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PEP 572 -- Assignment Expressions

Title:Assignment Expressions
Author:Chris Angelico <rosuav at>, Tim Peters <tim.peters at>, Guido van Rossum <guido at>
Type:Standards Track
Post-History:28-Feb-2018, 02-Mar-2018, 23-Mar-2018, 04-Apr-2018, 17-Apr-2018, 25-Apr-2018


This is a proposal for creating a way to assign to variables within an expression using the notation NAME := expr.


Naming the result of an expression is an important part of programming, allowing a descriptive name to be used in place of a longer expression, and permitting reuse. Currently, this feature is available only in statement form, making it unavailable in list comprehensions and other expression contexts.

Additionally, naming sub-parts of a large expression can assist an interactive debugger, providing useful display hooks and partial results. Without a way to capture sub-expressions inline, this would require refactoring of the original code; with assignment expressions, this merely requires the insertion of a few name := markers. Removing the need to refactor reduces the likelihood that the code be inadvertently changed as part of debugging (a common cause of Heisenbugs), and is easier to dictate to another programmer.

The importance of real code

During the development of this PEP many people (supporters and critics both) have had a tendency to focus on toy examples on the one hand, and on overly complex examples on the other.

The danger of toy examples is twofold: they are often too abstract to make anyone go "ooh, that's compelling", and they are easily refuted with "I would never write it that way anyway".

The danger of overly complex examples is that they provide a convenient strawman for critics of the proposal to shoot down ("that's obfuscated").

Yet there is some use for both extremely simple and extremely complex examples: they are helpful to clarify the intended semantics. Therefore there will be some of each below.

However, in order to be compelling, examples should be rooted in real code, i.e. code that was written without any thought of this PEP, as part of a useful application, however large or small. Tim Peters has been extremely helpful by going over his own personal code repository and picking examples of code he had written that (in his view) would have been clearer if rewritten with (sparing) use of assignment expressions. His conclusion: the current proposal would have allowed a modest but clear improvement in quite a few bits of code.

Another use of real code is to observe indirectly how much value programmers place on compactness. Guido van Rossum searched through a Dropbox code base and discovered some evidence that programmers value writing fewer lines over shorter lines.

Case in point: Guido found several examples where a programmer repeated a subexpression, slowing down the program, in order to save one line of code, e.g. instead of writing:

match = re.match(data)
group = if match else None

they would write:

group = re.match(data).group(1) if re.match(data) else None

Another example illustrates that programmers sometimes do more work to save an extra level of indentation:

match1 = pattern1.match(data)
match2 = pattern2.match(data)
if match1:
elif match2:

This code tries to match pattern2 even if pattern1 has a match (in which case the match on pattern2 is never used). The more efficient rewrite would have been:

match1 = pattern1.match(data)
if match1:
    match2 = pattern2.match(data)
    if match2:

(TODO: Include Guido's evidence, and do a more systematic search.)

Syntax and semantics

In most contexts where arbitrary Python expressions can be used, a named expression can appear. This is of the form NAME := expr where expr is any valid Python expression other than an unparenthesized tuple, and NAME is an identifier.

The value of such a named expression is the same as the incorporated expression, with the additional side-effect that the target is assigned that value:

# Handle a matched regex
if (match := is not None:

# A more explicit alternative to the 2-arg form of iter() invocation
while (value := read_next_item()) is not None:

# Share a subexpression between a comprehension filter clause and its output
filtered_data = [y for x in data if (y := f(x)) is not None]

Exceptional cases

There are a few places where assignment expressions are not allowed, in order to avoid ambiguities or user confusion:

  • Unparenthesized assignment expressions are prohibited at the top level of an expression statement; for example, this is not allowed:

    y := f(x)  # INVALID

    This rule is included to simplify the choice for the user between an assignment statements and an assignment expression -- there is no syntactic position where both are valid.

  • Unparenthesized assignment expressions are prohibited at the top level in the right hand side of an assignment statement; for example, the following is not allowed:

    y0 = y1 := f(x)  # INVALID

    Again, this rule is included to avoid two visually similar ways of saying the same thing.

  • Unparenthesized assignment expressions are prohibited for the value of a keyword argument in a call; for example, this is disallowed:

    foo(x = y := f(x))  # INVALID

    This rule is included to disallow excessively confusing code.

  • TODO: Should we disallow using keyword arguments and top level assignment expressions in the same call? E.g.:

    # Should these be invalid?
    foo(x=0, y := f(0))
    bar(x := 0, y = f(x))

    Regardless, foo(x := 0) should probably be valid (see below).

  • Assignment expressions (even parenthesized or occurring inside other constructs) are prohibited in function default values. For example, the following examples are all invalid, even though the expressions for the default values are valid in other contexts:

    def foo(answer = p := 42):  # INVALID
    def bar(answer = (p := 42)):  # INVALID
    def baz(callback = (lambda arg: p := arg)):  # INVALID

    This rule is included to avoid side effects in a position whose exact semantics are already confusing to many users (cf. the common style recommendation against mutable default values). (TODO: Maybe this should just be a style recommendation except for the prohibition at the top level?)

Scope of the target

An assignment expression does not introduce a new scope. In most cases the scope in which the target will be bound is self-explanatory: it is the current scope. If this scope contains a nonlocal or global declaration for the target, the assignment expression honors that.

There is one special case: an assignment expression occurring in a list, set or dict comprehension or in a generator expression (below collectively referred to as "comprehensions") binds the target in the containing scope, honoring a nonlocal or global declaration for the target in that scope, if one exists. For the purpose of this rule the containing scope of a nested comprehension is the scope that contains the outermost comprehension. A lambda counts as a containing scope.

The motivation for this special case is twofold. First, it allows us to conveniently capture a "witness" for an any() expression, or a counterexample for all(), for example:

if any((comment := line).startswith('#') for line in lines):
    print("First comment:", comment)
    print("There are no comments")

if all((nonblank := line).strip() == '' for line in lines):
    print("All lines are blank")
    print("First non-blank line:", nonblank)

Second, it allows a compact way of updating mutable state from a comprehension, for example:

# Compute partial sums in a list comprehension
total = 0
partial_sums = [total := total + v for v in values]
print("Total:", total)

An exception to this special case applies when the target name is the same as a loop control variable for a comprehension containing it. This is invalid. (This exception exists to rule out edge cases of the above scope rules as illustrated by [i := i+1 for i in range(5)] or [[(j := j) for i in range(5)] for j in range(5)]. Note that this exception also applies to [i := 0 for i, j in stuff].)

A further exception applies when an assignment expression occurrs in a comprehension whose containing scope is a class scope. If the rules above were to result in the target being assigned in that class's scope, the assignment expression is expressly invalid.

(The reason for the latter exception is the implicit function created for comprehensions -- there is currently no runtime mechanism for a function to refer to a variable in the containing class scope, and we do not want to add such a mechanism. If this issue ever gets resolved this special case may be removed from the specification of assignment expressions. Note that the problem already exists for using a variable defined in the class scope from a comprehension.)

Relative precedence of :=

The := operator groups more tightly than a comma in all syntactic positions where it is legal, but less tightly than all operators, including or, and and not. As follows from section "Exceptional cases" above, it is never allowed at the same level as =. In case a different grouping is desired, parentheses should be used.

The := operator may be used directly in a positional function call argument; however it is invalid directly in a keyword argument.

Some examples to clarify what's technically valid or invalid:

x := 0

# Valid alternative
(x := 0)

x = y := 0

# Valid alternative
x = (y := 0)

# Valid
len(lines := f.readlines())

# Valid (TODO: Should this be disallowed?)
foo(x := 3, cat='vector')

foo(cat=category := 'vector')

# Valid alternative
foo(cat=(category := 'vector'))

Most of the "valid" examples above are not recommended, since human readers of Python source code who are quickly glancing at some code may miss the distinction. But simple cases are not objectionable:

# Valid
if any(len(longline := line) >= 100 for line in lines):
    print("Extremely long line:", longline)

This PEP recommends always putting spaces around :=, similar to PEP 8's recommendation for = when used for assignment, whereas the latter disallows spaces around = used for keyword arguments.)

Differences between assignment expressions and assignment statements

Most importantly, since := is an expression, it can be used in contexts where statements are illegal, including lambda functions and comprehensions.

Conversely, assignment expressions don't support the advanced features found in assignment statements:

  • Multiple targets are not directly supported:

    x = y = z = 0  # Equivalent: (x := (y := (z := 0)))
  • Single assignment targets more complex than a single NAME are not supported:

    # No equivalent
    a[i] = x = []
  • Iterable packing and unpacking (both regular or extended forms) are not supported:

    # Equivalent needs extra parentheses
    loc = x, y  # Use (loc := (x, y))
    info = name, phone, *rest  # Use (info := (name, phone, *rest))
    # No equivalent
    px, py, pz = position
    name, phone, email, *other_info = contact
  • Type annotations are not supported:

    # No equivalent
    p: Optional[int] = None
  • Augmented assignment is not supported:

    total += tax  # Equivalent: (total := total + tax)


Simplifying list comprehensions

A list comprehension can map and filter efficiently by capturing the condition:

results = [(x, y, x/y) for x in input_data if (y := f(x)) > 0]

Similarly, a subexpression can be reused within the main expression, by giving it a name on first use:

stuff = [[y := f(x), x/y] for x in range(5)]

Note that in both cases the variable y is bound in the containing scope (i.e. at the same level as results or stuff).

Capturing condition values

Assignment expressions can be used to good effect in the header of an if or while statement:

# Loop-and-a-half
while (command := input("> ")) != "quit":
    print("You entered:", command)

# Capturing regular expression match objects
# See, for instance, Lib/, which uses a multiline spelling
# of this effect
if match :=, text):
# The same syntax chains nicely into 'elif' statements, unlike the
# equivalent using assignment statements.
elif match :=, text):
    print("Alternate found:",
elif match :=, text):
    print("Fallback found:",

# Reading socket data until an empty string is returned
while data := sock.recv():
    print("Received data:", data)

Particularly with the while loop, this can remove the need to have an infinite loop, an assignment, and a condition. It also creates a smooth parallel between a loop which simply uses a function call as its condition, and one which uses that as its condition but also uses the actual value.


An example from the low-level UNIX world:

if pid := os.fork():
    # Parent code
    # Child code

Open questions and TODOs

  • For precise semantics, the proposal requires evaluation order to be well-defined. We're mostly good due to the rule that things generally are evaluated from left to right, but there are some corner cases:
    1. In a dict comprehension {X: Y for ...}, Y is evaluated before X. This is confusing and should be swapped. (In a dict display {X: Y}} the order is already X before Y.)
    2. It would be good to confirm definitively that in an assignment statement, any subexpressions on the left hand side are evaluated after the right hand side (e.g. a[X] = Y evaluates X after Y). (This already seems to be the case.)
    3. Also in multiple assignment statements (e.g. a[X] = a[Y] = Z) it would be good to confirm that a[X] is evaluated before a[Y]. (This already seems to be the case.)
  • Should we adopt Tim Peters's proposal to make the target scope be the containing scope? It's cute, and has some useful applications, but it requires a carefully formulated mouthful. (Current answer: yes.)
  • Should we disallow combining keyword arguments and unparenthesized assignment expressions in the same call? (Current answer: no.)
  • Should we disallow (x := 0, y := 0) and foo(x := 0, y := 0), requiring the fully parenthesized forms ((x := 0), (y := 0)) and foo((x := 0), (y := 0)) instead? (Current answer: no.)
  • If we were to change the previous answer to yes, should we still allow len(lines := f.readlines())? (I'd say yes.)
  • Should we disallow assignment expressions anywhere in function defaults? (Current answer: yes.)

Rejected alternative proposals

Proposals broadly similar to this one have come up frequently on python-ideas. Below are a number of alternative syntaxes, some of them specific to comprehensions, which have been rejected in favour of the one given above.

Changing the scope rules for comprehensions

A previous version of this PEP proposed subtle changes to the scope rules for comprehensions, to make them more usable in class scope and to unify the scope of the "outermost iterable" and the rest of the comprehension. However, this part of the proposal would have caused backwards incompatibilities, and has been withdrawn so the PEP can focus on assignment expressions.

Alternative spellings

Broadly the same semantics as the current proposal, but spelled differently.

  1. EXPR as NAME:

    stuff = [[f(x) as y, x/y] for x in range(5)]

    Since EXPR as NAME already has meaning in except and with statements (with different semantics), this would create unnecessary confusion or require special-casing (eg to forbid assignment within the headers of these statements).

  2. EXPR -> NAME:

    stuff = [[f(x) -> y, x/y] for x in range(5)]

    This syntax is inspired by languages such as R and Haskell, and some programmable calculators. (Note that a left-facing arrow y <- f(x) is not possible in Python, as it would be interpreted as less-than and unary minus.) This syntax has a slight advantage over 'as' in that it does not conflict with with and except statements, but otherwise is equivalent.

  3. Adorning statement-local names with a leading dot:

    stuff = [[(f(x) as .y), x/.y] for x in range(5)] # with "as"
    stuff = [[(.y := f(x)), x/.y] for x in range(5)] # with ":="

    This has the advantage that leaked usage can be readily detected, removing some forms of syntactic ambiguity. However, this would be the only place in Python where a variable's scope is encoded into its name, making refactoring harder.

  4. Adding a where: to any statement to create local name bindings:

    value = x**2 + 2*x where:
        x = spam(1, 4, 7, q)

    Execution order is inverted (the indented body is performed first, followed by the "header"). This requires a new keyword, unless an existing keyword is repurposed (most likely with:). See PEP 3150 for prior discussion on this subject (with the proposed keyword being given:).

  5. TARGET from EXPR:

    stuff = [[y from f(x), x/y] for x in range(5)]

    This syntax has fewer conflicts than as does (conflicting only with the raise Exc from Exc notation), but is otherwise comparable to it. Instead of paralleling with expr as target: (which can be useful but can also be confusing), this has no parallels, but is evocative.

Special-casing conditional statements

One of the most popular use-cases is if and while statements. Instead of a more general solution, this proposal enhances the syntax of these two statements to add a means of capturing the compared value:

if, text) as match:

This works beautifully if and ONLY if the desired condition is based on the truthiness of the captured value. It is thus effective for specific use-cases (regex matches, socket reads that return '' when done), and completely useless in more complicated cases (eg where the condition is f(x) < 0 and you want to capture the value of f(x)). It also has no benefit to list comprehensions.

Advantages: No syntactic ambiguities. Disadvantages: Answers only a fraction of possible use-cases, even in if/while statements.

Special-casing comprehensions

Another common use-case is comprehensions (list/set/dict, and genexps). As above, proposals have been made for comprehension-specific solutions.

  1. where, let, or given:

    stuff = [(y, x/y) where y = f(x) for x in range(5)]
    stuff = [(y, x/y) let y = f(x) for x in range(5)]
    stuff = [(y, x/y) given y = f(x) for x in range(5)]

    This brings the subexpression to a location in between the 'for' loop and the expression. It introduces an additional language keyword, which creates conflicts. Of the three, where reads the most cleanly, but also has the greatest potential for conflict (eg SQLAlchemy and numpy have where methods, as does tkinter.dnd.Icon in the standard library).

  2. with NAME = EXPR:

    stuff = [(y, x/y) with y = f(x) for x in range(5)]

    As above, but reusing the with keyword. Doesn't read too badly, and needs no additional language keyword. Is restricted to comprehensions, though, and cannot as easily be transformed into "longhand" for-loop syntax. Has the C problem that an equals sign in an expression can now create a name binding, rather than performing a comparison. Would raise the question of why "with NAME = EXPR:" cannot be used as a statement on its own.

  3. with EXPR as NAME:

    stuff = [(y, x/y) with f(x) as y for x in range(5)]

    As per option 2, but using as rather than an equals sign. Aligns syntactically with other uses of as for name binding, but a simple transformation to for-loop longhand would create drastically different semantics; the meaning of with inside a comprehension would be completely different from the meaning as a stand-alone statement, while retaining identical syntax.

Regardless of the spelling chosen, this introduces a stark difference between comprehensions and the equivalent unrolled long-hand form of the loop. It is no longer possible to unwrap the loop into statement form without reworking any name bindings. The only keyword that can be repurposed to this task is with, thus giving it sneakily different semantics in a comprehension than in a statement; alternatively, a new keyword is needed, with all the costs therein.

Lowering operator precedence

There are two logical precedences for the := operator. Either it should bind as loosely as possible, as does statement-assignment; or it should bind more tightly than comparison operators. Placing its precedence between the comparison and arithmetic operators (to be precise: just lower than bitwise OR) allows most uses inside while and if conditions to be spelled without parentheses, as it is most likely that you wish to capture the value of something, then perform a comparison on it:

pos = -1
while pos := buffer.find(search_term, pos + 1) >= 0:

Once find() returns -1, the loop terminates. If := binds as loosely as = does, this would capture the result of the comparison (generally either True or False), which is less useful.

While this behaviour would be convenient in many situations, it is also harder to explain than "the := operator behaves just like the assignment statement", and as such, the precedence for := has been made as close as possible to that of = (with the exception that it binds tighter than comma).

Allowing commas to the right

Some critics have claimed that the assignment expressions should allow unparenthesized tuples on the right, so that these two would be equivalent:

(point := (x, y))
(point := x, y)

(With the current version of the proposal, the latter would be equivalent to ((point := x), y).)

However, adopting this stance would logically lead to the conclusion that when used in a function call, assignment expressions also bind less tight than comma, so we'd have the following confusing equivalence:

foo(x := 1, y)
foo(x := (1, y))

The less confusing option is to make := bind more tightly than comma.

Always requiring parentheses

It's been proposed to just always require parenthesize around an assignment expression. This would resolve many ambiguities, and indeed parentheses will frequently be needed to extract the desired subexpression. But in the following cases the extra parentheses feel redundant:

# Top level in if
if match := pattern.match(line):

# Short call
len(lines := f.readlines())

Frequently Raised Objections

Why not just turn existing assignment into an expression?

C and its derivatives define the = operator as an expression, rather than a statement as is Python's way. This allows assignments in more contexts, including contexts where comparisons are more common. The syntactic similarity between if (x == y) and if (x = y) belies their drastically different semantics. Thus this proposal uses := to clarify the distinction.

This could be used to create ugly code!

So can anything else. This is a tool, and it is up to the programmer to use it where it makes sense, and not use it where superior constructs can be used.

With assignment expressions, why bother with assignment statements?

The two forms have different flexibilities. The := operator can be used inside a larger expression; the = statement can be augmented to += and its friends, can be chained, and can assign to attributes and subscripts.

Why not use a sublocal scope and prevent namespace pollution?

Previous revisions of this proposal involved sublocal scope (restricted to a single statement), preventing name leakage and namespace pollution. While a definite advantage in a number of situations, this increases complexity in many others, and the costs are not justified by the benefits. In the interests of language simplicity, the name bindings created here are exactly equivalent to any other name bindings, including that usage at class or module scope will create externally-visible names. This is no different from for loops or other constructs, and can be solved the same way: del the name once it is no longer needed, or prefix it with an underscore.

(The author wishes to thank Guido van Rossum and Christoph Groth for their suggestions to move the proposal in this direction. [2])

Style guide recommendations

As expression assignments can sometimes be used equivalently to statement assignments, the question of which should be preferred will arise. For the benefit of style guides such as PEP 8, two recommendations are suggested.

  1. If either assignment statements or assignment expressions can be used, prefer statements; they are a clear declaration of intent.
  2. If using assignment expressions would lead to ambiguity about execution order, restructure it to use statements instead.


The authors wish to thank Nick Coghlan and Steven D'Aprano for their considerable contributions to this proposal, and members of the core-mentorship mailing list for assistance with implementation.

Appendix A: Tim Peters's findings

Here's a brief essay Tim Peters wrote on the topic.

I dislike "busy" lines of code, and also dislike putting conceptually unrelated logic on a single line. So, for example, instead of:

i = j = count = nerrors = 0

I prefer:

i = j = 0
count = 0
nerrors = 0

instead. So I suspected I'd find few places I'd want to use assignment expressions. I didn't even consider them for lines already stretching halfway across the screen. In other cases, "unrelated" ruled:

mylast = mylast[1]
yield mylast[0]

is a vast improvment over the briefer:

yield (mylast := mylast[1])[0]

The original two statements are doing entirely different conceptual things, and slamming them together is conceptually insane.

In other cases, combining related logic made it harder to understand, such as rewriting:

while True:
    old = total
    total += term
    if old == total:
        return total
    term *= mx2 / (i*(i+1))
    i += 2

as the briefer:

while total != (total := total + term):
    term *= mx2 / (i*(i+1))
    i += 2
return total

The while test there is too subtle, crucially relying on strict left-to-right evaluation in a non-short-circuiting or method-chaining context. My brain isn't wired that way.

But cases like that were rare. Name binding is very frequent, and "sparse is better than dense" does not mean "almost empty is better than sparse". For example, I have many functions that return None or 0 to communicate "I have nothing useful to return in this case, but since that's expected often I'm not going to annoy you with an exception". This is essentially the same as regular expression search functions returning None when there is no match. So there was lots of code of the form:

result = solution(xs, n)
if result:
    # use result

I find that clearer, and certainly a bit less typing and pattern-matching reading, as:

if result := solution(xs, n):
    # use result

It's also nice to trade away a small amount of horizontal whitespace to get another _line_ of surrounding code on screen. I didn't give much weight to this at first, but it was so very frequent it added up, and I soon enough became annoyed that I couldn't actually run the briefer code. That surprised me!

There are other cases where assignment expressions really shine. Rather than pick another from my code, Kirill Balunov gave a lovely example from the standard library's copy() function in

reductor = dispatch_table.get(cls)
if reductor:
    rv = reductor(x)
    reductor = getattr(x, "__reduce_ex__", None)
    if reductor:
        rv = reductor(4)
        reductor = getattr(x, "__reduce__", None)
        if reductor:
            rv = reductor()
            raise Error("un(shallow)copyable object of type %s" % cls)

The ever-increasing indentation is semantically misleading: the logic is conceptually flat, "the first test that succeeds wins":

if reductor := dispatch_table.get(cls):
    rv = reductor(x)
elif reductor := getattr(x, "__reduce_ex__", None):
    rv = reductor(4)
elif reductor := getattr(x, "__reduce__", None):
    rv = reductor()
    raise Error("un(shallow)copyable object of type %s" % cls)

Using easy assignment expressions allows the visual structure of the code to emphasize the conceptual flatness of the logic; ever-increasing indentation obscured it.

A smaller example from my code delighted me, both allowing to put inherently related logic in a single line, and allowing to remove an annoying "artificial" indentation level:

diff = x - x_base
if diff:
    g = gcd(diff, n)
    if g > 1:
        return g


if (diff := x - x_base) and (g := gcd(diff, n)) > 1:
    return g

That if is about as long as I want my lines to get, bur remains easy to follow.

So, in all, in most lines binding a name, I wouldn't use assignment expressions, but because that construct is so very frequent, that leaves many places I would. In most of the latter, I found a small win that adds up due to how often it occurs, and in the rest I found a moderate to major win. I'd certainly use it more often than ternary if, but significantly less often than augmented assignment.

A numeric example

I have another example that quite impressed me at the time.

Where all variables are positive integers, and a is at least as large as the n'th root of x, this algorithm returns the floor of the n'th root of x (and roughly doubling the number of accurate bits per iteration):

while a > (d := x // a**(n-1)):
    a = ((n-1)*a + d) // n
return a

It's not obvious why that works, but is no more obvious in the "loop and a half" form. It's hard to prove correctness without building on the right insight (the "arithmetic mean - geometric mean inequality"), and knowing some non-trivial things about how nested floor functions behave. That is, the challenges are in the math, not really in the coding.

If you do know all that, then the assignment-expression form is easily read as "while the current guess is too large, get a smaller guess", where the "too large?" test and the new guess share an expensive sub-expression.

To my eyes, the original form is harder to understand:

while True:
    d = x // a**(n-1)
    if a <= d:
    a = ((n-1)*a + d) // n
return a


[1]Proof of concept / reference implementation (
[2]Pivotal post regarding inline assignment semantics (