5 Best Ways to Calculate Factorial in Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Calculating the factorial of a number n involves multiplying all whole numbers from n down to 1. For instance, the factorial of 5 (denoted as 5!) is 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1, which equals 120. The task is to write Python functions that, given a non-negative integer, return its factorial.

Method 1: Iterative Approach

This method uses a loop to calculate the factorial of a number. The iterative approach initializes the result to 1 and iteratively multiplies it by each integer up to the input number. This method is simple and easy to understand, making it a go-to solution for calculating factorials in Python.

Here’s an example:

def factorial_iterative(n):
    result = 1
    for i in range(1, n + 1):
        result *= i
    return result


Output: 120

The code defines a function factorial_iterative which takes an integer n as an argument. It initializes a variable result to 1. Then, it runs a for loop over the range of numbers from 1 to n, inclusively, multiplying the result by each number it encounters. Finally, it returns the calculated factorial.

Method 2: Recursive Approach

Recursion is an approach where the function calls itself with a subset of the original problem until it reaches a base case. For factorials, the recursive function calls itself with the next smaller number and multiplies the result by the current number, with the base case being 1.

Here’s an example:

def factorial_recursive(n):
    if n == 1:
        return 1
        return n * factorial_recursive(n - 1)


Output: 120

This snippet contains the factorial_recursive function which employs a base case: if n is equal to 1, it returns 1. Otherwise, it calls itself with n-1 and multiplies the result by n, effectively computing the factorial using recursion.

Method 3: Using The Math Library

Python comes with a built-in math library which includes the factorial function that can be used to calculate factorials effortlessly. This method is the most straightforward if code simplicity and readability are priorities.

Here’s an example:

import math


Output: 120

The code imports the math module and then prints the result of the math.factorial function with 5 as an argument. The factorial function is a built-in Python function optimized for accurate and quick factorial calculations.

Method 4: Using Reduce and Lambda Function

This method uses the functools.reduce function along with a lambda function to calculate the factorial. The reduce function applies a rolling computation to sequential pairs of values in a range, in this case multiplying them.

Here’s an example:

from functools import reduce

factorial_lambda = lambda n: reduce(lambda x, y: x * y, range(1, n + 1))

Output: 120

The one-liner uses reduce function from the functools module to multiply all elements in the range from 1 to n. The lambda function inside reduce is a simple multiplier that takes two arguments and multiplies them.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using loop comprehension

A creative and less conventional way to calculate the factorial is to use list comprehension within a for loop. This method is not standard, but it shows the flexibility of Python in achieving the task in unique ways.

Here’s an example:

factorial_oneliner = lambda n: [y := 1] and [y := y * x for x in range(1, n + 1)][-1]

Output: 120

This snippet uses a lambda function to define factorial_oneliner. It initializes a list with a single item y being set to 1 and then executes a list comprehension that calculates the successive multiplications, ultimately returning the last element of the list which represents the factorial of n.


  • Method 1: Iterative Approach. Strengths: Simple and intuitive. Weaknesses: Potential inefficiency for large numbers.
  • Method 2: Recursive Approach. Strengths: Elegant and concise for mathematical computations. Weaknesses: Risk of hitting recursion depth limits for large n.
  • Method 3: Using The Math Library. Strengths: Extremely efficient and reliable. Weaknesses: Less educational for learning how factorials work programmatically.
  • Method 4: Using Reduce and Lambda Function. Strengths: Functional programming style, compact code. Weaknesses: Can be difficult to understand for beginners.
  • Bonus Method 5: Using loop comprehension. Strengths: Demonstrates Python’s flexibility. Weaknesses: Unconventional and possibly less readable for some.