python – What is a callable?

python – What is a callable?

A callable is anything that can be called.

The built-in callable (PyCallable_Check in objects.c) checks if the argument is either:

  • an instance of a class with a __call__ method or
  • is of a type that has a non null tp_call (c struct) member which indicates callability otherwise (such as in functions, methods etc.)

The method named __call__ is (according to the documentation)

Called when the instance is called as a function


class Foo:
  def __call__(self):
    print called

foo_instance = Foo()
foo_instance() #this is calling the __call__ method

From Pythons sources object.c:

/* Test whether an object can be called */

PyCallable_Check(PyObject *x)
    if (x == NULL)
        return 0;
    if (PyInstance_Check(x)) {
        PyObject *call = PyObject_GetAttrString(x, __call__);
        if (call == NULL) {
            return 0;
        /* Could test recursively but dont, for fear of endless
           recursion if some joker sets self.__call__ = self */
        return 1;
    else {
        return x->ob_type->tp_call != NULL;

It says:

  1. If an object is an instance of some class then it is callable iff it has __call__ attribute.
  2. Else the object x is callable iff x->ob_type->tp_call != NULL

Desciption of tp_call field:

ternaryfunc tp_call An optional
pointer to a function that implements
calling the object. This should be
NULL if the object is not callable.
The signature is the same as for
PyObject_Call(). This field is
inherited by subtypes.

You can always use built-in callable function to determine whether given object is callable or not; or better yet just call it and catch TypeError later. callable is removed in Python 3.0 and 3.1, use callable = lambda o: hasattr(o, __call__) or isinstance(o, collections.Callable).

Example, a simplistic cache implementation:

class Cached:
    def __init__(self, function):
        self.function = function
        self.cache = {}

    def __call__(self, *args):
        try: return self.cache[args]
        except KeyError:
            ret = self.cache[args] = self.function(*args)
            return ret    


def ack(x, y):
    return ack(x-1, ack(x, y-1)) if x*y else (x + y + 1) 

Example from standard library, file, definition of built-in exit() and quit() functions:

class Quitter(object):
    def __init__(self, name): = name
    def __repr__(self):
        return Use %s() or %s to exit % (, eof)
    def __call__(self, code=None):
        # Shells like IDLE catch the SystemExit, but listen when their
        # stdin wrapper is closed.
        raise SystemExit(code)
__builtin__.quit = Quitter(quit)
__builtin__.exit = Quitter(exit)

python – What is a callable?

A callable is an object allows you to use round parenthesis ( ) and eventually pass some parameters, just like functions.

Every time you define a function python creates a callable object.
In example, you could define the function func in these ways (its the same):

class a(object):
    def __call__(self, *args):
        print Hello

func = a()

# or ... 
def func(*args):
    print Hello

You could use this method instead of methods like doit or run, I think its just more clear to see obj() than obj.doit()

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