Python Return Dictionary From Function

Do you need to create a function that returns a dictionary but you don’t know how? No worries, in sixty seconds, you’ll know! Go! 💨

A Python function can return any object such as a dictionary. To return a dictionary, first create the dict object within the function body, assign it to a variable your_dict, and return it to the caller of the function using the keyword operation “return your_dict“.

Basic Method to Create and Return Dict from Function

For example, the following code creates a function create_dict() that adds all numbers 0, 1, 2, …, 9 as dictionary keys to your_dict and the respective string representations as dictionary values, and returns the dict to the caller of the function:

def create_dict():
    ''' Function to return dict '''
    your_dict = {}
    for i in range(10):
        your_dict[i] = str(i)
    return your_dict

numbers = create_dict()
# {0: '0', 1: '1', 2: '2', 3: '3', 4: '4', 5: '5',
#  6: '6', 7: '7', 8: '8', 9: '9'}

Attention: Variable Scope!

Note that you store the resulting dictionary in the variable numbers. The local variable your_dict that you created within the function body is only visible within the function but not outside of it. So, if you try to access the name your_dict, Python will raise a NameError:

>>> print(your_dict)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "", line 9, in <module>
NameError: name 'your_dict' is not defined

To fix this, simply assign the return value of the function — a dictionary — to a new variable and access the content of this new variable:

>>> numbers = create_dict()
>>> print(numbers)
{0: '0', 1: '1', 2: '2', 3: '3', 4: '4', 5: '5', 6: '6', 7: '7', 8: '8', 9: '9'}

Return Dict From Function Using Dictionary Comprehension

There are many other ways to return a dictionary from a function in Python. For example, you can use a dictionary comprehension statement instead that is much more concise than the previous code—but creates the same dictionary of number mappings:

def create_dict():
    ''' Function to return dict '''
    return {i:str(i) for i in range(10)}

numbers = create_dict()
# {0: '0', 1: '1', 2: '2', 3: '3', 4: '4', 5: '5', 6: '6', 7: '7', 8: '8', 9: '9'}

With dictionary comprehension, you can dynamically create a dictionary by using the syntax {expression context}. You iterate over all elements in a given context “for i in range(10)“, and apply a certain expression to obtain the key:value mapping stored for the loop variable i. In our case, that’s the key:value mapping i:str(i) that maps an integer i to its string representation str(i).

In case you need to learn more about dictionary comprehension, feel free to check out this explainer video from Finxter:

Related Article: A Simple Introduction to Dictionary Comprehension in Python

Return Dictionary From Function Using Lambda

An interesting way to return a dict from a function is to use lambda functions.

A lambda function is an anonymous function in Python. It starts with the keyword lambda, followed by a comma-separated list of zero or more arguments, followed by the colon and the return expression. Use the dict() constructor or the curly braces { ... } to create and return a new dict object.

The following code snippet uses a combination of features.

  • The lambda function dynamically creates a function object and assigns it to the variable create_dict. You can then call the function like before with create_dict().
  • The generator expression creates a dictionary and returns it at the same time in a single line of code—it cannot get more concise than that.
create_dict = lambda : {i:str(i) for i in range(10)}

numbers = create_dict()
# {0: '0', 1: '1', 2: '2', 3: '3', 4: '4', 5: '5', 6: '6', 7: '7', 8: '8', 9: '9'}

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