Python List Comprehension Vs. Map

0 votes
asked Aug 7, 2009 by timothyawiseman

Is there a reason to prefer using map() over list comprehension or vice versa? Is either of them generally more efficient or considered generally more pythonic than the other?

10 Answers

0 votes
answered Aug 2, 2009 by andz

Here is one possible case:

map(lambda op1,op2: op1*op2, list1, list2)


[op1*op2 for op1,op2 in zip(list1,list2)]

I am guessing the zip() is an unfortunate and unnecessary overhead you need to indulge in if you insist on using list comprehensions instead of the map. Would be great if someone clarifies this whether affirmatively or negatively.

0 votes
answered Aug 7, 2009 by alex-martelli

map may be microscopically faster in some cases (when you're NOT making a lambda for the purpose, but using the same function in map and a listcomp). List comprehensions may be faster in other cases and most (not all) pythonistas consider them more direct and clearer.

An example of the tiny speed advantage of map when using exactly the same function:

$ python -mtimeit -s'xs=range(10)' 'map(hex, xs)'
100000 loops, best of 3: 4.86 usec per loop
$ python -mtimeit -s'xs=range(10)' '[hex(x) for x in xs]'
100000 loops, best of 3: 5.58 usec per loop

An example of how performance comparison gets completely reversed when map needs a lambda:

$ python -mtimeit -s'xs=range(10)' 'map(lambda x: x+2, xs)'
100000 loops, best of 3: 4.24 usec per loop
$ python -mtimeit -s'xs=range(10)' '[x+2 for x in xs]'
100000 loops, best of 3: 2.32 usec per loop
0 votes
answered Aug 7, 2009 by dan

I find list comprehensions are generally more expressive of what I'm trying to do than map - they both get it done, but the former saves the mental load of trying to understand what could be a complex lambda expression.

There's also an interview out there somewhere (I can't find it offhand) where Guido lists lambdas and the functional functions as the thing he most regrets about accepting into Python, so you could make the argument that they're un-Pythonic by virtue of that.

0 votes
answered Aug 21, 2010 by brett

Another reason to use list comprehension over map() and filter() is that Psyco can't compile these functions.


0 votes
answered Aug 20, 2011 by ninjagecko


  • Common case: Almost always, you will want to use a list comprehension in python because it will be more obvious what you're doing to novice programmers reading your code. (This does not apply to other languages, where other idioms may apply.) It will even be more obvious what you're doing to python programmers, since list comprehensions are the de-facto standard in python for iteration; they are expected.
  • Less-common case: However if you already have a function defined, it is often reasonable to use map, though it is considered 'unpythonic'. For example, map(sum, myLists) is more elegant/terse than [sum(x) for x in myLists]. You gain the elegance of not having to make up a dummy variable (e.g. sum(x) for x... or sum(_) for _... or sum(readableName) for readableName...) which you have to type twice, just to iterate. The same argument holds for filter and reduce and anything from the itertools module: if you already have a function handy, you could go ahead and do some functional programming. This gains readability in some situations, and loses it in others (e.g. novice programmers, multiple arguments)... but the readability of your code highly depends on your comments anyway.
  • Almost never: You may want to use the map function as a pure abstract function while doing functional programming, where you're mapping map, or currying map, or otherwise benefit from talking about map as a function. In Haskell for example, a functor interface called fmap generalizes mapping over any data structure. This is very uncommon in python because the python grammar compels you to use generator-style to talk about iteration; you can't generalize it easily. (This is sometimes good and sometimes bad.) You can probably come up with rare python examples where map(f, *lists) is a reasonable thing to do. The closest example I can come up with would be sumEach = partial(map,sum), which is a one-liner that is very roughly equivalent to:

def sumEach(myLists):
    return [sum(_) for _ in myLists]


I dislike the word "pythonic" because I don't find that pythonic is always elegant in my eyes. Nevertheless, map and filter and similar functions (like the very useful itertools module) are probably considered unpythonic in terms of style.


In terms of efficiency, like most functional programming constructs, MAP CAN BE LAZY, and in fact is lazy in python. That means you can do this (in python3) and your computer will not run out of memory and lose all your unsaved data:

>>> map(str, range(10**100))
<map object at 0x2201d50>

Try doing that with a list comprehension:

>>> [str(n) for n in range(10**100)]

Do note that list comprehensions are also inherently lazy, but python has chosen to implement them as non-lazy. Nevertheless, python does support lazy list comprehensions in the form of generator expressions, as follows:

>>> (str(n) for n in range(10**100))
<generator object <genexpr> at 0xacbdef>

You can basically think of the [...] syntax as passing in a generator expression to the list constructor, like list(x for x in range(5)).

Brief contrived example

from operator import neg
print({x:x**2 for x in map(neg,range(5))})

print({x:x**2 for x in [-y for y in range(5)]})

print({x:x**2 for x in (-y for y in range(5))})

List comprehensions are non-lazy, so may require more memory (unless you use generator comprehensions). The square brackets [...] often make things obvious, especially when in a mess of parentheses. On the other hand, sometimes you end up being verbose like typing [x for x in.... As long as you keep your iterator variables short, list comprehensions are usually clearer if you don't indent your code. But you could always indent your code.

    {x:x**2 for x in (-y for y in range(5))}

or break things up:

rangeNeg5 = (-y for y in range(5))
    {x:x**2 for x in rangeNeg5}

Efficiency comparison for python3

map is now lazy:

% python3 -mtimeit -s 'xs=range(1000)' 'f=lambda x:x' 'z=map(f,xs)'
1000000 loops, best of 3: 0.336 usec per loop            ^^^^^^^^^

Therefore if you will not be using all your data, or do not know ahead of time how much data you need, map in python3 (and generator expressions in python2 or python3) will avoid calculating their values until the last moment necessary. Usually this will usually outweigh any overhead from using map. The downside is that this is very limited in python as opposed to most functional languages: you only get this benefit if you access your data left-to-right "in order", because python generator expressions can only be evaluated the order x[0], x[1], x[2], ....

However let's say that we have a pre-made function f we'd like to map, and we ignore the laziness of map by immediately forcing evaluation with list(...). We get some very interesting results:

% python3 -mtimeit -s 'xs=range(1000)' 'f=lambda x:x' 'z=list(map(f,xs))'                                                                                                                                                
10000 loops, best of 3: 165/124/135 usec per loop        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
                    for list(<map object>)

% python3 -mtimeit -s 'xs=range(1000)' 'f=lambda x:x' 'z=[f(x) for x in xs]'                                                                                                                                      
10000 loops, best of 3: 181/118/123 usec per loop        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
                    for list(<generator>), probably optimized

% python3 -mtimeit -s 'xs=range(1000)' 'f=lambda x:x' 'z=list(f(x) for x in xs)'                                                                                                                                    
1000 loops, best of 3: 215/150/150 usec per loop         ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
                    for list(<generator>)

In results are in the form AAA/BBB/CCC where A was performed with on a circa-2010 Intel workstation with python 3.?.?, and B and C were performed with a circa-2013 AMD workstation with python 3.2.1, with extremely different hardware. The result seems to be that map and list comprehensions are comparable in performance, which is most strongly affected by other random factors. The only thing we can tell seems to be that, oddly, while we expect list comprehensions [...] to perform better than generator expressions (...), map is ALSO more efficient that generator expressions (again assuming that all values are evaluated/used).

It is important to realize that these tests assume a very simple function (the identity function); however this is fine because if the function were complicated, then performance overhead would be negligible compared to other factors in the program. (It may still be interesting to test with other simple things like f=lambda x:x+x)

If you're skilled at reading

0 votes
answered Aug 20, 2012 by mehrdad

You should use map and filter instead of list comprehensions.

An objective reason why you should prefer them even though they're not "Pythonic" is this:
They require functions/lambdas as arguments, which introduce a new scope.

I've gotten bitten by this more than once:

for x, y in somePoints:
    # (several lines of code here)
    squared = [x ** 2 for x in numbers]
    # Oops, x was silently overwritten!

but if instead I had said:

for x, y in somePoints:
    # (several lines of code here)
    squared = map(lambda x: x ** 2, numbers)

then everything would've been fine.

You could say I was being silly for using the same variable name in the same scope.

I wasn't. The code was fine originally -- the two xs weren't in the same scope.
It was only after I moved the inner block to a different section of the code that the problem came up (read: problem during maintenance, not development), and I didn't expect it.

Yes, if you never make this mistake then list comprehensions are more elegant.
But from personal experience (and from seeing others make the same mistake) I've seen it happen enough times that I think it's not worth the pain you have to go through when these bugs creep into your code.


Use map and filter. They prevent subtle hard-to-diagnose scope-related bugs.

Side note:

Don't forget to consider using imap and ifilter (in itertools) if they are appropriate for your situation!

0 votes
answered Aug 1, 2013 by raek

Actually, map and list comprehensions behave quite differently in the Python 3 language. Take a look at the following Python 3 program:

def square(x):
    return x*x
squares = map(square, [1, 2, 3])

You might expect it to print the line "[1, 4, 9]" twice, but instead it prints "[1, 4, 9]" followed by "[]". The first time you look at squares it seems to behave as a sequence of three elements, but the second time as an empty one.

In the Python 2 language map returns a plain old list, just like list comprehensions do in both languages. The crux is that the return value of map in Python 3 (and imap in Python 2) is not a list - it's an iterator!

The elements are consumed when you iterate over an iterator unlike when you iterate over a list. This is why squares looks empty in the last print(list(squares)) line.

To summarize:

  • When dealing with iterators you have to remember that they are stateful and that they mutate as you traverse them.
  • Lists are more predictable since they only change when you explicitly mutate them; they are containers.
  • And a bonus: numbers, strings, and tuples are even more predictable since they cannot change at all; they are values.
0 votes
answered Aug 8, 2014 by mike-mckerns

If you plan on writing any asynchronous, parallel, or distributed code, you will probably prefer map over a list comprehension -- as most asynchronous, parallel, or distributed packages provide a map function to overload python's map. Then by passing the appropriate map function to the rest of your code, you may not have to modify your original serial code to have it run in parallel (etc).

0 votes
answered Aug 3, 2016 by vishes-shell

So since Python 3, map() is an iterator, you need to keep in mind what do you need: an iterator or list object.

As @AlexMartelli already mentioned, map() is faster than list comprehension only if you don't use lambda function.

I will present you some time comparisons.

Python 3.5.2 and CPython
I've used Jupiter notebook and especially %timeit built-in magic command
Measurements: s == 1000 ms == 1000 * 1000 µs = 1000 * 1000 * 1000 ns


x_list = [(i, i+1, i+2, i*2, i-9) for i in range(1000)]
i_list = list(range(1000))

Built-in function:

%timeit map(sum, x_list)  # creating iterator object
# Output: The slowest run took 9.91 times longer than the fastest. 
# This could mean that an intermediate result is being cached.
# 1000000 loops, best of 3: 277 ns per loop

%timeit list(map(sum, x_list))  # creating list with map
# Output: 1000 loops, best of 3: 214 µs per loop

%timeit [sum(x) for x in x_list]  # creating list with list comprehension
# Output: 1000 loops, best of 3: 290 µs per loop

lambda function:

%timeit map(lambda i: i+1, i_list)
# Output: The slowest run took 8.64 times longer than the fastest. 
# This could mean that an intermediate result is being cached.
# 1000000 loops, best of 3: 325 ns per loop

%timeit list(map(lambda i: i+1, i_list))
# Output: 1000 loops, best of 3: 183 µs per loop

%timeit [i+1 for i in i_list]
# Output: 10000 loops, best of 3: 84.2 µs per loop

There is also such thing as generator expression, see PEP-0289. So i thought it would be useful to add it to comparison

%timeit (sum(i) for i in x_list)
# Output: The slowest run took 6.66 times longer than the fastest. 
# This could mean that an intermediate result is being cached.
# 1000000 loops, best of 3: 495 ns per loop

%timeit list((sum(x) for x in x_list))
# Output: 1000 loops, best of 3: 319 µs per loop

%timeit (i+1 for i in i_list)
# Output: The slowest run took 6.83 times longer than the fastest. 
# This could mean that an intermediate result is being cached.
# 1000000 loops, best of 3: 506 ns per loop

%timeit list((i+1 for i in i_list))
# Output: 10000 loops, best of 3: 125 µs per loop

You need list object:

Use list comprehension if it's custom function, use list(map()) if there is builtin function

You don't need list object, you just need iterable one:

Always use map()!

0 votes
answered Sep 15, 2017 by lmiguelvargasf

I consider that the most Pythonic way is to use a list comprehension instead of map and filter. The reason is that list comprehensions are clearer than map and filter.

In [1]: odd_cubes = [x ** 3 for x in range(10) if x % 2 == 1] # using a list comprehension

In [2]: odd_cubes_alt = list(map(lambda x: x ** 3, filter(lambda x: x % 2 == 1, range(10)))) # using map and filter

In [3]: odd_cubes == odd_cubes_alt
Out[3]: True

As you an see, a comprehension does not require extra lambda expressions as map needs. Furthermore, a comprehension also allows filtering easily, while map requires filter to allow filtering.

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