hasattr, getattr and setattr are 3 powerful features in python which helps you to write reflective programs. Reflection is the ability of a computer program to examine and modify its own properties at runtime.


hasattr helps us to check whether an attribute is present in an object. If the object has the given attribute, hasattr will return True. Otherwise it will return False. Theoretically, this gives a program the ability examine its own properties (Self awareness?).

list_obj = [1, 2, 3]
hasattr(list_obj, 'append') # Returns True

tuple_obj = (1, 2, 3)
hasattr(tuple_obj, 'append') # Returns False

In the above program, we have two objects. The first one is a list and second one is a tuple. We are trying to check whether the object has append method in it. This in one way of differentiating between tuple and list objects (You should use isinstance for this - something is possible does not mean it is correct).


getattr is used to retrieve a value from an object, if you have the attribute name as a string object. The usual way of accessing attribute values in python is obj.attribute_name. But what if the attribute name is not know at the time of writing the program? Imagine a situation like the following example.

attr_name = 'my_unknown_attribute'

Here you have attribute name stored in a variable as a string object. So how can we access my_unknown_attribute using attr_name string variable? Pretty simple. Right? You just have to do

attr_name = 'my_unknown_attribute'

You may have figured out that this is not going to work. It will give you the value of attr_name property, not the value of my_unknown_attribute property. The built in getattr function comes handy in these cases.

getattr function takes two arguments: any type of python object (which includes everything in in python) as the first argument and a string object as the second argument. getattr will return the value of the attribute, which is given as the string argument.

Using getattr, our unknown attribute problem can be solved as follows.

attr_name = 'my_unknown_attribute'
attr_value = getattr(my_obj, attr_name)

There is still a problem. What if the object does not has an attribute in the given name? Python will raise an AttributeError and your will break. In real programs, you will be using getattr for string names that are available at run time. These string names can come from a variety of sources such as user input from a website, a file in file system etc. In these cases, you may need to avoid braking your program. So you should add an exception handling block.

attr_name = 'my_unknown_attribute'
    attr_value = getattr(my_obj, attr_name)
except AttributeError:
    attr_value = 'Somebody cheated. No value for this name'

This code is perfectly alright except that there is a much easier way in python. getattr takes a third argument, which will act as a default value in case of an AttributeError. So we can rewrite our program as

attr_name = 'my_unknown_attribute'
attr_value = getattr(my_obj, attr_name, 'Somebody cheated. No value for this name')

Filling the default value with a complaint may not be very use full in real programs. You may want to use None or False instead of saying somebody cheated you.


By now you may have guessed the purpose of setattr function. As you have imagined, it is used to set the value for an attribute, whose name is stored in a string object. So in our my_unknown_attribute example, if you want to set a value for the attribute, you should do the following

attr_name = 'my_unknown_attribute'
setattr(my_obj, attr_name, 'my_value')

setattr takes 3 parameters and all 3 are required. First one is the object to which the value has to be set, second one is name of the attribute, and the third one is the value to set. The value need not to be a string. It can be any python object.

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Category: Python
Tags: hasattr, getattr, setattr