → func(seq[1], output)

and so on…

For example, we can code mean calculation function as follows:

# with regular definition
def calculate_mean(list):
  total = 0
  for number in list:
    total += number
  return total / len(list)

# with reduce definition
reduce(lambda x,y: x+y, list) / len(list)

Functional programming style written code co-exists very well with code written in other styles. The transformations in this quick post can be applied to any code base in any language. Try applying them to your own code.