A method is a function associated with a particular class. You have already seen the special __init__ method that is called when a new instance is created. In the following example, you define another method, circumference, for the class Square; this method can be used to calculate and return the circumference for any Square instance. Like most custom methods, circumference is called with a syntax similar to accessing instance variables:

>>> class Square:
...     def __init__(self):
...         self.length = 1
...     def circumference(self):
...         return 4 * self.length
>>> s = Square()
>>> s.length = 5
>>> print(s.circumference())

The syntax for method calls consists of an instance followed by a dot followed by the method to be called on the instance. If a method is called in this way, it is a bound method call. However, a method can also be called as an unbound method by accessing it through its containing class. This practice is less practical and is almost never used because the first argument of a method called in this way must be an instance of the class in which the method is defined and is less clear:

>>> print(Square.circumference(s))

Like __init__, the circumference method is defined as a function within the class. The first argument of each method is the instance from which or on which it was called, by convention called self. In many languages, the instance is called this and is never explicitly passed.

Methods can be called with arguments if the method definitions accept those arguments. This version of Square adds an argument to the __init__ method so that you can create squares with a specific edge length without having to set the edge length after creating a square:

>>> class Square:
...     def __init__(self, length):
...         self.length = length
...     def circumference(self):
...         return 4 * self.length


self.length and length are not the same!

  • self.length is the instance variable called length

  • length is the local function parameter

In practice, you would probably refer to the local function parameter as lng or l to avoid confusion.

With this definition of Square, you can create squares with arbitrary edge lengths with a call to the Square class. In the following, a square with edge length 3 is created:

s = Square(3)

All of Python’s standard functions – standard arguments, additional arguments, keyword arguments, etc. – can be used with methods. You could have defined the first line of __init__ as follows:

...     def __init__(self, length=1):

Then the call to Square would work with or without an additional argument; Square() would return a square with edge length 1 and Square(3) would return a square with edge length 3.

For a method call instance.method(arg1, arg2, …), Python converts it to a normal function call by applying the following rules:

  1. Search for the method name in the instance namespace. If a method has been changed or added for this instance, it is called in preference to methods in the class.

  2. If the method is not found in the instance namespace, the method is searched in the class. In the previous examples, class is the Square type of the instance s.

  3. If the method is still not found, it is searched for in a superclass, see also Inheritance.

  4. If the method is found, it is called as a normal Python function, using instance as the first argument of the function and shifting all other arguments in the method call one space to the right. Thus instance.method(arg1, arg2, …) becomes class.method(instance, arg1, arg2, …).

Static methods#

Just like in Java, you can call static methods even if no instance of that class has been created. To create a static method, use the @staticmethod decorator:

 1"""circle module: contains the 'Circle' class"""
 4class Circle:
 5    """Circle class.
 7    The class variable 'circles' contains a list of all circle instances.
 9    """
11    circles = []
12    pi = 3.14159
14    def __init__(self, diameter=1):
15        """Create a Circle instance with a given diameter and add an initialised
16        circle to the circles list."""
17        self.diameter = diameter
18        self.__class__.circles.append(self)
20    def circumference(self):
21        return self.diameter * self.__class__.pi
23    @staticmethod
24    def circumferences():
25        """Static method to sum all circle circumferences."""
26        csum = 0
27        for c in Circle.circles:
28            csum = csum + c.circumference()
29        return csum
Line 11

defines the class variable circles as an initially empty list of all Circle instances.

Line 14

adds initialised Circle instances to the circles list.

>>> import circle
>>> c1 = circle.Circle(1)
>>> c2 = circle.Circle(2)
>>> circle.Circle.circumferences()
>>> c2.diameter = 3
>>> circle.Circle.circumferences()

Class methods#

Class methods are similar to static methods in that they can be called before an object of the class has been instantiated. However, the class to which they belong is implicitly passed to the class methods as the first parameter:

23    @classmethod
24    def circumferences(cls):
25        """Class method to sum all circle circumferences."""
26        csum = 0
27        for c in cls.circles:
28            csum = csum + c.circumference()
29        return csum
Line 23

The @classmethod decorator is used before the def method.

Line 24

The class parameter is traditionally cls.

Line 27

You can use cls instead of self.__class__.

By using a class method instead of a static method, you don’t have to hardcode the class name in circumferences.

>>> import circle_cm
>>> c1 = circle_cm.Circle(1)
>>> c2 = circle_cm.Circle(2)
>>> circle_cm.Circle.circumferences()