# 11.7: Global variables

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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, and under that assumption you are reading it before writing it. The solution, again, is to declare count global.

def example3():
global count
count += 1


If a global variable refers to a mutable value, you can modify the value without declaring the variable:

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()


Global variables can be useful, but if you have a lot of them, and you modify them frequently, they can make programs hard to debug.

This page titled 11.7: Global variables is shared under a CC BY-NC 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Allen B. Downey (Green Tea Press) .