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Why are there separate tuple and list data types?

Lists and tuples, while similar in many respects, are generally used in fundamentally different ways. Tuples can be thought of as being similar to Pascal records or C structs; they’re small collections of related data which may be of different types which are operated on as a group. For example, a Cartesian coordinate is appropriately represented as a tuple of two or three numbers.

Lists, on the other hand, are more like arrays in other languages. They tend to hold a varying number of objects all of which have the same type and which are operated on one-by-one. For example, os.listdir returns a list of strings representing the files in a given directory. Functions which operate on this output would generally not break if you added another file or two to the directory, or sorted the list alphabetically before passing it on.

Tuples are immutable, meaning that once a tuple has been created, you can’t replace any of its elements with a new value. Lists are mutable, meaning that you can always change a list’s elements. Only immutable elements can be used as dictionary keys, and hence only tuples and not lists can be used as keys.

CATEGORY: general