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I'm Pankaj Parashar, 26yo developer, designer and writer from India. I make things for the web and write about them on my blog here.

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Scoping of index variables in Python

The way scoping of index variables work in Python might surprise a few! This article is all about dealing with them by considering few scenarios and understanding the behavior.

Thanks to Eli Bendersky for bringing this to my attention by writing about it on his blog. Let’s take a few scenarios and you’re job is to guess the output,

Scenario 1

>>> for i in []:
...    pass
>>> print(i)       # Output?

Since, there is no element in the list, the for loop simply doesn’t run leaving i as an undefined variable in the current scope. Hence, you’ll get,

>>> print(i)
NameError: name 'i' is not defined

Scenario 2

>>> for i in [1,2,3]:
...    pass
>>> print(i)       # Output?

You might think this would produce the same error as above. This is where things become different. In Python, the scoping rules are fairly simple and elegant: a block is either a module, a function body or a class body. Within a function body, names are visible from the point of their definition to the end of the block (including nested blocks such as nested functions). Hence, you’ll get,

>>> print(i)
3

This behavior has been well documented in the official specification,

The for-loop makes assignments to the variables(s) in the target list. […] Names in the target list are not deleted when the loop is finished, but if the sequence is empty, they will not have been assigned to at all by the loop.

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