Why is + operator much slower than append() when creating a list?

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(I muddled up the question in the beginning, sorry lol long day.) I'm pretty much a beginner learning to code in python using the thinkpython pdf. One of the questions asked is to write a function to build a word list using append and t = t+[x]. According to my results, append is significantly faster, but I don't have a clue why.

import time

def appended_list():
    fin = open('C:\\Users\\Grim\\Documents\\Python\\\Docs\\words.txt','r')
    for line in fin:
        word = line.strip()
    return wordlist

def added_list():
    fin = open('C:\\Users\\Grim\\Documents\\Python\\\Docs\\words.txt','r')
    for line in fin:
        word = line.strip()
        wordlist= wordlist + [word]
    return wordlist

start_t = time.time()
end_t = time.time() - start_t

start_t = time.time()
end_t = time.time() - start_t

This is what gets printed:


When you use the + operator, you're creating a new list by concatenating the original list plus another one-element list ([word] in your case), and there's also the extra effort of copying all the elements from the original lists to the freshly allocated list. Inside a loop, this ends up being O(n^2) time complexity!

By comparison, append() modifies the existing list by adding a new element to it, this is much cheaper and uses les memory, because under the hood the list had already allocated more space than needed to accommodate the current number of elements, and only when it's full will it actually grow to a new size, again with room to spare. Inside a loop, this is O(n) amortized time complexity, way better than the O(n^2) we obtain by using +.

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When invoking __add__ which is what + uses, the two objects being added need to be of the same type. Think 'a' + 1, that would raise a TypeError because they are not the same thing.

With list, __add__ will need to ensure that whatever you are adding to the list is also of list type. By doing so, cls.__add__(obj) will force obj = [obj] to occur to facilitate the addition of two like objects. This creates a new list, and there is memory overhead attached to it.

However, append effectively calls self[len(self):] = obj. This only modifies the original class and doesn't get any penalty for instantiation of a new list.

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The + operation adds another element to the original array. The append operation inserts the array or object into the end of the original array, which results the append uses less memory.

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  • Other way around - + is the slow one.
  • Don't your results show the opposite? You're calling appended_list first in your code.
  • @PatrickHaugh dang it, sorry about this. I'll try editing my question in a minute I mean't the opposite aswell.
  • Not an answer, but you an also do wordlist = list(map(str.strip, fin))
  • @tobias_k thanks. Never come across map function before ill look into more. but the result is much faster.
  • In fact, with x = x + [y] you are even creating two new lists. x += [y] o.t.o.h. should act like extend, but you still create a one-elemented list around [y].
  • Yup, that's a good point. Added it to my answer, thanks @tobias_k !
  • @tobias_k although that by itself doesn't contribute to algorithmic complexity, and I would expect it to have only a minor runtime effect (the CPython private heap is very good at allocating small lists/dicts etc, and re-uses a lot of memory)
  • Thanks so much! that makes so much sense.
  • Yup, that sounds better :)
  • What do you mean by "adds the array elements to the original array"? That makes it sound like the original list is modified by the operation.