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Python Return Value: How to Effortlessly Use and Fix Return Values in Python


The Python return Statement: Usage and Best Practices

Getting Started With Python Functions

Most programming languages allow you to assign a name to a code block that performs a concrete computation. These named code blocks can be reused quickly because you can use their name to call them from different places in your code. Programmers call these named code blocks subroutines, routines, procedures, or functions depending on the language they are working with.

In Python, a function is defined using the def keyword followed by a function name and a pair of parentheses. These parentheses can contain input parameters or arguments, which are values that can be passed to the function for it to work with. After the parentheses, a colon is placed, indicating the start of the function block. All the code that belongs to the function is indented.

Here’s an example of a simple Python function:

def greet():
print("Hello, world!")

In the example above, greet is the name of the function and print("Hello, world!") is the code that will be executed when the function is called.

To call a function in Python, simply write its name followed by parentheses:

greet() # Output: Hello, world!

When calling a function, you can pass arguments inside the parentheses. These arguments can be used by the function to perform specific actions or calculations. For example:

def greet(name):
print(f"Hello, {name}!")
greet("Alice") # Output: Hello, Alice!
greet("Bob") # Output: Hello, Bob!

In this example, the greet function takes a single argument called name, which is then used to personalize the greeting message.

Understanding the Python return Statement

In addition to performing actions and calculations, functions can also return values back to the caller. The return statement is used to specify the value or values that the function will return.

Explicit return Statements

An explicit return statement allows you to define exactly what value should be returned by the function. This can be any valid Python expression or a variable. Here’s an example:

def add(a, b):
return a + b
result = add(3, 5)
print(result) # Output: 8

In this example, the add function takes two arguments a and b and returns their sum. The return statement return a + b specifies that the sum of a and b should be returned.

Implicit return Statements

In Python, a function can also have an implicit return statement. This means that the function will return None if no explicit return statement is encountered. Here’s an example:

def greet(name):
print(f"Hello, {name}!")
result = greet("Alice")
print(result) # Output: None

In this example, the greet function does not have an explicit return statement. As a result, calling the function returns None.

Returning vs Printing

It’s important to note the difference between returning a value from a function and printing a value within a function. When a function returns a value, it can be stored in a variable and used for further computation.

def multiply(a, b):
return a * b
result = multiply(3, 5)
print(result) # Output: 15

In this example, the multiply function returns the product of a and b. This value is then stored in the result variable and printed.

On the other hand, when a value is printed within a function, it is immediately displayed on the console but cannot be used outside of the function.

def print_product(a, b):
product = a * b
print_product(3, 5) # Output: 15

In this example, the print_product function calculates the product of a and b and prints it. However, the printed value cannot be assigned to a variable or used for further computation.

Returning Multiple Values

In Python, a function can also return multiple values by separating them with commas. The values can be of any type and can be stored in separate variables when calling the function. Here’s an example:

def divide(a, b):
quotient = a // b
remainder = a % b
return quotient, remainder
result1, result2 = divide(10, 3)
print(result1, result2) # Output: 3 1

In this example, the divide function calculates the quotient and remainder of a divided by b. The function returns both values, which are then assigned to the variables result1 and result2 respectively.

Using the Python return Statement: Best Practices

When working with the return statement, there are some best practices that can help you write cleaner and more efficient code.

Returning None Explicitly

If a function does not have a meaningful value to return, it’s a good practice to return None explicitly. This makes it clear to the caller that the function does not have a specific return value.

def do_something():
# perform some action here
return None

Remembering the Return Value

When calling a function that returns a value, it’s important to store the returned value in a variable or use it immediately. Forgetting to do so can lead to bugs or unexpected behavior in your code.

def calculate_sum(a, b):
return a + b
calculate_sum(3, 5) # The return value is not stored or used

In this example, the calculate_sum function returns the sum of a and b. However, the returned value is not stored or used, which makes the function call unnecessary.

Avoiding Complex Expressions

It’s generally recommended to keep the logic inside the return statement as simple as possible. Complex expressions can make the code harder to read and understand. If the logic becomes too complex, consider breaking it down into smaller steps or using helper functions.

# Avoid complex expressions
def calculate_product(a, b):
return a * b + 2 * (a + b)
# Use helper functions or break down the logic
def calculate_product(a, b):
sum = a + b
double_sum = 2 * sum
product = a * b
return product + double_sum

In this example, the first version of the calculate_product function uses a complex expression to calculate the result. The second version breaks down the expression into smaller steps, which makes the code more readable and easier to understand.

Returning Values vs Modifying Globals

In general, it’s considered a better practice to return a value from a function instead of modifying global variables. Modifying global variables can lead to unexpected side effects and make the code harder to maintain and debug.

# Returning a value
def calculate_sum(a, b):
return a + b
result = calculate_sum(3, 5)
# Modifying global variables
sum = 0
def calculate_sum(a, b):
global sum
sum = a + b
calculate_sum(3, 5)
result = sum

In the first example, the calculate_sum function returns the sum of a and b, which is then assigned to the result variable. In the second example, the function modifies a global variable sum instead of returning a value. The value of sum is then assigned to the result variable. Although both examples achieve the same result, returning a value is generally considered to be a better practice.

Using return With Conditionals

The return statement can be used in combination with conditional statements to control the flow of the function. Depending on the conditions, different values can be returned.

def is_even(n):
if n % 2 == 0:
return True
return False

In this example, the is_even function checks if the given number n is even. If n is divisible by 2, the function returns True. Otherwise, it returns False.

Returning True or False

In many cases, functions that perform tests or checks can simply return True or False without any additional information. This can make the code more concise and easier to read.

def is_even(n):
return n % 2 == 0

In this example, the is_even function returns True if the given number n is even and False otherwise. The expression n % 2 == 0 evaluates to either True or False, so it can be returned directly.

Short-Circuiting Loops

In some situations, you may need to return a value from within a loop without completing all iterations. This can be done using the return statement together with conditional statements and control flow statements such as break or continue.

def find_first_even(numbers):
for number in numbers:
if number % 2 == 0:
return number
return None

In this example, the find_first_even function loops through the numbers list and returns the first even number it encounters. If no even number is found, it returns None.

Recognizing Dead Code

When working with complex functions, it’s important to make sure that all possible code paths lead to a return statement. This ensures that every function call has a clear result and helps avoid potential bugs or undefined behavior.

def is_even(n):
if n % 2 == 0:
return True
# This code will never be executed
print("This is a dead code")

In this example, the print statement is considered dead code because it will never be executed. This can be easily overlooked and lead to confusion or errors in the code.

Returning Multiple Named-Objects

The return statement can also be used to return multiple named objects from a function. This can make the code more self-explanatory and easier to understand.

def divide(a, b):
quotient = a // b
remainder = a % b
return {
"quotient": quotient,
"remainder": remainder
result = divide(10, 3)
print(result["quotient"], result["remainder"]) # Output: 3 1

In this example, the divide function returns a dictionary with two named objects: quotient and remainder. The caller can then access these objects using their respective keys.

Returning Functions: Closures

In Python, a function can also return another function as its result. This is known as a closure. The returned function has access to the variables and scope of the enclosing function, even after the enclosing function has finished executing.

def outer_function(message):
def inner_function():
return inner_function
greet = outer_function("Hello, world!")
greet() # Output: Hello, world!

In this example, the outer_function returns the inner_function. The inner_function has access to the message variable even after the outer_function has finished executing. The greet variable is assigned the returned function, and when called, it prints the message.

Returning functions can be useful in cases where you need to dynamically generate functions or customize their behavior based on certain parameters.

Taking and Returning Functions: Decorators

In Python, functions can take other functions as arguments and return functions as their results. This feature is called higher-order functions and is often used in the form of decorators.

A decorator is a special type of higher-order function that takes a function and returns a modified or enhanced version of that function. Decorators can be used to add functionality to functions or to modify their behavior.

Here’s an example of a simple decorator that logs the name of a function when it is called:

def log_decorator(func):
def wrapper():
print(f"Calling function: {func.__name__}")
return func()
return wrapper
def greet():
print("Hello, world!")
greet() # Output: Calling function: greet Hello, world!

In this example, the log_decorator takes a function func as its argument and returns a new function wrapper. The wrapper function logs the name of the original function and then calls it. The @log_decorator syntax is used to apply the decorator to the greet function, so whenever greet is called, it will be wrapped by the log_decorator.

Decorators are a powerful tool in Python that can be used to modify functions in a clean and elegant way. They are widely used in frameworks like Flask and Django to add functionality to routes and views.

Returning User-Defined Objects: The Factory Pattern

In addition to returning basic data types like numbers or strings, functions can also return user-defined objects. This can be useful when you want to create and return objects with specific attributes or behaviors.

One common design pattern that uses function return values to create objects is the factory pattern. A factory function is a function that returns an instance of a class or a subclass.

Here’s an example of a factory function that creates and returns instances of a Person class:

class Person:
def __init__(self, name, age): = name
self.age = age
def create_person(name, age):
return Person(name, age)
person = create_person("Alice", 25)
print(, person.age) # Output: Alice 25

In this example, the create_person function creates and returns a Person object with the given name and age. The returned object can then be assigned to the person variable and used.

The factory pattern is a flexible way to create objects without exposing the details of their creation logic. It can also be used to create objects of different subclasses or to implement object pooling or caching.

Using return in try … finally Blocks

The return statement can also be used within a tryfinally block to specify a value that will be returned even if an exception is raised. The finally block is executed no matter what, so it provides a way to perform cleanup operations before returning.

def divide(a, b):
result = a / b
return result
print("Cleanup operations")
result1 = divide(10, 2) # Output: Cleanup operations
result2 = divide(10, 0) # Output: Cleanup operations

In this example, the divide function performs division and returns the result. The finally block is used to print a message indicating that cleanup operations are being performed. Even if an exception is raised, the finally block will still be executed.

Using return in Generator Functions

In Python, a generator function is a special type of function that returns an iterable sequence of values. Generator functions use the yield keyword instead of return to specify the values that will be produced. Each yield statement returns a value and suspends the execution of the function until the next value is requested.

Here’s an example of a simple generator function that produces a sequence of numbers:

def generate_numbers(n):
for i in range(n):
yield i
numbers = generate_numbers(5)
for number in numbers:
print(number) # Output: 0 1 2 3 4

In this example, the generate_numbers function uses a for loop to generate a sequence of numbers from 0 to n-1. Each number is yielded one at a time, allowing the caller to iterate over the sequence.

Generator functions are useful when you need to generate a large sequence of values without storing them all in memory at once. They can be used in for loops or with other iterable functions like sum, min, or max.


The Python return statement is a powerful tool that allows functions to send values back to the caller. By using the return statement effectively, you can write cleaner and more efficient code. Remember to consider the best practices when using return, such as explicitly returning None, remembering the return value, avoiding complex expressions, and using return with conditionals. With these guidelines in mind, you’ll be able to write Python functions that are more readable, maintainable, and robust.