Chapter 17. Scopes

Chapter 16 introduced basic function definitions and calls. As we saw, Python’s basic function model is simple to use, but even simple function examples quickly led us to questions about the meaning of variables in our code. This chapter moves on to present the details behind Python’s scopes—the places where variables are defined and looked up. As we’ll see, the place where a name is assigned in our code is crucial to determining what the name means. We’ll also find that scope usage can have a major impact on program maintenance effort; overuse of globals, for example, is a generally bad thing.

Python Scope Basics

Now that you’re ready to start writing your own functions, we need to get more formal about what names mean in Python. When you use a name in a program, Python creates, changes, or looks up the name in what is known as a namespace—a place where names live. When we talk about the search for a name’s value in relation to code, the term scope refers to a namespace: that is, the location of a name’s assignment in your code determines the scope of the name’s visibility to your code.

Just about everything related to names, including scope classification, happens at assignment time in Python. As we’ve seen, names in Python spring into existence when they are first assigned values, and they must be assigned before they are used. Because names are not declared ahead of time, Python uses the location of the assignment of a name to associate it with (i.e., bind it ...

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