Python’s Mypy: Callables and Generators

Python

Learn how Mypy's type checking works with functions and generators.

In my last two articles I've described some of the ways Mypy, a type checker for Python, can help identify potential problems with your code. [See "Introducing Mypy, an Experimental Optional Static Type Checker for Python" and "Python's Mypy—Advanced Usage".] For people (like me) who have enjoyed dynamic languages for a long time, Mypy might seem like a step backward. But given the many mission-critical projects being written in Python, often by large teams with limited communication and Python experience, some kind of type checking is an increasingly necessary evil.

It's important to remember that Python, the language, isn't changing, and it isn't becoming statically typed. Mypy is a separate program, running outside Python, typically as part of a continuous integration (CI) system or invoked as part of a Git commit hook. The idea is that Mypy runs before you put your code into production, identifying where the data doesn't match the annotations you've made to your variables and function parameters.

I'm going to focus on a few of Mypy's advanced features here. You might not encounter them very often, but even if you don't, it'll give you a better picture of the complexities associated with type checking, and how deeply the Mypy team is thinking about their work, and what tests need to be done. It'll also help you understand more about the ways people do type checking, and how to balance the beauty, flexibility and expressiveness of dynamic typing with the strictness and fewer errors of static typing.

Callable Types

When I tell participants in my Python classes that everything in Python is an object, they nod their heads, clearly thinking, "I've heard this before about other languages." But then I show them that functions and classes are both objects, and they realize that Python's notion of "everything" is a bit more expansive than theirs. (And yes, Python's definition of "everything" isn't as wide as Smalltalk's.)

When you define a function, you're creating a new object, one of type "function":


>>> def foo():
...     return "I'm foo!"

>>> type(foo)


Similarly, when you create a new class, you're adding a new object type to Python:


>>> class Foo():
...     pass

>>> type(Foo)


It's a pretty common paradigm in Python to write a function that, when it runs, defines and runs an inner function. This is also known as a "closure", and it has a few different uses. For example, you can write: