Hinzufügen von Typ-Hinweisen zu vorhandenem Code in Python

This blog post is aimed at Python programmers who are interested in adding type annotations to an existing code base.

The Python interpreter handles types in a dynamic and flexible way without constraints on what type of object a variable is assigned to. Since Python 3.5 programmers have the option to add type annotations to their code along with tools like mypy to check that they are valid. With the typing_extensions backports you can use static typing features of the latest Python release in every supported Python version.

Adding static typing to your code base makes it easier to read and more robust: unintended use of annotated functions and variables is flagged by the type checker immediately instead of failing at runtime.

Types in Python

In general a "data type" (or simply "type") describes a set of possible values and operations. The bool type for example can have the values True or False and supports logical and numeric operations.

Python is dynamically typed:

For example:

a = "Hello"  # a is assigned to a value of type `str`
a = 123  # a is assigned to a value of type `int`
a /= 2  # a is assigned to the value 61.5, which is a `float`

The opposite of a dynamically typed language would be a statically typed language where a variable can only point at an object of a declared type. This is by design!

But it can lead to runtime bugs when your assumptions about the type of a variable are wrong.

Type hints

Type hints tell other programmers and static type checkers which type you expect for a variable, parameter, or return value.

An annotation that specifies the expected type (...) Type hints are optional and are not enforced by Python (...)

There are tools to check type annotations statically, meaning before runtime. Start with the code that would impact most other code, especially code outside the current repository:

Setup

For older Python versions than the latest release use typing_extensions as drop-in replacement for the typing module and

from __future__ import annotations

to support the syntax used in the examples below.

Type hints only make sense when they are enforced. The default tool to check them is mypy.

First install mypy:

pip install mypy

I recommend starting with the following configuration either in your setup.cfg or a separate mypy.ini:

[mypy]
ignore_missing_imports = True
install_types = on
non_interactive = on
files =
  <list of files to check>
  [<seperated by newline>]

If you are using pre-commit in combination with pip-tools the following snippet might also be useful to you (more about the setup can be found here):

- repo: local
  hooks:
    - id: mypy
      name: mypy
      entry: mypy
      language: python
      pass_filenames: false
      files: '.*\.py$'

Annotating library functions

As a user of a library I want to know what the input and output of the library look like without reading the code. This often looks more obvious than it is:

import sys


def cat(input_file=sys.stdin, output_file=sys.stdout, end=""):
    while line := input_file.readline():
        print(line, end=end, file=output_file)


class Screemer:
    def __init__(self, input_file=sys.stdin):
        self.input_file = input_file

    def readline(self):
        while line := self.input_file.readline():
            return line.upper()


if __name__ == "__main__":
    cat(Screemer())

cat takes a input file and an output file and writes the content of the input file to the output file. ScreemInput is a wrapper for an input file that turns everything into upper case.

We could annotate input_file and output_file to as io.StringIO BUT ScreemInput works fine with cat despite not being a text file! We could also annotate io.TextIO | ScreemInput but that would still brake third party consumers of the library that implemented their own wrappers. Annotating Any to make the error go away also is not the best solution.

This is: Instead of asking "Is it a file?" we should ask "Can I run readline on it?". This can be done using the typing.Protocol helper. Protocols define an interface for the consumer of the interface:

With that in mind the code above can be annotated like this:

import sys
from typing import Protocol, Any, runtime_checkable


class SupportsReadline(Protocol):
    def readline(self) -> str | None:
        ...  # <- the dots are part of the syntax!


class SupportsWrite(Protocol):
    def write(self, str_: str, /) -> Any | None:
        ...


def cat(
    input_file: SupportsReadline = sys.stdin,
    output_file: SupportsWrite = sys.stdout,
    end: str = "",
):
    while line := input_file.readline():
        print(line, end=end, file=output_file)


class Screemer:
    def __init__(self, input_file=sys.stdin):
        self.input_file = input_file

    def readline(self) -> str | None:
        while line := self.input_file.readline():
            return line.upper()
        return None


if __name__ == "__main__":
    cat(Screemer())

Note that the Screemer class does not need to know about the protocols, the fact that it implements the needed readline method is enough for mypy to know that it implements the protocol.

Annotating JSON-API output

Another common use-case where type annotations are very useful to prevent unexpected behaviour is to specify how the output of a network API should be structured.

There are some great tools to choose from:

I highly recommend doing the FastAPI tutorial!

But suppose you have a highly performance-critical task in a project that writes lots of JSON-Dumps into a redis cache for later _consumption by other processes_. Then all of the options mentioned above are too slow and changing your existing codebase it not feasible.

The following table from the orjson readme shows that even dataclasses come with a performance penalty, especially when using the json serializer form the standard library:

Librarydict (ms)dataclass (ms)vs. orjson
orjson1.401.601
rapidjson3.6468.4842
simplejson14.2192.1857
json13.2894.9059
This measures serializing 555KiB of JSON

Nothing beats serializing a plain dict into JSON in terms of performance. The typing module has a tool to keep doing that while still adding type annotations:

typing.TypedDict can be used to annotate dictionaries without any runtime cost.

What worked for me: add a separate api_models module with only and all type definitions. That way they can be easily accessed for different interfaces to the same data as well as the producers.

Another useful tool when writing a TypedDict is typing.TypeAlias to give the contents intuitive names, for example:

import typing

THexColor: str


class SerializedLabel(typing.TypedDict):
    text_color: THexColor
    background_color: THexColor
    content: str

typing.TypeAlias is useful for

  1. documentation of what that thing represents
  2. marker which things are the same type by design
  3. preparation to further restrict the type in the future (e.g. using pydantic)

A complete example with FastAPI

FastAPI can also use typing.TypedDict as input and response type, making it trivial to add a REST-API to a project with existing type annotations for JSON output:

from typing import TYPE_CHECKING, Literal, TypedDict
from datetime import datetime, timezone
from dataclasses import dataclass

from fastapi import FastAPI
import pydantic

THexColor = str
TCoords = list[int]  # no tuple!

if not TYPE_CHECKING:
    TCoords = pydantic.conlist(int, min_items=2, max_items=2)
    THexColor = pydantic.constr(
        regex=r"^#[0-9a-f]{6}$", to_lower=True, strip_whitespace=True, max_length=7
    )


class SerializedVehicleDict(TypedDict):
    timestamp: datetime
    vehicle_number: int
    position: TCoords
    is_moving: bool
    is_active: bool


@dataclass
class Vehicle:
    vehicle_number: int
    x: int
    y: int
    color: THexColor
    state: Literal["driving", "standby", "off"] = "off"

    def serialize(self) -> SerializedVehicleDict:
        return {
            "timestamp": datetime.now(timezone.utc),
            "vehicle_number": self.vehicle_number,
            "position": [self.x, self.y],
            "is_moving": self.state == "driving",
            "is_active": self.state != "off",
        }


app = FastAPI()


@app.post("/vehicle", response_model=SerializedVehicleDict)
def vehicle(input_vehicle: Vehicle):
    return input_vehicle.serialize()

This code is complete and should run with

pip install fastapi pydantic
uvicorn <filename>:app

Now have a look at http://localhost:8000/docs and be amazed!

In case the data you want to return is already serialized as a string you can opt to return it directly using a fastapi.Response and still profit from the documentation by using the response_model keyword argument to the decorator.

Final thoughts

Some recommendations based on my experience so far:

geschrieben von Milan Oberkirch | 27.9.2022
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