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How to clone or copy a list?

What are the options to clone or copy a list in Python?

While using new_list = my_list, any modifications to new_list changes my_list everytime.
Why is this?

Answer

With new_list = my_list, you don’t actually have two lists. The assignment just copies the reference to the list, not the actual list, so both new_list and my_list refer to the same list after the assignment.

To actually copy the list, you have various possibilities:

  • You can use the builtin list.copy() method (available since Python 3.3):

    new_list = old_list.copy()
    
  • You can slice it:

    new_list = old_list[:]
    

    Alex Martelli’s opinion (at least back in 2007) about this is, that it is a weird syntax and it does not make sense to use it ever. 😉 (In his opinion, the next one is more readable).

  • You can use the built in list() function:

    new_list = list(old_list)
    
  • You can use generic copy.copy():

    import copy
    new_list = copy.copy(old_list)
    

    This is a little slower than list() because it has to find out the datatype of old_list first.

  • If the list contains objects and you want to copy them as well, use generic copy.deepcopy():

    import copy
    new_list = copy.deepcopy(old_list)
    

    Obviously the slowest and most memory-needing method, but sometimes unavoidable.

Example:

import copy

class Foo(object):
    def __init__(self, val):
         self.val = val

    def __repr__(self):
        return 'Foo({!r})'.format(self.val)

foo = Foo(1)

a = ['foo', foo]
b = a.copy()
c = a[:]
d = list(a)
e = copy.copy(a)
f = copy.deepcopy(a)

# edit orignal list and instance 
a.append('baz')
foo.val = 5

print('original: %rnlist.copy(): %rnslice: %rnlist(): %rncopy: %rndeepcopy: %r'
      % (a, b, c, d, e, f))

Result:

original: ['foo', Foo(5), 'baz']
list.copy(): ['foo', Foo(5)]
slice: ['foo', Foo(5)]
list(): ['foo', Foo(5)]
copy: ['foo', Foo(5)]
deepcopy: ['foo', Foo(1)]

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