"variables" entries

Python tuples: immutable but potentially changing

Think labels, not boxes

Python tuples have a surprising trait: they are immutable, but their values may change. This may happen when a tuple holds a reference to any mutable object, such as a list. If you need to explain this to a colleague who is new to Python, a good first step is to debunk the common notion that variables are like boxes where you store data.

In 1997 I took a summer course about Java at MIT. The professor, Lynn Andrea Stein — an award-winning computer science educator — made the point that the usual “variables as boxes” metaphor actually hinders the understanding of reference variables in OO languages. Python variables are like reference variables in Java, so it’s better to think of them as labels attached to objects.

Here is an example inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

Tweedledum-Tweedledee_500x390

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are twins. From the book: “Alice knew which was which in a moment, because one of them had ‘DUM’ embroidered on his collar, and the other ‘DEE’.”

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