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Unpack and pass list, tuple, dict to function arguments in Python

Posted: 2019-06-24 / Modified: 2021-09-17 / Tags: Python, List, Dictionary

In Python, you can unpack list, tuple, dict (dictionary) and pass its elements to function as arguments by adding * to list or tuple and ** to dictionary when calling function.

This article describes the following contents.

  • Unpack list and tuple with *
    • With default arguments
    • With variable-length arguments
  • Unpack dict (dictionary) with **
    • With default arguments
    • With variable-length arguments

Note that if list, tuple, or dict is specified as an argument without * or **, it is not be unpacked and passed to the function as is.

See the following articles for basic usage of functions in Python, default arguments, and variable-length arguments with * and ** when defining functions.

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Unpack list and tuple with *

When specifying a list or tuple with * as an argument, it is unpacked and each element is passed to each argument.

def func(arg1, arg2, arg3):
    print('arg1 =', arg1)
    print('arg2 =', arg2)
    print('arg3 =', arg3)

l = ['one', 'two', 'three']

func(*l)
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = three

func(*['one', 'two', 'three'])
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = three

t = ('one', 'two', 'three')

func(*t)
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = three

func(*('one', 'two', 'three'))
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = three

In the following sample code, lists are used, but the same applies to tuples.

If the number of elements does not match the number of arguments, TypeError raises.

# func(*['one', 'two'])
# TypeError: func() missing 1 required positional argument: 'arg3'

# func(*['one', 'two', 'three', 'four'])
# TypeError: func() takes 3 positional arguments but 4 were given

With default arguments

If the function has default arguments, the default arguments are used if the number of elements is insufficient. If there are many elements, TypeError raises.

def func_default(arg1=1, arg2=2, arg3=3):
    print('arg1 =', arg1)
    print('arg2 =', arg2)
    print('arg3 =', arg3)

func_default(*['one', 'two'])
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = 3

func_default(*['one'])
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = 2
# arg3 = 3

# func_default(*['one', 'two', 'three', 'four'])
# TypeError: func_default() takes from 0 to 3 positional arguments but 4 were given

With variable-length arguments

If the function has a variable-length argument (*args), all elements after the positional argument are passed to the variable-length argument.

def func_args(arg1, *args):
    print('arg1 =', arg1)
    print('args =', args)

func_args(*['one', 'two'])
# arg1 = one
# args = ('two',)

func_args(*['one', 'two', 'three'])
# arg1 = one
# args = ('two', 'three')

func_args(*['one', 'two', 'three', 'four'])
# arg1 = one
# args = ('two', 'three', 'four')

Unpack dict (dictionary) with **

By adding ** to dict (dictionary) and specifying it as an argument, its keys and values are treated as names and values of arguments. Each element is passed as keyword arguments.

def func(arg1, arg2, arg3):
    print('arg1 =', arg1)
    print('arg2 =', arg2)
    print('arg3 =', arg3)

d = {'arg1': 'one', 'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three'}

func(**d)
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = three

func(**{'arg1': 'one', 'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three'})
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = three

If there is no key that matches the argument name, or if there is a key that does not match the argument name, TypeError raises.

# func(**{'arg1': 'one', 'arg2': 'two'})
# TypeError: func() missing 1 required positional argument: 'arg3'

# func(**{'arg1': 'one', 'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three', 'arg4': 'four'})
# TypeError: func() got an unexpected keyword argument 'arg4'

With default arguments

If the function has default arguments, only the value of the argument name matching the dictionary key is updated.

If there is a key that does not match the argument name, TypeError raises.

def func_default(arg1=1, arg2=2, arg3=3):
    print('arg1 =', arg1)
    print('arg2 =', arg2)
    print('arg3 =', arg3)

func_default(**{'arg1': 'one'})
# arg1 = one
# arg2 = 2
# arg3 = 3

func_default(**{'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three'})
# arg1 = 1
# arg2 = two
# arg3 = three

# func_default(**{'arg1': 'one', 'arg4': 'four'})
# TypeError: func_default() got an unexpected keyword argument 'arg4'

With variable-length arguments

If the function has a variable-length argument (**kwargs), all elements with keys that do not match the argument name are passed to the variable-length argument.

def func_kwargs(arg1, **kwargs):
    print('arg1 =', arg1)
    print('kwargs =', kwargs)

func_kwargs(**{'arg1': 'one', 'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three'})
# arg1 = one
# kwargs = {'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three'}

func_kwargs(**{'arg1': 'one', 'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three', 'arg4': 'four'})
# arg1 = one
# kwargs = {'arg2': 'two', 'arg3': 'three', 'arg4': 'four'}

func_kwargs(**{'arg1': 'one', 'arg3': 'three'})
# arg1 = one
# kwargs = {'arg3': 'three'}
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