Multidispatching allows you to define methods and functions which should behave differently based on arguments’ types without cluttering if-elif-else chains and isinstance calls.

All you need is inside generic.multidispatch module. See examples below to learn how to use it to define multifunctions and multimethods.

First the basics:

>>> class Cat: pass
>>> class Dog: pass
>>> class Duck: pass


Suppose we want to define a function which behaves differently based on arguments’ types. The naive solution is to inspect argument types with isinstance function calls but generic provides us with @multidispatch decorator which can easily reduce the amount of boilerplate and provide desired level of extensibility:

>>> from generic.multidispatch import multidispatch

>>> @multidispatch(Dog)
... def sound(o):
...   print("Woof!")

>>> @sound.register(Cat)
... def cat_sound(o):
...   print("Meow!")

Each separate definition of sound function works for different argument types, we will call each such definition a multifunction case or simply a case. We can test if our sound multifunction works as expected:

>>> sound(Dog())
>>> sound(Cat())
>>> sound(Duck())  
Traceback (most recent call last):
TypeError: No available rule found for ...

The main advantage of using multifunctions over single function with a bunch of isinstance checks is extensibility – you can add more cases for other types even in separate module:

>>> @sound.register(Duck)
... def duck_sound(o):
...   print("Quack!")

When behaviour of multifunction depends on some argument we will say that this multifunction dispatches on this argument.

Multifunctions of several arguments

You can also define multifunctions of several arguments and even decide on which of first arguments you want to dispatch. For example the following function will only dispatch on its first argument while requiring both of them:

>>> @multidispatch(Dog)
... def walk(dog, meters):
...   print("Dog walks for %d meters" % meters)

But sometimes you want multifunctions to dispatch on more than one argument, then you just have to provide several arguments to multidispatch decorator and to subsequent when decorators:

>>> @multidispatch(Dog, Cat)
... def chases(dog, cat):
...   return True

>>> @chases.register(Dog, Dog)
... def chases_dog_dog(dog1, dog2):
...   return None

>>> @chases.register(Cat, Dog)
... def chases_cat_dog(cat, dog):
...   return False

You can have any number of arguments to dispatch on but they should be all positional, keyword arguments are allowed for multifunctions only if they’re not used for dispatch.


Another functionality provided by generic.multimethod module are multimethods. Multimethods are similar to multifunctions except they are… methods. Technically the main and the only difference between multifunctions and multimethods is the latter is also dispatch on self argument.

Implementing multimethods is similar to implementing multifunctions, you just have to decorate your methods with multimethod decorator instead of multidispatch. But there’s some issue with how Python’s classes works which forces us to use also has_multimethods class decorator:

>>> class Vegetable: pass
>>> class Meat: pass

>>> from generic.multimethod import multimethod, has_multimethods

>>> @has_multimethods
... class Animal(object):
...   @multimethod(Vegetable)
...   def can_eat(self, food):
...     return True
...   @can_eat.register(Meat)
...   def can_eat(self, food):
...     return False
register rule (<class '__main__.Animal'>, <class '__main__.Vegetable'>)
register rule (<class '__main__.Animal'>, <class '__main__.Meat'>)

This would work like this:

>>> animal = Animal()
>>> animal.can_eat(Vegetable())
>>> animal.can_eat(Meat())

So far we haven’t seen any differences between multifunctions and multimethods but as it have already been said there’s one – multimethods use self argument for dispatch. We can see that if we would subclass our Animal class and override can_eat method definition:

>>> @has_multimethods
... class Predator(Animal):
...   @Animal.can_eat.register(Meat)
...   def can_eat(self, food):
...     return True
register rule (<class '__main__.Predator'>, <class '__main__.Meat'>)

This will override can_eat on Predator instances but only for the case for Meat argument, case for the Vegetable is not overridden, so class inherits it from Animal:

>>> predator = Predator()
>>> predator.can_eat(Vegetable())
>>> predator.can_eat(Meat())

The only thing to care is you should not forget to include @has_multimethods decorator on classes which define or override multimethods.

You can also provide a “catch-all” case for multimethod using otherwise decorator just like in example for multifunctions.

Providing “catch-all” case

There should be an analog to else statement – a case which is used when no matching case is found, we will call such case a catch-all case, here is how you can define it using otherwise decorator:

>>> @has_multimethods
... class Animal(object):
...   @multimethod(Vegetable)
...   def can_eat(self, food):
...     return True
...   @can_eat.register(Meat)
...   def can_eat(self, food):
...     return False
...   @can_eat.otherwise
...   def can_eat(self, food):
...     return "?"
register rule (<class '__main__.Animal'>, <class '__main__.Vegetable'>)
register rule (<class '__main__.Animal'>, <class '__main__.Meat'>)
register rule (<class '__main__.Animal'>, <class 'object'>)

>>> Animal().can_eat(1)

You can try calling sound with whatever argument type you wish, it will never fall with TypeError anymore.

API reference

generic.multidispatch.multidispatch(*argtypes: Optional[type]) Callable[[T], FunctionDispatcher[T]]

Declare function as multidispatch.

This decorator takes argtypes argument types and replace decorated function with FunctionDispatcher object, which is responsible for multiple dispatch feature.

generic.multimethod.multimethod(*argtypes: Optional[type]) Callable[[T], MethodDispatcher[T]]

Declare method as multimethod.

This decorator works exactly the same as multidispatch() decorator but replaces decorated method with MethodDispatcher object instead.

Should be used only for decorating methods and enclosing class should have has_multimethods() decorator.

generic.multimethod.has_multimethods(cls: type[C]) type[C]

Declare class as one that have multimethods.

Should only be used for decorating classes which have methods decorated with multimethod() decorator.

class generic.multidispatch.FunctionDispatcher(argspec: FullArgSpec, params_arity: int)

Multidispatcher for functions.

This object dispatch calls to function by its argument types. Usually it is produced by multidispatch() decorator.

You should not manually create objects of this type.

register(*argtypes: Optional[type]) Callable[[T], T]

Decorator for registering new case for multidispatch.

New case will be registered for types identified by argtypes. The length of argtypes should be equal to the length of argtypes argument were passed corresponding multidispatch() call, which also indicated the number of arguments multidispatch dispatches on.

class generic.multimethod.MethodDispatcher(argspec: FullArgSpec, params_arity: int)

Multiple dispatch for methods.

This object dispatch call to method by its class and arguments types. Usually it is produced by multimethod() decorator.

You should not manually create objects of this type.

property otherwise: Callable[[T], T]

Decorator which registers “catch-all” case for multimethod.

register(*argtypes: Optional[type]) Callable[[T], T]

Register new case for multimethod for argtypes