Be Careful With Default Values for Method Parameters in Python

Today I Learned: python instantiates default values for method parameters only once — at method definition time. This can cause big problems if your method modifies values in these entities, because these modifications will be propagated to subsequent calls to the same method.

I spent the greater part of day yesterday hunting down some weird behavior in a python app, and I thought I'd share. Here is a simplified version* of what I found...

def test_method(self, http=httplib2.Http()):

   # Remember the original request method
   request_orig = http.request

   # Define a closure that executes the original request method
   def new_request():
      resp, content = request_orig()

   # Replace the request method with our own closure.
   http.request = new_request

We're assigning the new_request closure to the http.request method, and never resetting it. A subsequent method call sees this closure as the original method, and everything breaks down.

The fix is to remove the default http value, and always pass in a throwaway http object.

*Note: the real (more complicated version) is in the authorize() method (line 439) here.

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