Python Morsels: Looping over multiple iterables at once

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Often we have to loop over two iterables at the same time. An iterable is anything you're able to loop over with a for loop.

Lists are one type of iterable in Python that we are using here.

Looping over multiple iterables

We have two list here fruits and colors, we want to loop over them at the same time to get color for each fruit:

>>> fruits = ["loquat", "jujube", "pear", "watermelon", "apple"]>>> colors = ["brown", "orange", "green", "pink", "purple"]

We are looping over the fruits here:

>>> fruits = ["loquat", "jujube", "pear", "watermelon", "apple"]>>> colors = ["brown", "orange", "green", "pink", "purple"]>>>>>> for fruit in favorite_fruits:...     print(fruit)...loquatjujubepearwatermelonapple

Using nested for loop

If we will to put another for loop inside it, this wouldn't actually do what we want here:

>>> fruits = ["loquat", "jujube", "pear", "watermelon", "apple"]>>> colors = ["brown", "orange", "green", "pink", "purple"]>>>>>> for fruit in fruits:...     for color in colors:...         print(color, fruit)...brown loquatorange loquatgreen loquatpink loquatpurple loquatbrown jujubeorange jujubegreen jujubepink jujubepurple jujubebrown pearorange peargreen pearpink pearpurple pearbrown watermelonorange watermelongreen watermelonpink watermelonpurple watermelonbrown appleorange applegreen applepink applepurple apple

We instead want brown loquat because these two correspond to each other up here, they're in the same position. We also want orange jujube, green pear and so on. We don't want green loquat, for example.

We want only the things that correspond to each other so we can't use a nested loop.

We somehow need to loop over fruits at the same time as colors.

Using index technique

We could grab and use an index to get the result here. We can use a number n counting upward as we loop and use enumerate to count upward as we loop over our fruits iterable:

>>> fruits = ["loquat", "jujube", "pear", "watermelon", "apple"]>>> colors = ["brown", "orange", "green", "pink", "purple"]>>>>>> for n, fruit in enumerate(fruits):...     print(n, fruit)...0 loquat1 jujube2 pear3 watermelon4 apple

We can then use that number n as an index inside of colors. This will give us the corresponding values.

>>> fruits = ["loquat", "jujube", "pear", "watermelon", "apple"]>>> colors = ["brown", "orange", "green", "pink", "purple"]>>>>>> for n, fruit in enumerate(fruits):...     print(colors[n], fruit)...brown loquatorange jujubegreen pearpink watermelonpurple apple

This works only for sequences because it can be indexed starting from 0. For non-sequences, like a generator, a file, a set, a dictionary, lots of iterables in Python that are not sequences, this is not going to work. We can't index non-sequences.

The zip object

There's another built-in function that is called zip, you can give it any number of iterables:

>>> colors = ["brown", "orange", "green", "pink", "purple"]>>> fruits = ["loquat", "jujube", "pear", "watermelon", "apple"]>>>>>> for item in zip(fruits, colors):...     print(item)...('loquat', 'brown')('jujube', 'orange')('pear', 'green')('watermelon', 'pink')('apple', 'purple')

The return value of zip is a tuple of each of the items in colors and fruits, that are in corresponding positions. The first one from each (loquat, brown), the second one from each (jujube, orange), and so on, and it will stop at the shortest one.

We can use tuple unpacking here and do whatever we'd like with these variables, fruits and colours here:

>>> fruits = ["loquat", "jujube", "pear", "watermelon", "apple"]>>> colors = ["brown", "orange", "green", "pink", "purple"]>>>>>> for fruit, color in zip(fruits, colors):...     print(color, fruit)...brown loquatorange jujubegreen pearpink watermelonpurple apple


If you need to loop over multiple iterables at the same time, the best way to do that in Python is with the built-in zip function.

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