Which is Faster: List Comprehension or Map Function in Python?

Python’s creator Guido van Rossum doesn’t like the map() function because it can be easily replaced with list comprehension which is not only faster but also more readable and shorter.

Map() vs List Comprehension

Here’s an example:

xs = list(range(10))

list_1 = list(map(lambda x: x*x, xs))
list_2 = [x*x for x in xs]

print(list_1 == list_2)
# True

Both lists list_1 and list_2 contain the same data: a series of squared values [0, 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, 64, 81].

The code shows two ways to achieve the same result. Either you can use map(function, list) and convert the resulting map object to a list or you iterate over each item with a list comprehension. Both ways lead to the same result, thus the output is True.

So list comprehension is more readable and shorter. But which option is faster?

Speed Benchmark: Map Function vs List Comprehension

The Finxter email course member Wlad asked me the following excellent question:

“Which one is faster from the perspective of the computation? Btw: I like the second one more because it’s more explicit.”


Let’s test both commands against each other using Python’s convenient timeit package:

import timeit


xs = list(range(10))

exec_1 = 'list(map(lambda x: x*x, ' + str(xs) + '))'
exec_2 = '[x*x for x in ' + str(xs) + ']'

time_1 = timeit.timeit(exec_1, number=10000)
time_2 = timeit.timeit(exec_2, number=10000)

print("Latency (s) map function:\t" + str(time_1))
print("Latency (s) list comprehension:\t" + str(time_2))

'''
Latency (s) map function:	0.011982152000000024
Latency (s) list comprehension:	0.004821852999999987
'''

Try playing with the code yourself in our interactive Python shell:

We create two commands exec_1 and exec_2. The former is the map function statement from above code snippet. The latter is the list comprehension version of it. We execute both 10,000 times.

The output shows that the map function is 3 times slower than the list comprehension statement!

But what if we increase the number of elements involved (and, thus, the computational complexity for both operations)?

import timeit


xs = list(range(10000))

exec_1 = 'list(map(lambda x: x*x, ' + str(xs) + '))'
exec_2 = '[x*x for x in ' + str(xs) + ']'

time_1 = timeit.timeit(exec_1, number=10000)
time_2 = timeit.timeit(exec_2, number=10000)

print("Latency (s) map function:\t" + str(time_1))
print("Latency (s) list comprehension:\t" + str(time_2))

'''
Latency (s) map function:	8.007580283
Latency (s) list comprehension:	3.8910019489999996
'''

Although the relative difference between both decreased, the map function still takes twice as long as the list comprehension statement. The reason for the relative improvement of the map function is that the constant overhead of creating, managing, and calling the map() function decreases in importance considering the larger weight of the list xs‘s size with 10,000 elements.

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