5 Best Ways to Find Intersection in Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Finding the intersection of multiple sets in Python is a common task where the goal is to identify common elements across these sets. For example, given two sets set1 = {1, 2, 3} and set2 = {2, 3, 4}, the desired output is the set {2, 3}, which contains the elements common to both input sets.

Method 1: Using the intersection() method

The intersection() method in Python returns a new set containing elements that are common to all specified sets. It is part of the set class in Python and can be used with any number of sets.

Here’s an example:

set1 = {1, 2, 3, 4}
set2 = {3, 4, 5, 6}
set3 = {4, 5, 6, 7}

result = set1.intersection(set2, set3)

Output: {4}

This code snippet demonstrates how to use the intersection() method to find common elements among three sets, set1, set2, and set3. The result is a new set with the element 4, which is present in all the input sets.

Method 2: The & operator

The & operator in Python, when used between sets, acts as a set intersection operator, returning elements that are common to all sets it connects. This method is succinct and idiomatic for Python set operations.

Here’s an example:

set1 = {'apple', 'banana', 'cherry'}
set2 = {'google', 'microsoft', 'apple'}

result = set1 & set2

Output: {'apple'}

In this code, the & operator is used to find common elements in the sets set1 and set2. The result is the set containing the string 'apple', as it’s the only element present in both sets.

Method 3: Set Comprehension

Set comprehension in Python can be used to construct a new set based on the intersection logic by iterating over one set and checking for membership in the other set(s).

Here’s an example:

set1 = {1, 2, 3, 5}
set2 = {1, 4, 5, 6}

intersection = {x for x in set1 if x in set2}

Output: {1, 5}

This snippet uses a set comprehension to generate a new set containing only the items from set1 that are also in set2. The code is flexibly adjustable for more complex intersection conditions.

Method 4: Using filter() function

Python’s filter() function can be utilized to filter out non-intersecting elements by passing a lambda function that checks for membership in other sets.

Here’s an example:

set1 = {42, 'a', 2, 'b'}
set2 = {'b', 42, 'c'}

intersection = set(filter(lambda x: x in set2, set1))

Output: {42, 'b'}

This code snippet uses filter() to iterate over set1 and keep only the elements that are also members of set2. The filter function is effective for more complex filtering logic but can be less readable than other methods.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Intersection with reduce() and lambda

The reduce() function from Python’s functools module can be combined with a lambda function to iteratively apply intersection across a list of sets.

Here’s an example:

from functools import reduce

sets = [{1, 2}, {2, 3}, {2, 4}]
intersection = reduce(lambda a, b: a & b, sets)

Output: {2}

This snippet shows the power of reduce() in conjunction with the & operator to quickly find the intersection across a sequence of sets. This one-liner is concise but requires familiarity with functional programming concepts.


  • Method 1: Using intersection() method. Strengths: Built-in, clear, and readable. Weaknesses: Slightly verbose for multiple set operations.
  • Method 2: The & operator. Strengths: Pythonic and concise. Weaknesses: May not be immediately clear to beginners.
  • Method 3: Set Comprehension. Strengths: Highly readable and easily customizable. Weaknesses: Can be slower for large sets due to the iteration in Python.
  • Method 4: Using filter() function. Strengths: Good for complex logic. Weaknesses: Less readable and can be harder to debug.
  • Bonus Method 5: Intersection with reduce() and lambda. Strengths: Compact and highly functional. Weaknesses: Can be obscure and less intuitive for those unfamiliar with functional programming.