Adventures in Machine Learning

Mastering Object Copying in Python with the Copy Module

Copying Objects in Python: The Essential Guide

Do you ever find yourself needing to make copies of objects in Python? Whether you’re working with lists, dictionaries, sets, or custom classes, copying objects can be a crucial operation.

In this guide, we’ll explore the different ways to copy objects in Python and the key differences between shallow and deep copies.

Built-in Collections

Before we dive into copying objects, let’s first define what we mean by “built-in collections”. Built-in collections refer to the standard data structures in Python, such as lists, dictionaries, and sets.

These collections are mutable, meaning that they can be modified after they’re created.

Shallow Copy

When you make a shallow copy of a collection, you create a new object that references the same memory space as the original object. In other words, the new object has its own reference to the original object’s memory.

Shallow copies are useful when you only need to copy one level deep into a collection. Here’s an example of making a shallow copy of a list:


original_list = [1, 2, [3, 4]]

shallow_copy = original_list.copy()


In this example, we create a new list called `shallow_copy` that contains the same elements as `original_list`.

However, the nested list within `original_list` is still referencing the same memory space as the nested list within `shallow_copy`. Modifying a child object within the shallow copy will also modify the child object within the original list:


shallow_copy[2][0] = 5

print(original_list) # prints [1, 2, [5, 4]]


Deep Copy

If you need to create a fully independent clone of an object, you’ll need to make a deep copy. A deep copy creates a new object that is recursive with all the child objects within the original object.

This means that the new object has its own independent memory space and is not referencing any of the original object’s memory. Here’s an example of making a deep copy of a list:


import copy

original_list = [1, 2, [3, 4]]

deep_copy = copy.deepcopy(original_list)


In this example, we create a new list called `deep_copy` that is fully independent of `original_list`. Modifying an element within `deep_copy` will not modify the corresponding element within `original_list`:


deep_copy[2][0] = 5

print(original_list) # prints [1, 2, [3, 4]]


Copying Arbitrary Python Objects

Copying built-in collections is relatively straightforward, but what about copying arbitrary Python objects? For example, what if you need to copy a custom class that you’ve defined?

The `copy` module in Python provides a solution for copying arbitrary objects. To use the `copy` module, your objects need to have either a `__copy__` or `__deepcopy__` method defined.

If your object has neither method defined, the `copy` module will fall back to using the `__repr__` method to create a string representation of the object and then use `eval` to create a copy.

Performance Considerations

When choosing between making a shallow copy or a deep copy, it’s important to consider the performance implications. Making a deep copy can take longer than making a shallow copy, especially if the object has many nested child objects.

Additionally, modifying child objects within a deep copy can also be slower.


Copying objects in Python can be a powerful tool in your programming arsenal. With the right knowledge and understanding of the differences between shallow and deep copies, you’ll be able to effectively copy and manipulate objects in your Python code.

3) The Copy Module: Sanitizing Your Copy Operations in Python

Copying objects is a crucial operation in most Python programs. To make these operations more efficient and streamlined, Python provides the copy module, a high-level factory function library that makes copying objects inbuilt collections, and custom classes more manageable.


Built-in Collections

The copy module features two functions designed to copy standard collections: deepcopy() and copy.copy(). deepcopy() creates a deep copy of a collection, including all nested elements, while copy.copy() creates a shallow copy with all the top elements of a collection copied, and all nested elements still pointing to the original.

The copy module also provides an idiomatic way of creating copies of built-in collections without the need of invoking deepcopy() or copy.copy(). More specifically, you can create a copy of a list by performing the operation `new_list = old_list[:]`; you can copy a dictionary via `new_dict = old_dict.copy();` you can also copy sets via `new_set = set(old_list);`.These operations are faster for copying large collections, and they are more Pythonic in many instances.

Custom Classes

Copy module’s factory functions work seamlessly with built-in collections, but what if the object you want to copy does not belong to the inbuilt collections? The solution is creating custom classes with the __copy__() and __deepcopy__() special methods defined.

__copy__() offers a factory function implementation for creating shallow copies while __deepcopy__() handles deep copies. Deepcopy() works by recursively copying each nested object of the source object and creating an independent clone.

For instance, let’s suppose you have a custom class called marketItem that contains a dictionary of personalization details, such as style, size, delivery, etc. Here is how you can create __copy__() to handle the process:


import copy

class MarketItem:

def __init__(self, type, price, personalization):


def __copy__(self):

cls = self.__class__

new_obj = cls.__new__(cls)


new_obj.personalization = copy.copy(self.personalization)

return new_obj

def __deepcopy__(self, memo):

cls = self.__class__

new_obj = cls.__new__(cls)

memo[id(self)] = new_obj

for k, v in self.__dict__.items():

setattr(new_obj, k, copy.deepcopy(v, memo))

new_obj.personalization = copy.deepcopy(self.personalization, memo)

return new_obj


In this example, __copy__() is used to create a shallow copy of the marketItem class. Since the personalization data is still a dictionary that can be modified, it is necessary to make a copy of the same dict so that the cloned object remains independent.

Similarly, __deepcopy__() creates a full copy of the object class hierarchy, ensuring that all the nested values are correctly copied into the cloned object.

Key Takeaways

In this guide, we discussed the various ways of copying collections and custom classes in Python using the copy module. Key takeaways include:

– Shallow and deep copies are essential to working with collections in Python, but they have different behaviors and use cases.

– The copy module provides a simple means of achieving shallow and deep copy functions for ordinary collections such as lists, dicts, and sets. – The copy module also features factory functions for creating Pythonic shallow copies of collections.

– Custom classes can use the __copy__() and __deepcopy__() special methods to achieve the same functionality. – The copy module is an essential tool for sanitizing copy operations that save you time and possible errors.

Free Bonus

For readers who desire to take their intermediate-level Python programming techniques to the next level, try using Python’s memory profiling tool, which can highlight potential performance issues that arise when copying large objects recursively. Simply import the memory profiler, use the @profile decorator before calling the function with the copy logic to observe which part of the code consumes significant memory usage.


from memory_profiler import profile


def make_deep_copy(original_object):

copy_obj = deepcopy(original_object)

return copy_obj


By profiling your memory usage, you can find ways to optimize your code and implement more efficient memory consumption ideas. In summary, understanding the nuances of copying objects in Python can bring untold benefits to your everyday programming.

Whether you are working with inbuilt collections or custom classes, Python’s copy module is a reliable and efficient means of creating sanitized copy operations that provide the expected outcomes. In summary, the copy module is an essential tool for copying objects in Python programs.

The module provides factory functions for copying built-in collections and special methods for copying custom classes. Shallow and deep copies have different use cases, and the copy module handles the differences between them.

The article’s takeaway is that understanding copying objects’ nuances can improve code efficiency and effectiveness. A final thought encourages readers to use memory profiling and optimization techniques to take their Python programming to the next level.