Truthiness

Transcript

Let's talk about truthiness in Python.

If statements check truthiness

We have a list of numbers:

>>> numbers = [2, 1, 3, 4, 7]

and we have an if statement that either prints yes or no based on the condition "numbers":

>>> if numbers:
...   print("yes")
... else:
...   print("no")
...
yes

Note that this condition isn't checking len(numbers) == something or some other expression involving numbers. The condition is just "numbers"; that's it!

We got yes when we evaluated that if statement, despite the fact that numbers is not True:

>>> numbers == True
False

The numbers variable points to a list, but True is a boolean.

But if we convert numbers to a boolean we will get True:

>>> bool(numbers)
True

Python is checking the truthiness of numbers. Truthiness is about asking the question: if we converted this object to a boolean, what would we get?

Python's if statements are all about truthiness-checking. Whenever you execute an if statement, Python will check the result of the condition and implicitly convert it to a boolean (if it's not already) to check the truthiness of that object.

Boolean expressions check truthiness

In fact, all boolean expressions check for truthiness.

If we use the not operator on numbers:

>>> not numbers

This will implicitly convert numbers to a boolean and then negate whatever we get back (as if we said not bool(numbers)):

>>> not numbers
False

So not numbers is really checking the falsiness of numbers (where falsiness is the opposite of truthiness).

The documentation calls this "truth value testing"

Truthiness and falsiness are not mentioned anywhere in the Python documentation. Python calls this truth value testing. But Python programmers in the wild rarely talk about "truth value testing". Colloquially we always say truthiness and falsiness instead even though it's called "truth value testing" in the documentation.

Empty objects are falsey

This numbers list is empty:

>>> numbers = []

If we use numbers in our if condition again, we'll see that it doesn't evaluate as truthy this time:

>>> if numbers:
...   print("yes")
... else:
...   print("no")
...
no

Converting an empty list to a boolean returns False:

>>> bool(numbers)
False

Which means empty lists are are falsey in Python:

>>> not numbers
True

This is true of pretty much any "empty" object.

Empty strings are falsey:

>>> name = ""
>>> not name
True
>>> bool(name)
False

In Python, empty objects are falsey. For objects that have a length, if their length is greater than zero, they're considered truthy. And objects with a length equal to zero are falsey.

Truthiness is about non-emptiness

Truthiness isn't not just about "having a non-zero length".

We think of Python's None as representing emptiness. It's kind of the ultimate representation of emptiness in fact.

So we would expect that converting None to a boolean would give us False, and in fact it does:

>>> bool(None)
False

So None is falsey.

>>> not None
True

Truthiness is also about non-zeroness

Truthiness is about two things. We've seen that truthiness is about non-emptiness. But truthiness is also about non-zeroness.

So if we check the truthiness of a number, we're asking Python is this number not equal to zero.

>>> n = 0
>>> if n:
...   print("yes")
... else:
...   print("no")
...
no

That if statements prints no because n is 0.

If you convert 0 to a boolean you get False, which means zero is falsey.

>>> bool(0)
False

Every other number (whether negative or positive) is truthy:

>>> bool(-5)
True

Every number other than 0 is truthy.

Summary

So in Python truthiness is asking the question, what happens if I convert an object to a boolean.

Every Python object is truthy by default. Any object that isn't a number, doesn't have a length, and doesn't represent emptiness in some other way is truthy.

If the object has a length which is zero, it's falsey. If the object represents the number zero, it's falsey. And if the object represents emptiness in some other way (like None), it's falsey.

So truthiness in Python is about non-emptiness and non-zeroness.

The main place you'll see truthiness used is for checking non-emptiness. For example the condition not numbers is checking whether numbers is empty.