What is the purpose of class methods? What is the purpose of class methods? python python

What is the purpose of class methods?

Class methods are for when you need to have methods that aren't specific to any particular instance, but still involve the class in some way. The most interesting thing about them is that they can be overridden by subclasses, something that's simply not possible in Java's static methods or Python's module-level functions.

If you have a class MyClass, and a module-level function that operates on MyClass (factory, dependency injection stub, etc), make it a classmethod. Then it'll be available to subclasses.

Factory methods (alternative constructors) are indeed a classic example of class methods.

Basically, class methods are suitable anytime you would like to have a method which naturally fits into the namespace of the class, but is not associated with a particular instance of the class.

As an example, in the excellent unipath module:

Current directory

  • Path.cwd()
    • Return the actual current directory; e.g., Path("/tmp/my_temp_dir"). This is a class method.
  • .chdir()
    • Make self the current directory.

As the current directory is process wide, the cwd method has no particular instance with which it should be associated. However, changing the cwd to the directory of a given Path instance should indeed be an instance method.

Hmmm... as Path.cwd() does indeed return a Path instance, I guess it could be considered to be a factory method...

Think about it this way: normal methods are useful to hide the details of dispatch: you can type myobj.foo() without worrying about whether the foo() method is implemented by the myobj object's class or one of its parent classes. Class methods are exactly analogous to this, but with the class object instead: they let you call MyClass.foo() without having to worry about whether foo() is implemented specially by MyClass because it needed its own specialized version, or whether it is letting its parent class handle the call.

Class methods are essential when you are doing set-up or computation that precedes the creation of an actual instance, because until the instance exists you obviously cannot use the instance as the dispatch point for your method calls. A good example can be viewed in the SQLAlchemy source code; take a look at the dbapi() class method at the following link:


You can see that the dbapi() method, which a database backend uses to import the vendor-specific database library it needs on-demand, is a class method because it needs to run before instances of a particular database connection start getting created — but that it cannot be a simple function or static function, because they want it to be able to call other, supporting methods that might similarly need to be written more specifically in subclasses than in their parent class. And if you dispatch to a function or static class, then you "forget" and lose the knowledge about which class is doing the initializing.