What are Iterators and Generators in Python with Syntax and Examples
In this section of the course we will be learning the difference between iteration and generation in Python and how to construct our own Generators with the yield statement. Generators allow us to generate as we go along, instead of holding everything in memory.
We’ve touched on this topic in the past when discussing certain built-in Python functions like range(), map() and filter().
Let’s explore a little deeper. We’ve learned how to create functions with def and the return statement. Generator functions allow us to write a function that can send back a value and then later resume to pick up where it left off. This type of function is a generator in Python, allowing us to generate a sequence of values over time. The main difference in syntax will be the use of a yield statement.
In most aspects, a generator function will appear very similar to a normal function. The main difference is when a generator function is compiled, they become an object that supports an iteration protocol. That means when they are called in your code, they don’t actually return a value and then exit. Instead, generator functions will automatically suspend and resume their execution and state around the last point of value generation.
The main advantage here is that instead of having to compute an entire series of values up front, the generator computes one value and then suspends its activity awaiting the next instruction. This feature is known as state suspension.
To start getting a better understanding of generators, let’s go ahead and see how we can create some.
# Generator function for the cube of numbers (power of 3) def gencubes(n): for num in range(n): yield num**3 for x in gencubes(10): print(x) Output- 0 1 8 27 64 125 216 343 512 729
Great! Now since we have a generator function we don’t have to keep track of every single cube we created.
Generators are best for calculating large sets of results (particularly in calculations that involve loops themselves) in cases where we don’t want to allocate the memory for all of the results at the same time.
Let’s create another example generator which calculates fibonacci numbers:
def genfibon(n): """ Generate a fibonnaci sequence up to n """ a = 1 b = 1 for i in range(n): yield a a,b = b,a+b for num in genfibon(10): print(num) Output- 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55
What if this was a normal function, what would it look like?
def fibon(n): a = 1 b = 1 output =  for i in range(n): output.append(a) a,b = b,a+b return output fibon(10) Output- [1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55]
Notice that if we call some huge value of n (like 100000) the second function will have to keep track of every single result, when in our case we actually only care about the previous result to generate the next one!
next() and iter() built-in functions
A key to fully understanding generators is the next() function and the iter() function. The next() function allows us to access the next element in a sequence.
Lets check it out:
def simple_gen(): for x in range(3): yield x # Assign simple_gen g = simple_gen() Output- print(next(g)) 0 print(next(g)) 1 print(next(g)) 2 print(next(g)) --------------------------------------------------------------------------- StopIteration Traceback (most recent call last) <ipython-input-12-1dfb29d6357e> in <module>() ----> 1 print(next(g))
After yielding all the values next() caused a StopIteration error. What this error informs us of is that all the values have been yielded.
You might be wondering that why don’t we get this error while using a for loop? A for loop automatically catches this error and stops calling next().
Let’s go ahead and check out how to use iter(). You remember that strings are iterables:
s = 'hello' #Iterate over string for let in s: print(let) Output- h e l l o
But that doesn’t mean the string itself is an iterator! We can check this with the next() function:
next(s) --------------------------------------------------------------------------- TypeError Traceback (most recent call last) <ipython-input-14-61c30b5fe1d5> in <module>() ----> 1 next(s) TypeError: 'str' object is not an iterator
Interesting, this means that a string object supports iteration, but we can not directly iterate over it as we could with a generator function.
The iter() function allows us to do just that!
s_iter = iter(s) next(s_iter) 'h' next(s_iter) 'e'
Great! Now you know how to convert objects that are iterable into iterators themselves!
The main takeaway from this lecture is that using the yield keyword at a function will cause the function to become a generator. This change can save you a lot of memory for large use cases.