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2.7: Global Variables

  • Page ID
    15423
  • In the previous example, known is created outside the function, so it belongs to the special frame called __main__. Variables in __main__ are sometimes called global because they can be accessed from any function. Unlike local variables, which disappear when their function ends, global variables persist from one function call to the next.

    It is common to use global variables for flags; that is, boolean variables that indicate (“flag”) whether a condition is true. For example, some programs use a flag named verbose to control the level of detail in the output:

    verbose = True
    
    def example1():
        if verbose:
            print 'Running example1'
    

    If you try to reassign a global variable, you might be surprised. The following example is supposed to keep track of whether the function has been called:

    been_called = False
    
    def example2():
        been_called = True         # WRONG
    

    But if you run it you will see that the value of been_called doesn’t change. The problem is that example2 creates a new local variable named been_called. The local variable goes away when the function ends, and has no effect on the global variable.

    To reassign a global variable inside a function you have to declare the global variable before you use it:

    been_called = False
    
    def example2():
        global been_called 
        been_called = True
    

    The global statement tells the interpreter something like, “In this function, when I say been_called, I mean the global variable; don’t create a local one.”

    Here’s an example that tries to update a global variable:

    count = 0
    
    def example3():
        count = count + 1          # WRONG
    

    If you run it you get:

    UnboundLocalError: local variable 'count' referenced before assignment
    

    Python assumes that count is local, which means that you are reading it before writing it. The solution, again, is to declare count global.

    def example3():
        global count
        count += 1
    

    If the global value is mutable, you can modify it without declaring it:

    known = {0:0, 1:1}
    
    def example4():
        known[2] = 1
    

    So you can add, remove and replace elements of a global list or dictionary, but if you want to reassign the variable, you have to declare it:

    def example5():
        global known
        known = dict()
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