The __set_name__ method for descriptors

Des­crip­tors ge­ne­ra­lly ha­ve to in­te­ract wi­th attri­bu­tes of the ma­na­ged ob­jec­t, and this is do­ne by ins­pec­ting __­dic­t__ on that ob­ject (or ca­llin­g ge­ta­ttr/se­ta­ttr, but the pro­blem is the sa­me), and fin­ding the key un­de­r ­the spe­ci­fic na­me.

For this rea­so­n, the des­crip­tor wi­ll ha­ve to know the na­me of the key to look ­fo­r, whi­ch is re­lated to the na­me of the attri­bu­te is ma­na­gin­g.

On pre­vious ver­sions of Py­thon this had to be do­ne ex­pli­ci­tl­y. If we wanted to­ wo­rk around it, the­re we­re so­me mo­re ad­van­ced wa­ys to do so. Lu­cki­l­y, afte­r PE­P-487 (a­dded in Py­thon 3.6), ­the­re are so­me enhan­ce­men­ts re­gar­ding cla­ss crea­tio­n, whi­ch al­so affec­ts ­des­crip­tor­s.

Le­t’s re­view the pro­ble­m, the pre­vious appro­aches to ta­ck­le it, and the mo­der­n way of sol­ving it.

Configure the name of the descriptor

The des­crip­tor nee­ds to so­me­how know whi­ch attri­bu­te wi­ll be mo­di­fyin­g, and fo­r ­this, the most co­m­mon so­lu­tion is to sto­re the attri­bu­te na­me in­ter­na­ll­y. Fo­r e­xam­ple in:

class LoggedAttr:
    def __init__(self, name=None): = name

    def __get__(self, instance, owner):
        if instance is None:
            return self
        return instance.__dict__[]

class Managed:
    descriptor = LoggedAttr('descriptor')

What we re­qui­re is to che­ck that the na­me is pa­ss­ed to the des­crip­tor pro­per­l­y, ­ba­si­ca­ll­y:

assert == 'descriptor'

But we do­n’t want to pa­ss the string 'des­crip­to­r' as a pa­ra­me­ter when ­cons­truc­ting it, be­cau­se it’s re­pe­ti­ti­ve. Ins­tea­d, we want this to be­ ­con­fi­gu­red au­to­ma­ti­ca­ll­y. Le­t’s see so­me op­tion­s.

A class decorator

Wi­th a cla­ss de­co­ra­to­r, we could de­fi­ne all de­co­ra­tors for the cla­ss as ­pa­ra­me­ters of the de­co­ra­to­r, and make the as­sig­n­ment of the na­me in it as we­ll.

So­me­thing like this:

class configure_descriptors:
    def __init__(self, **kwargs):
        self.descs = {dname: dcls(dname) for dname, dcls in kwargs.items()}

    def __call__(self, class_):
        for dname, descriptor in self.descs.items():
            setattr(class_, dname, descriptor)
        return class_

class DecoratedManaged:
    """The descriptor is provided by the decorator"""

The con­di­tion is pre­ser­ve­d:

assert == 'descriptor'

In this decorator, we provide the name and the class of the descriptor to be created, and the decorator instantiates the class with this name. We could also have created the instance directly in the descriptor, and then update the value with setattr(descriptor, 'name', dname), which is more general, in case you want to create descriptors that take multiple arguments on their __init__ method, but for this case it’s just fine.

Then we set the new des­crip­tor (the one that has the na­me al­ready up­dated on i­t), to the wra­pped cla­ss.

Ho­we­ve­r, it sti­ll see­ms a bit un­fa­mi­liar or coun­te­r-in­tui­ti­ve that we’­re ­de­fi­ning the des­crip­tor not in the body of the cla­ss, but as a pa­ra­me­ter of a ­de­co­ra­to­r.

The­re must be ano­ther wa­y.

A meta-class

Ima­gi­ne we flag the cla­ss by adding a __se­t_­na­me = True attri­bu­te on it, in or­der to hint the me­ta-­cla­ss that this is going to be one of the attri­bu­tes ­that need its na­me chan­ge­d. Then the me­ta-­cla­ss would look so­me­thing like:

class MetaDescriptor(type):
    def __new__(cls, clsname, bases, cls_kwargs):
        for attrname, cls_attr in cls_kwargs.items():
            mangled_attr = "_{0}__set_name".format(cls_attr.__class__.__name__)
            if hasattr(cls_attr, mangled_attr):
                setattr(cls_attr, 'name', attrname)
        return super().__new__(cls, clsname, bases, cls_kwargs)

class MetaManaged(metaclass=MetaDescriptor):
    descriptor = LoggedAttr()

And agai­n:

assert == 'descriptor'

One de­tail is that the __i­ni­t__ of the des­crip­tor ac­cep­ts the na­me to be­ ­nu­lla­ble so this wo­rks. Ano­ther op­tion would ha­ve been de­fi­ning on­ly the ­des­crip­tor as­sig­ned to the cla­ss, and then, re-­ma­pping the attri­bu­te wi­th the ins­tan­ce, pa­s­sing the na­me when it’s being cons­truc­ted on the me­ta-­cla­ss. Bo­th op­tions are the sa­me, and the exam­ple was ma­de wi­th sim­pli­ci­ty in min­d.

This wo­rks but it has a cou­ple of is­sues. First we ha­ve to so­me­how iden­ti­fy when the cla­ss attri­bu­te nee­ds to be up­dated (in this ca­se, a flag was added to­ i­t, but other al­ter­na­ti­ves are no be­tter at all). The se­cond pro­blem should be­ ­ra­ther ob­vious: it’s not a good use of me­ta-­cla­sses, and this is ove­rki­ll (to­ s­ay the leas­t) for what should be a sim­ple ta­sk.

The­re must be a be­tter wa­y.


And the­re is. At least for Py­thon 3.6 and hi­ghe­r. The __se­t_­na­me__ me­tho­d was in­clu­de­d, whi­ch is au­to­ma­ti­ca­lly ca­lled when the cla­ss is being create­d, and it re­cei­ves two pa­ra­me­ter­s: the cla­ss and the na­me of the attri­bu­te as it a­ppears de­fi­ned in the cla­ss.

Wi­th this, the pro­blem is re­du­ced to just sim­pl­y:

class LoggedAttr:
    def __set_name__(self, owner, name): = name

And tha­t’s it, no other co­de is nee­de­d. The so­lu­tion is mu­ch sim­ple­r, and it en­tails le­ss pro­ble­ms.

Ac­tua­ll­y, I de­li­be­ra­te­ly na­med the flag __se­t_­na­me, to get an idea of wha­t’s co­min­g, and to hint that wi­th __se­t_­na­me__, Py­thon must be doin­g ­so­me­thing si­mi­lar to the exam­ple, but in this ca­se we should­n’t wo­rry about it.


Even thou­gh it’s fi­ne to just know about the last me­tho­d, and we could sim­pl­y u­se tha­t, it’s sti­ll im­por­tant to ha­ve fo­llo­wed this pa­th, thi­nking about ho­w ­things we­re do­ne pre­vious­l­y, be­cau­se it’s not fair to just as­su­me things we­re a­lwa­ys good, and take that for grante­d. Othe­rwi­se, we would miss the evo­lu­tio­n of the lan­gua­ge, and as­su­me the­re we­re ne­ver is­sues, pro­ble­ms or things tha­t ­nee­ded re­vi­sio­n.

And mo­re im­por­tan­tl­y, the­re sti­ll are. Py­thon sti­ll has lo­ts of other areas fo­r im­pro­ve­men­t. Just as in this exam­ple __se­t_­na­me__ see­ms to sol­ve a sma­ll, ­yet an­no­ying pro­ble­m, the­re are many other sce­na­rios on whi­ch things are no­t ­cr­ys­tal clear in Py­tho­n, so the lan­gua­ge sti­ll nee­ds to evol­ve.