What is __repr__ in Python?

What is __repr__ in Python?

In Python, every object comes with a set of built-in methods, amongst which __repr__ is one that often needs clarification for its use. The __repr__ method is one of Python’s “dunder” (double underscore) methods and stands for “representation”; it’s meant to return an unambiguous string representation of an object that can be used to reproduce the same object when fed to the eval() function. It is most commonly used for debugging, so it is important that the representation is information-rich and explicit.

Understanding __repr__

At its core, __repr__ is a special method used to define how an object should be represented in a string format. Typically, this representation is valid Python code that can be used to recreate the object, which is why it is often said that the string returned by __repr__ should be, above all, unambiguous and, whenever possible, complete with respect to the object’s attributes.

__repr__ vs. __str__

While __repr__ aims for an unambiguous representation of an object, __str__ is another dunder method that is invoked by the str() built-in function and is used to find the “informal” or nicely printable string representation of an object. The output of __str__ is intended to be readable, whereas the output of __repr__ is intended to be unambiguous. If only __repr__ is defined, it will also be used as a fallback for __str__.

When and Why to Use __repr__

Using __repr__ is particularly useful in scenarios where you need to understand and inspect objects during the development and debugging process. It comes into play when you are inspecting objects in a shell, logging information for debugging purposes, or when you need to have a clear representation of the object in log files that helps in understanding the state of the object.

Importance in Debugging

__repr__ becomes a powerful ally in debugging because it can provide detailed insights into the objects. When you print an object or view it in a debugger, the __repr__ method is called, giving you a clear indication of the object’s state.

Representation in Interpreter and Logs

In the Python interpreter and logs, the __repr__ method determines how an object is displayed. This is why it’s crucial for __repr__ to return a precise and developer-friendly string that can help identify the object’s state without ambiguity.

__repr__ vs. __str__: A Detailed Comparison

Though they may seem similar, __repr__ and __str__ serve different purposes. The __str__ method is used to find a string suitable for display to end-users, while __repr__ is primarily for developers. It’s a common practice to implement both methods for a class with __repr__ being the fallback for __str__.

Choosing Between __repr__ and __str__

Python uses a certain order of precedence to choose which method to use when it needs to convert an object to a string. When you use the built-in function str(object), the __str__ method is called. If __str__ is not implemented, Python falls back to __repr__. On the other hand, when you use repr(object), the __repr__ method is always called.

Implementing Both in a Class

It’s a good practice to implement both __repr__ and __str__ for a class. This ensures that the informal string representation from __str__ can be used for user-facing features, like a UI, while the more formal, code-like representation from __repr__ is available for debugging. When implementing, remember that __repr__ should be the more comprehensive one, as it may be the only method used if __str__ is not available.

Implementing __repr__ in Custom Classes

In Python, the __repr__ method is a special method used to define how an object is represented. It’s particularly useful when debugging, as it helps to give a clear and concise description of the object. When implementing __repr__ in custom classes, it’s essential to provide meaningful information that accurately represents the object’s state.

Step-by-Step Implementation

  1. Define the Method: In your class, define a method named __repr__ that takes only self as an argument.
  2. Return a String: The method should return a string that ideally looks like a valid Python expression that could be used to recreate the object with the same state.
  3. Include Essential Attributes: Include the class attributes that are important for understanding the object’s state in the returned string.
  4. Formatting: Use string formatting to create a readable and informative representation.

Examples in Different Contexts

  • Simple Class Example:
    class Point:
    def __init__(self, x, y):
    self.x = x
    self.y = y

    def __repr__(self):
    return f"Point(x={self.x}, y={self.y})"

  • Complex Class Example:
    class Circle:
    def __init__(self, center, radius):
    self.center = center # Point object
    self.radius = radius

    def __repr__(self):
    return f"Circle(center={repr(self.center)}, radius={self.radius})"

Best Practices for Writing __repr__

  • Clarity and Completeness: Ensure the representation provides a clear and complete picture of the object’s state.
  • Reproducibility: Aim for a representation that could be used to recreate the object, though this is not always possible.
  • Avoid Long Representations: For complex objects, avoid overly long or detailed representations that could clutter the output.

Common Mistakes and Best Practices

Common Mistakes

  • Omitting Important State Information: Failing to include key attributes that define the object’s state.
  • Overly Complex Representations: Creating representations that are too complex or verbose to be useful.

Best Practices

  • Consistency: Keep the representation consistent across different instances of the class.
  • Testing: Write tests to ensure that your __repr__ method accurately represents the object’s state.

Advanced Topics

Interaction with Python Features

__repr__ interacts with many Python features, such as the interactive console, print function, and the repr() built-in function. It’s essential to understand how these interactions affect the representation of your objects.

The Concept of eval(repr(obj))

The idiom eval(repr(obj)) is often used as a guideline for writing __repr__. Ideally, this expression should recreate the original object, though it’s not always practical or possible, especially with complex objects.


Implementing __repr__ in your Python classes can greatly improve the debugging and development experience by providing clear and informative object representations. It’s a balance between clarity, completeness, and simplicity.

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