What is the difference between shallow copy, deepcopy and normal assignment operation? What is the difference between shallow copy, deepcopy and normal assignment operation? python python

What is the difference between shallow copy, deepcopy and normal assignment operation?


Normal assignment operations will simply point the new variable towards the existing object. The docs explain the difference between shallow and deep copies:

The difference between shallow and deep copying is only relevant for compound objects (objects that contain other objects, like lists or class instances):

  • A shallow copy constructs a new compound object and then (to the extent possible) inserts references into it to the objects found in the original.

  • A deep copy constructs a new compound object and then, recursively, inserts copies into it of the objects found in the original.

Here's a little demonstration:

import copya = [1, 2, 3]b = [4, 5, 6]c = [a, b]

Using normal assignment operatings to copy:

d = cprint id(c) == id(d)          # True - d is the same object as cprint id(c[0]) == id(d[0])    # True - d[0] is the same object as c[0]

Using a shallow copy:

d = copy.copy(c)print id(c) == id(d)          # False - d is now a new objectprint id(c[0]) == id(d[0])    # True - d[0] is the same object as c[0]

Using a deep copy:

d = copy.deepcopy(c)print id(c) == id(d)          # False - d is now a new objectprint id(c[0]) == id(d[0])    # False - d[0] is now a new object


For immutable objects, there is no need for copying because the data will never change, so Python uses the same data; ids are always the same. For mutable objects, since they can potentially change, [shallow] copy creates a new object.

Deep copy is related to nested structures. If you have list of lists, then deepcopy copies the nested lists also, so it is a recursive copy. With just copy, you have a new outer list, but inner lists are references.

Assignment does not copy. It simply sets the reference to the old data. So you need copy to create a new list with the same contents.


For immutable objects, creating a copy don't make much sense since they are not going to change. For mutable objects assignment,copy and deepcopy behaves differently. Lets talk about each of them with examples.

An assignment operation simply assigns the reference of source to destination e.g:

>>> i = [1,2,3]>>> j=i>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))>>> ('0x10296f908', '0x10296f908') #Both addresses are identical

Now i and j technically refers to same list. Both i and j have same memory address. Any updation to eitherof them will be reflected to the other. e.g:

>>> i.append(4)>>> j>>> [1,2,3,4] #Destination is updated>>> j.append(5)>>> i>>> [1,2,3,4,5] #Source is updated

On the other hand copy and deepcopy creates a new copy of variable. So now changes to original variable will not be reflectedto the copy variable and vice versa. However copy(shallow copy), don't creates a copy of nested objects, instead it just copies the reference of nested objects. Deepcopy copies all the nested objects recursively.

Some examples to demonstrate behaviour of copy and deepcopy:

Flat list example using copy:

>>> import copy>>> i = [1,2,3]>>> j = copy.copy(i)>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are different>>> i.append(4)>>> j>>> [1,2,3] #Updation of original list didn't affected copied variable

Nested list example using copy:

>>> import copy>>> i = [1,2,3,[4,5]]>>> j = copy.copy(i)>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are still different>>> hex(id(i[3])), hex(id(j[3]))>>> ('0x10296f908', '0x10296f908') #Nested lists have same address>>> i[3].append(6)>>> j>>> [1,2,3,[4,5,6]] #Updation of original nested list updated the copy as well

Flat list example using deepcopy:

>>> import copy>>> i = [1,2,3]>>> j = copy.deepcopy(i)>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are different>>> i.append(4)>>> j>>> [1,2,3] #Updation of original list didn't affected copied variable

Nested list example using deepcopy:

>>> import copy>>> i = [1,2,3,[4,5]]>>> j = copy.deepcopy(i)>>> hex(id(i)), hex(id(j))>>> ('0x102b9b7c8', '0x102971cc8') #Both addresses are still different>>> hex(id(i[3])), hex(id(j[3]))>>> ('0x10296f908', '0x102b9b7c8') #Nested lists have different addresses>>> i[3].append(6)>>> j>>> [1,2,3,[4,5]] #Updation of original nested list didn't affected the copied variable    


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