Python Find Longest List in Dict of Lists

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Problem Formulation

πŸ’¬ Programming Challenge: Given a dictionary where the values are lists of varying sizes. Find and return the longest list!

Here’s an example:

d = {1: [1, 2, 3],
     2: [1, 2],
     3: [1],
     4: [1, 2, 3, 4]}
# Goal: [1, 2, 3, 4]

Also, you’ll learn how to solve a variant of this challenge.

πŸ’¬ Bonus challenge: Find only the key that is associated with the longest list in the dictionary.

Here’s an example:

d = {1: [1, 2, 3],
     2: [1, 2],
     3: [1],
     4: [1, 2, 3, 4]}
# Goal: 4

So without further ado, let’s get started!

Method 1: max(lst, key=len)

Use Python’s built-in max() function with a key argument to find the longest list from the dictionary values. Call max(d.values(), key=len) to return the longest list in d.values() using the built-in len() function to associate the weight of each list, so that the longest list will be the maximum.

Here’s an example:

d = {1: [1, 2, 3],
     2: [1, 2],
     3: [1],
     4: [1, 2, 3, 4]}

print(max(d.values(), key=len))
# [1, 2, 3, 4]

A beautiful one-liner solution, isn’t it? πŸ™‚ Let’s have a look at a slight variant to check the key of the longest list instead.

Method 2: len(max(lst, key=len))

To get the key mapping to the longest list value in a dictionary, use max(d, key=lambda x: len(d[x])).

Explanation: You set the key argument of max() to a lambda function that maps each dictionary key x to the length of the associated value obtained with len(d[x]). This way, you use the length of the mapped values as weights to determine the “maximum”, i.e., the longest list.

πŸ’‘ Note: When you call max(d) Python will automatically replace it with max(d.keys()), so it iterates over the keys of the dictionary.

Here’s an analogous example:

d = {1: [1, 2, 3],
     2: [1, 2],
     3: [1],
     4: [1, 2, 3, 4]}

print(max(d, key=lambda x: len(d[x])))
# 4

The key with longest list in the dictionary is 4.

πŸ‘‰ Recommended Tutorial: A Complete Guide to Python Dictionaries

Method 4: Longest List in Dict Values Using List Comprehension

You can also get the length of the longest list from the dictionary values by combining a generator expression or list comprehension with the max() function without key using the following expression: max(len(val) for val in d.values())

Like so:

d = {1: [1, 2, 3],
     2: [1, 2],
     3: [1],
     4: [1, 2, 3, 4]}

print(max(len(val) for val in d.values()))
# 4

Note that this returns the length of the longest list in the dict values, not the key or the list itself.

A good training effect can be obtained by studying the following tutorial on the topic—feel free to do so!

πŸ‘‰ Training: Understanding List Comprehension in Python

Method 4: Naive For Loop

A not so Pythonic but still fine approach is to iterate over all key-value pairs in a for loop, check their length using the len() function, and compare it against the currently longest list stored in a separate variable. After the termination of the loop, the variable contains the longest list.

Here’s a simple example:

d = {1: [1, 2, 3],
     2: [1, 2],
     3: [1],
     4: [1, 2, 3, 4]}

# Initialize variables with dummy values
k_max, v_max = -1, []
i = 0

for key,val in d.items():
    if len(val) > len(v_max) or i==0:
        k_max, v_max = key, val
    i += i

print("Longest key and value:", str(k_max) + ',' + str(v_max))
# Longest key and value: 4,[1, 2, 3, 4]

So many lines of code! πŸ˜… I hate it.

πŸ‘‰ Recommended Tutorial: Python Find Shortest List in Dict

Summary

You have learned about four ways to find the longest list and its length from a Python list of lists (nested list):

I hope you found the tutorial helpful. If you did, feel free to consider joining our community of likeminded coders—we do have lots of free training material!

πŸ‘‰ Recommended Tutorial: Python Find Longest List in List