Lecture 9

Decorators (cont'd)

Context Managers

MCS 275 Spring 2022
David Dumas

Lecture 9: Context Managers

Course bulletins:

  • Homework 3 is due tomorrow at Noon.
  • Project 1 due Friday at 6pm central.
  • Project 1 autograder is available — submit early, submit often.


What's the output?

        A = 2
        B = [3,4,5]
        C = [5,6,7]
        def f():
            A = 7
            B[0] = 7
            C = [7,7,7]


What's the output?

        A = 2
        B = [3,4,5]
        C = [5,6,7]
        def f():
            A = 7       # new local A
            B[0] = 7    # ask global B to change item 0
            C = [7,7,7] # new local C
        print(A)    # 2  (unchanged)
        print(B[0]) # 7  (same B, new item at index 0)
        print(C[0]) # 5  (unchanged)


Reminder: In Python, the syntax

        def g(...):
            # function body

is a more readable way to write

        def g(...):
            # function body
        g = F(g)

The decorator F modifies function g at the time of definition.


Live coding: a call count decorator.

Motivating example

Here's a common way to deal with file input/output:

fileobj = open("data.txt","w",encoding="UTF-8")
# other write operations...

Motivating example

Here's a common way to deal with file input/output:

# SETUP (gather resources)
fileobj = open("data.txt","w",encoding="UTF-8")
# WORK (use resources)
# CLEANUP (release resources)

Possible bug

Easy to forget to the cleanup code.

Moreover, can be hard to tell that cleanup code will always run. What if an exception is raised?

All files are closed when a program exits, but open files are a limited resource.

Will this function always close the file?

def file_contains_walrus(fn):
    """Return True if "walrus" is a line of file `fn`"""
    fileobj = open(fn,"r",encoding="UTF-8")
    for line in fileobj:
        if line.strip() == "walrus":
            return True
    return False        

Currently, in CPython (the usual interpreter): Yes.

In CPython, local variables are deleted as soon as a function returns. Deleting a file object closes the file.

But this isn't a language guarantee!

Another way

Use with block to ensure automatic file closing, and to be explicit about what part of a program needs the file.

with open("data.txt","w",encoding="UTF-8") as fileobj:
    # other write operations...
print("At this point, the file is already closed")

Notice that you can see exactly what part of the program uses the file.

Cleanup guarantee

A file opened using a with block will be closed as soon as execution leaves the block, even if an exception is raised.


Always open files using with, and make the body as short as possible.

Think of files like refrigerators: Open them for the shortest time possible.

Context managers

with is not a Python language feature created solely for files.

Any object that is a context manager can be used.

A context manager is any object that defines special methods to:

  • Perform setup (__enter__)
  • Perform cleanup (__exit__)

Purpose of context managers

Context managers are appropriate when the creation or use of an object will take control of a resource that later needs to be released, e.g.

  • Network connections
  • Database connections
  • Locks
  • Any limited or exclusive access right

Context manager protocol

An object is a context manager if it has methods:

  • __enter__(self): Performs setup; return value assigned to the name after "as" (if any)
  • __exit__(self,exc_type,exc,tb): Perform cleanup. The arguments describe any exception that happened in the with block that is the reason for the exit (or None if no exception happened).

Built-in context managers

We've seen that file objects (created by open()) are context managers.

A threading.Lock is also a context manager; setup will acquire the lock, and cleanup will release it, e.g.

L = threading.Lock()
# Do things not requiring exclusive access
with L:
# Back to non-exclusive stuff.

Note that we use with without as in this case.


  • Lutz discusses context managers in Chapter 34. This is a long chapter covering several other topics. Look for the heading with/as Context Managers. In the print edition, it beings on page 1114.

Revision history

  • 2022-01-31 Initial publication