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Matt Soucy

Searching through a file with Python

in code by Matt Soucy - Comments

At work, I had to deal with a situation involving scanning a file to find matches.

The basic idea was that I wanted to find two things:

From these two pieces of data, I needed:

I wanted to try to do it as nicely as possible. I had two possible starting points:

def driver(func):
    '''
    Driver for testing all these functions:
    Used as driver(get_info_func)(lines, header)
    '''
    def _use(lines, header):
        ctg, hdr = func(lines, header)
        return bool(hdr), hdr == ctg
    return _use

def get_info1(lines, header):
    # Using an ordinary for loop - the "straightforward" way
    ctg, hdr = 0, 0
    for line in lines:
        if line.startswith("CATEGORY"):
            ctg += 1
        if line.startswith(header):
            hdr += 1
    return ctg, hdr

def get_info2(lines, header):
    # Using sum and generators
    ctg = sum(line.startswith("CATEGORY") for line in lines)
    hdr = sum(line.startswith(header) for line in lines)
    return ctg, hdr

There are problems, in my opinion, with each one. get_info1 is extremely verbose, and get_info2 iterates over the lines twice. Ideally, the final result would incorporate the better parts of both: the efficiency of get_info1 and the succinctness of get_info2.

With these ideas in mind, I had to look for other options:

def get_info3(lines, header):
    # Using reduce:
    return reduce(lambda a, line: (a[0]+line.startswith("CATEGORY"), a[1]+line.startswith(header)), lines, (0, 0))

This was almost good, but reduce tends to make code extremely verbose and illegible.

To get (what I feel is) the ideal solution, I realised that I was, for lack of a better term, thinking vertically instead of horizontally. Python has a function that changes "rows of columns" into "columns of rows", called zip. By taking advantage of zip and map, it was possible to create a solution that was very short and still efficient:

def get_info4(lines, header):
    # Using zip:
    return map(sum, zip(*((line.startswith("CATEGORY"), line.startswith(header)) for line in lines)))

Unfortunately, the resulting function does seem to get a bit cluttered, though still more legible than the reduce version (get_info3). The easiest way to explain it is to decompose the functions:

def get_info4_expanded(lines, header):
    # Get the basic info for each line
    linedata = ((line.startswith("CATEGORY"), line.startswith(header)) for line in lines)
    # Transpose the columns and rows
    columns = zip(*linedata)
    # Sum the columns
    return map(sum, columns)

This final function can be made somewhat lazy by using the excellent itertools module, and made cleaner by extracting the lambda:

from itertools import imap, izip
def get_info5(lines, header):
    # Using itertools
    f = lambda l: (l.startswith("CATEGORY"), l.startswith(header))
    return imap(sum, izip(*imap(f, lines)))

If it weren't for the need to do anything with that data immediately, the function would be nice and lazy! This seems to be significantly easier to read than the original two functions, at least for a developer who's familiar with the built-in functions (zip and map specifically).

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