A while ago, I had written this blog post:
Flatten a list of lists with a list comprehension
which talks about flattening a nested list in Python, but only for a list nested two levels deep. It was not my code - I just had seen it via Hacker News, wrote about it, and commented on an interesting property of the Python language, in the code involved. A few readers also commented on that language property.
Recently, something reminded me of my earlier post. I realized that the code in that post only worked for a list nested two levels deep. So I thought of trying to solve the problem of flattening an arbitrarily nested Python list.
Here is my attempt at the solution, in the file flatten_list2.py :
# Program to flatten an arbitrarily nested list. #flatten_list2.py def nested_item(depth, value): if depth <= 1: return [value] else: return [nested_item(depth - 1, value)] def nested_list(n): """Generate a nested list where the i'th item is at depth i.""" lis =  for i in range(n): if i == 0: lis.append(i) else: lis.append(nested_item(i, i)) return lis def flatten(lis): """Given a list, possibly nested to any level, return it flattened.""" new_lis =  for item in lis: if type(item) == type(): new_lis.extend(flatten(item)) else: new_lis.append(item) return new_lis for n in range(0, 7): print n, lis = nested_list(n) print "original:", lis new_lis = flatten(lis) print "flattened:", new_lis printThe above program has a function called nested_list that, given an argument n, generates a list of n items, as follows: the 0th item is 0, and each succeeding item is a list nested to level i, the i'th number in the range 1 <= i < n. (See the image at the top of the post.) The function nested_item does the work of building up the items of the outermost list, where each item (except the 0th) is a nested list. And the function flatten does the work of flattening the built-up list of nested lists. After writing and testing my solution, I found that it works for values of n up to 998, but for n = 999 it terminates with the message "maximum recursion depth exceceded", which is to be expected, since the maximum recursion depth in Python is 1000 by default, though there is a function in the sys module to set it, called setrecursionlimit. There are two recursive functions in the program, the functions called nested_item and flatten. The flatten function causes the recursion error. Here is the output of a sample run of my program to flatten lists:
$ flatten_list2.py 0 original:  flattened:  1 original:  flattened:  2 original: [0, ] flattened: [0, 1] 3 original: [0, , []] flattened: [0, 1, 2] 4 original: [0, , [], [[]]] flattened: [0, 1, 2, 3] 5 original: [0, , [], [[]], [[[]]]] flattened: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4] 6 original: [0, , [], [[]], [[[]]], [[[[]]]]] flattened: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5] orig:  flat:  orig:  flat:  orig: [0, 1] flat: [0, 1] orig: [0, 1, 2] flat: [0, 1, 2] orig: [0, 1, 2, 3] flat: [0, 1, 2, 3] orig: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4] flat: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4]I had also modified the program to try to flatten non-nested lists as a test (since it should work for those too, i.e. not change them), and that is the second section in the output above. 42 was the number of lines in my earlier version, flatten_list.py (not shown here), which I then refactored into flatten_list2.py, improving the code some in the process, and also bringing the number of lines down to 37 (not counting the second section of code, added later, that tests the flatten function on lists that are not nested). - Vasudev Ram - Dancing Bison EnterprisesClick here to signup for email notifications about new products and services from Vasudev Ram. Contact Page