python - What does the “yield” keyword do?

What is the use of the yield keyword in Python? What does it do?

For example, I'm trying to understand this code1:

def _get_child_candidates(self, distance, min_dist, max_dist):
    if self._leftchild and distance - max_dist < self._median:
        yield self._leftchild
    if self._rightchild and distance + max_dist >= self._median:
        yield self._rightchild  

And this is the caller:

result, candidates = list(), [self]
while candidates:
    node = candidates.pop()
    distance = node._get_dist(obj)
    if distance <= max_dist and distance >= min_dist:
    candidates.extend(node._get_child_candidates(distance, min_dist, max_dist))
return result

What happens when the method _get_child_candidates is called? Is a list returned? A single element? Is it called again? When will subsequent calls stop?

1. The code comes from Jochen Schulz (jrschulz), who made a great Python library for metric spaces. This is the link to the complete source: Module mspace.


To understand what yield does, you must understand what generators are. And before generators come iterables.


When you create a list, you can read its items one by one. Reading its items one by one is called iteration:

>>> mylist = [1, 2, 3]
>>> for i in mylist:
...    print(i)

mylist is an iterable. When you use a list comprehension, you create a list, and so an iterable:

>>> mylist = [x*x for x in range(3)]
>>> for i in mylist:
...    print(i)

Everything you can use "for... in..." on is an iterable; lists, strings, files...

These iterables are handy because you can read them as much as you wish, but you store all the values in memory and this is not always what you want when you have a lot of values.


Generators are iterators, a kind of iterable you can only iterate over once. Generators do not store all the values in memory, they generate the values on the fly:

>>> mygenerator = (x*x for x in range(3))
>>> for i in mygenerator:
...    print(i)

It is just the same except you used () instead of []. BUT, you cannot perform for i in mygenerator a second time since generators can only be used once: they calculate 0, then forget about it and calculate 1, and end calculating 4, one by one.


yield is a keyword that is used like return, except the function will return a generator.

>>> def createGenerator():
...    mylist = range(3)
...    for i in mylist:
...        yield i*i
>>> mygenerator = createGenerator() # create a generator
>>> print(mygenerator) # mygenerator is an object!
<generator object createGenerator at 0xb7555c34>
>>> for i in mygenerator:
...     print(i)

Here it's a useless example, but it's handy when you know your function will return a huge set of values that you will only need to read once.

To master yield, you must understand that when you call the function, the code you have written in the function body does not run. The function only returns the generator object, this is a bit tricky :-)

Then, your code will be run each time the for uses the generator.

Now the hard part:

The first time the for calls the generator object created from your function, it will run the code in your function from the beginning until it hits yield, then it'll return the first value of the loop. Then, each other call will run the loop you have written in the function one more time, and return the next value, until there is no value to return.

The generator is considered empty once the function runs but does not hit yield anymore. It can be because the loop had come to an end, or because you do not satisfy an "if/else" anymore.

Your code explained


# Here you create the method of the node object that will return the generator
def _get_child_candidates(self, distance, min_dist, max_dist):

    # Here is the code that will be called each time you use the generator object:

    # If there is still a child of the node object on its left
    # AND if distance is ok, return the next child
    if self._leftchild and distance - max_dist < self._median:
        yield self._leftchild

    # If there is still a child of the node object on its right
    # AND if distance is ok, return the next child
    if self._rightchild and distance + max_dist >= self._median:
        yield self._rightchild

    # If the function arrives here, the generator will be considered empty
    # there is no more than two values: the left and the right children


# Create an empty list and a list with the current object reference
result, candidates = list(), [self]

# Loop on candidates (they contain only one element at the beginning)
while candidates:

    # Get the last candidate and remove it from the list
    node = candidates.pop()

    # Get the distance between obj and the candidate
    distance = node._get_dist(obj)

    # If distance is ok, then you can fill the result
    if distance <= max_dist and distance >= min_dist:

    # Add the children of the candidate in the candidates list
    # so the loop will keep running until it will have looked
    # at all the children of the children of the children, etc. of the candidate
    candidates.extend(node._get_child_candidates(distance, min_dist, max_dist))

return result

This code contains several smart parts:

  • The loop iterates on a list but the list expands while the loop is being iterated :-) It's a concise way to go through all these nested data even if it's a bit dangerous since you can end up with an infinite loop. In this case, candidates.extend(node._get_child_candidates(distance, min_dist, max_dist)) exhausts all the values of the generator, but while keeps creating new generator objects which will produce different values from the previous ones since it's not applied on the same node.

  • The extend() method is a list object method that expects an iterable and adds its values to the list.

Usually we pass a list to it:

>>> a = [1, 2]
>>> b = [3, 4]
>>> a.extend(b)
>>> print(a)
[1, 2, 3, 4]

But in your code it gets a generator, which is good because:

  1. You don't need to read the values twice.
  2. You may have a lot of children and you don't want them all stored in memory.

And it works because Python does not care if the argument of a method is a list or not. Python expects iterables so it will work with strings, lists, tuples and generators! This is called duck typing and is one of the reason why Python is so cool. But this is another story, for another question...

You can stop here, or read a little bit to see an advanced use of a generator:

Controlling a generator exhaustion

>>> class Bank(): # let's create a bank, building ATMs
...    crisis = False
...    def create_atm(self):
...        while not self.crisis:
...            yield "$100"
>>> hsbc = Bank() # when everything's ok the ATM gives you as much as you want
>>> corner_street_atm = hsbc.create_atm()
>>> print(
>>> print(
>>> print([ for cash in range(5)])
['$100', '$100', '$100', '$100', '$100']
>>> hsbc.crisis = True # crisis is coming, no more money!
>>> print(
<type 'exceptions.StopIteration'>
>>> wall_street_atm = hsbc.create_atm() # it's even true for new ATMs
>>> print(
<type 'exceptions.StopIteration'>
>>> hsbc.crisis = False # trouble is, even post-crisis the ATM remains empty
>>> print(
<type 'exceptions.StopIteration'>
>>> brand_new_atm = hsbc.create_atm() # build a new one to get back in business
>>> for cash in brand_new_atm:
...    print cash

It can be useful for various things like controlling access to a resource.

Itertools, your best friend

The itertools module contains special functions to manipulate iterables. Ever wish to duplicate a generator? Chain two generators? Group values in a nested list with a one liner? Map / Zip without creating another list?

Then just import itertools.

An example? Let's see the possible orders of arrival for a 4 horse race:

>>> horses = [1, 2, 3, 4]
>>> races = itertools.permutations(horses)
>>> print(races)
<itertools.permutations object at 0xb754f1dc>
>>> print(list(itertools.permutations(horses)))
[(1, 2, 3, 4),
 (1, 2, 4, 3),
 (1, 3, 2, 4),
 (1, 3, 4, 2),
 (1, 4, 2, 3),
 (1, 4, 3, 2),
 (2, 1, 3, 4),
 (2, 1, 4, 3),
 (2, 3, 1, 4),
 (2, 3, 4, 1),
 (2, 4, 1, 3),
 (2, 4, 3, 1),
 (3, 1, 2, 4),
 (3, 1, 4, 2),
 (3, 2, 1, 4),
 (3, 2, 4, 1),
 (3, 4, 1, 2),
 (3, 4, 2, 1),
 (4, 1, 2, 3),
 (4, 1, 3, 2),
 (4, 2, 1, 3),
 (4, 2, 3, 1),
 (4, 3, 1, 2),
 (4, 3, 2, 1)]

Understanding the inner mechanisms of iteration

Iteration is a process implying iterables (implementing the __iter__() method) and iterators (implementing the __next__() method). Iterables are any objects you can get an iterator from. Iterators are objects that let you iterate on iterables.

More about it in this article about how does the for loop work.

Shortcut to Grokking yield

When you see a function with yield statements, apply this easy trick to understand what will happen:

  1. Insert a line result = [] at the start of the function.
  2. Replace each yield expr with result.append(expr).
  3. Insert a line return result at the bottom of the function.
  4. Yay - no more yield statements! Read and figure out code.
  5. Compare function to original definition.

This trick may give you an idea of the logic behind the function, but what actually happens with yield is significantly different that what happens in the list based approach. In many cases the yield approach will be a lot more memory efficient and faster too. In other cases this trick will get you stuck in an infinite loop, even though the original function works just fine. Read on to learn more...

Don't confuse your Iterables, Iterators and Generators

First, the iterator protocol - when you write

for x in mylist:
    ...loop body...

Python performs the following two steps:

  1. Gets an iterator for mylist:

    Call iter(mylist) -> this returns an object with a next() method (or __next__() in Python 3).

    [This is the step most people forget to tell you about]

  2. Uses the iterator to loop over items:

    Keep calling the next() method on the iterator returned from step 1. The return value from next() is assigned to x and the loop body is executed. If an exception StopIteration is raised from within next(), it means there are no more values in the iterator and the loop is exited.

The truth is Python performs the above two steps anytime it wants to loop over the contents of an object - so it could be a for loop, but it could also be code like otherlist.extend(mylist) (where otherlist is a Python list).

Here mylist is an iterable because it implements the iterator protocol. In a user defined class, you can implement the __iter__() method to make instances of your class iterable. This method should return an iterator. An iterator is an object with a next() method. It is possible to implement both __iter__() and next() on the same class, and have __iter__() return self. This will work for simple cases, but not when you want two iterators looping over the same object at the same time.

So that's the iterator protocol, many objects implement this protocol:

  1. Built-in lists, dictionaries, tuples, sets, files.
  2. User defined classes that implement __iter__().
  3. Generators.

Note that a for loop doesn't know what kind of object it's dealing with - it just follows the iterator protocol, and is happy to get item after item as it calls next(). Built-in lists return their items one by one, dictionaries return the keys one by one, files return the lines one by one, etc. And generators return... well that's where yield comes in:

def f123():
    yield 1
    yield 2
    yield 3

for item in f123():
    print item

Instead of yield statements, if you had three return statements in f123() only the first would get executed, and the function would exit. But f123() is no ordinary function. When f123() is called, it does not return any of the values in the yield statements! It returns a generator object. Also, the function does not really exit - it goes into a suspended state. When the for loop tries to loop over the generator object, the function resumes from its suspended state at the very next line after the yield it previously returned from, executes the next line of code, in this case a yield statement, and returns that as the next item. This happens until the function exits, at which point the generator raises StopIteration, and the loop exits.

So the generator object is sort of like an adapter - at one end it exhibits the iterator protocol, by exposing __iter__() and next() methods to keep the for loop happy. At the other end however, it runs the function just enough to get the next value out of it, and puts it back in suspended mode.

Why Use Generators?

Usually you can write code that doesn't use generators but implements the same logic. One option is to use the temporary list 'trick' I mentioned before. That will not work in all cases, for e.g. if you have infinite loops, or it may make inefficient use of memory when you have a really long list. The other approach is to implement a new iterable class SomethingIter that keeps state in instance members and performs the next logical step in it's next() (or __next__() in Python 3) method. Depending on the logic, the code inside the next() method may end up looking very complex and be prone to bugs. Here generators provide a clean and easy solution.

Think of it this way:

An iterator is just a fancy sounding term for an object that has a next() method. So a yield-ed function ends up being something like this:

Original version:

def some_function():
    for i in xrange(4):
        yield i

for i in some_function():
    print i

This is basically what the python interpreter does with the above code:

class it:
    def __init__(self):
        #start at -1 so that we get 0 when we add 1 below.
        self.count = -1
    #the __iter__ method will be called once by the for loop.
    #the rest of the magic happens on the object returned by this method.
    #in this case it is the object itself.
    def __iter__(self):
        return self
    #the next method will be called repeatedly by the for loop
    #until it raises StopIteration.
    def next(self):
        self.count += 1
        if self.count < 4:
            return self.count
            #a StopIteration exception is raised
            #to signal that the iterator is done.
            #This is caught implicitly by the for loop.
            raise StopIteration 

def some_func():
    return it()

for i in some_func():
    print i

For more insight as to what's happening behind the scenes, the for loop can be rewritten to this:

iterator = some_func()
    while 1:
except StopIteration:

Does that make more sense or just confuse you more? :)

EDIT: I should note that this IS an oversimplification for illustrative purposes. :)

EDIT 2: Forgot to throw the StopIteration exception

for x in y(): how does this work?

Using yield turns a function into a generator. A generator is a specialized type of iterator. for always loops over iterables, taking each element in turn and assigning it to the name(s) you listed.

spinning_cursor() returns a generator, the code inside spinning_cursor() doesn't actually run until you start iterating over the generator. Iterating over a generator means the code in the function is executed until it comes across a yield statement, at which point the result of the expression there is returned as the next value and execution is paused again.

The for loop does just that, it'll call the equivalent of next() on the generator, until the generator signals it is done by raising StopIteration (which happens when the function returns). Each return value of next() is assigned, in turn, to c.

You can see this by creating the generator on in the Python prompt:

>>> def spinning_cursor():
...     cursor='/-\|'
...     i = 0
...     while 1:
...         yield cursor[i]
...         i = (i + 1) % len(cursor)
>>> sc = spinning_cursor()
>>> sc
<generator object spinning_cursor at 0x107a55eb0>
>>> next(sc)
>>> next(sc)
>>> next(sc)
>>> next(sc)

This specific generator never returns, so StopIteration is never raised and the for loop will go on forever unless you kill the script.

In Python, the for statement lets you iterate over elements.

According the documentation :

Python’s for statement iterates over the items of any sequence (a list or a string), in the order that they appear in the sequence

Here, the element will be the return value of spinning_cursor().

The for c in spinning_cursor() syntax is a for-each loop. It's going to iterate through each item in the iterator returned by spinning_cursor().

The inside of the loop will:

  1. Write the character to standard out and flush so it displays.
  2. Sleep for a tenth of a second
  3. Write \b, which is interpreted as a backspace (deletes the last character). Notice this happens at the end of the loop so it won't be written during the first iteration, and that it shares the flush call in step 1.

spinning_cursor() is going to return a generator, which doesn't actually run until you start iterating. It looks like it will loop through '/-\|', in order, forever. It's kind of like having an infinite list to iterate through.

So, the final output is going to be an ASCII spinner. You'll see these characters (in the same spot) repeating until you kill the script.


What is a “yield” statement in a function?

Using yield makes the function a generator. The generator will continue to yield the a variable on each loop, waiting until the generator's next() method is called to continue on to the next loop iteration.

Or, until you return or StopIteration is raised.

Slightly modified to show use of StopIteration:

>>> def fib():
...     a = 0
...     b = 1
...     while True:
...         yield a
...         a = b
...         b += a
...         if a > 100:
...             raise StopIteration
>>> for value in fib():
...     print value

>>> # assign the resulting object to 'generator'
>>> generator = fib()
>>> for value in generator:
...     print value

Generators have a special property of being iterables which do not consume memories for their values.

They do this by calculating the new value, when it is required while being iterated.


def f():
    a = 2
    yield a
    a += 1

for ele in f():
    print ele

would print


So you are using a function as an iterable that keeps returning values. This is especially useful when you require heavy memory usage, and so you cannot afford the use of a list comprehension


li = [ele*10 for ele in range(10)]

takes 10 memory spaces for ints as a list

but if you simple want to iterate over it, not access it individually

it would be very memory efficient to instead use

def f():
    while i<10
        yield i*10
        i += 1

which would use 1 memory space as i keeps being reused

a short cut for this is

ge = (i*10 for i in range(10))

you can do any of the following

for ele in f():

for ele in li:

for ele in ge:

to obtain equivalent results

When the code calls fibonacci a special generator object is created. Please note, that no code gets executed - only a generator object is returned. When you are later calling its next method, the function executes until it encounters a yield statement. The object that is supplied to yield is returned. When you call next method again the function executes again until it encounters a yield. When there are no more yield statements and the end of function is reached, a StopIteration exception is raised.

Please note that the objects inside the function are preserved between the calls to next. It means, when the code continues execution on the next loop, all the objects that were in the scope from which yield was called have their values from the point where a previous next call returned.

The cool thing about generators is that they allow convenient iteration with for loops. The for loop obtains a generator from the result of fibonacci call and then executes the loop retrieving elements using next method of generatior object until StopIteration exception is encountered.

What does yield do in python 2.7?

OK, you know about generators, so the yield part needs no explanation. Fine.

So what does that line actually do? Not very much:

It concatenates padding_zeros and number_string and then encodes the result to ASCII. Which in Python 2.7 is a no-op because the string is ASCII to begin with (it only consists of ASCII digits, by definition).

In Python 3, it would be different; here the .encode() would have converted the string to a bytes object. But in Python 2, it doesn't make any sense.

yield is like return in a generator.

At the point that the yield is executed, execution of the generator function stops, and the value is returned. The difference is that when the generator is invoked again, execution restarts at the yield statement, and continues until another yield is hit, or an (unhandled) exception is raised, or a return is hit. The return or exception will terminate the generator.

The point of a generator is that one can invoke it as x = next(generator) or x =, and each time one will receive the value from the yield inside the generator. Generators are also iterable, so they may be used as the source of a loop: for x in generator: print x.

Like in C#, the . operator invokes the method named on its right on the object appearing on the operator's left. Accordingly, (padding_zeros + number_string).encode("ascii") calls encode on the result of (padding_zeros + number_string).

For the meaning of encode, see here:

For the language reference (assuming you are using python 2):

In this case yield is used to perform lazy evaluation. The next codes are roughly equivalent:

def f(...):
    for current_length in range(4, max_length + 1):
        for i in range(0, pow(10, current_length)):
            number_string = str(i)
            padding_zeros = "0" * (current_length - len(number_string))
            yield (padding_zeros + number_string).encode("ascii")

result = list(f())


def f(...):
    result = list()
    for current_length in range(4, max_length + 1):
        for i in range(0, pow(10, current_length)):
            number_string = str(i)
            padding_zeros = "0" * (current_length - len(number_string))
            result.append((padding_zeros + number_string).encode("ascii"))
    return result

result = f()

You may just follow the second one in you code translation.