When (and Why) Was Python `__new__()` Introduced?

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When (and why) was the Python __new__() function introduced?

There are three steps in creating an instance of a class, e.g. MyClass():

  • MyClass.__call__() is called. This method must be defined in the metaclass of MyClass.
  • MyClass.__new__() is called (by __call__). Defined on MyClass itself. This creates the instance.
  • MyClass.__init__() is called (also by __call__). This initializes the instance.

Creation of the instance can be influenced either by overloading __call__ or __new__. There usually is little reason to overload __call__ instead of __new__ (e.g. Using the __call__ method of a metaclass instead of __new__?).

We have some old code (still running strong!) where __call__ is overloaded. The reason given was that __new__ was not available at the time. So I tried to learn more about the history of both Python and our code, but I could not figure out when __new__ was introduced.

__new__ appears in the documentation for Python 2.4 and not in those for Python 2.3, but it does not appear in the whathsnew of any of the Python 2 versions. The first commit that introduced __new__ (Merge of descr-branch back into trunk.) that I could find is from 2001, but the 'back into trunk' message is an indication that there was something before. PEP 252 (Making Types Look More Like Classes) and PEP 253 (Subtyping Built-in Types) from a few months earlier seem to be relevant.

Learning more about the introduction of __new__ would teach us more about why Python is the way it is.

Edit for clarification:

It seems that class.__new__ duplicates functionality that is already provided by metaclass.__call__. It seems un-Pythonic to add a method only to replicate existing functionality in a better way.

__new__ is one of the few class methods that you get out of the box (i.e. with cls as first argument), thereby introducing complexity that wasn't there before. If the class is the first argument of a function, then it can be argued that the function should be a normal method of the metaclass. But that method did already exist: __call__(). I feel like I'm missing something.

There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.



The blog post The Inside Story on New-Style Classes (from the aptly named written by Guido van Rossum (Python's BDFL) provides some good information regarding this subject.

Some relevant quotes:

New-style classes introduced a new class method __new__() that lets the class author customize how new class instances are created. By overriding __new__() a class author can implement patterns like the Singleton Pattern, return a previously created instance (e.g., from a free list), or to return an instance of a different class (e.g., a subclass). However, the use of __new__ has other important applications. For example, in the pickle module, __new__ is used to create instances when unserializing objects. In this case, instances are created, but the __init__ method is not invoked.

Another use of __new__ is to help with the subclassing of immutable types. By the nature of their immutability, these kinds of objects can not be initialized through a standard __init__() method. Instead, any kind of special initialization must be performed as the object is created; for instance, if the class wanted to modify the value being stored in the immutable object, the __new__ method can do this by passing the modified value to the base class __new__ method.

You can read the entire post for more information on this subject.

Another post about New-style Classes which was written along with the above quoted post has some additional information.


In response to OP's edit and the quote from the Zen of Python, I would say this.
Zen of Python was not written by the creator of the language but by Tim Peters and was published only in August 19, 2004. We have to take into account the fact that __new__ appears only in the documentation of Python 2.4 (which was released on November 30, 2004), and this particular guideline (or aphorism) did not even exist publicly when __new__ was introduced into the language.

Even if such a document of guidelines existed informally before, I do not think that the author(s) intended them to be misinterpreted as a design document for an entire language and ecosystem.