The truth about bool in Python

I was trying to modify ayrton so we could really have sh1-style file tests. In sh, they're defined as unary operators in the -X form2, where X is a letter. For instance, -f foo returns true (0 in sh-peak) if foo is some kind of file. In ayrton I defined them as functions you could use, but the names sucked a little. -f was called _f() and so on. Part of the reason is, I think, that both python-sh and ayrton already do some -/_ manipulations in executable names, and part because I thought that -True didn't make any sense.

A couple of days ago I came with the idea that I could symply call the function f() and (ab)use the fact that - is a unary operator. The only detail was to make sure that - didn't change the truthiness of bools. In fact, it doesn't, but this surprised me a little, although it shouldn't have:

In [^1]: -True
Out[^1]: -1

In [^2]: -False
Out[^2]: 0

In [^3]: if -True: print ('yes!')

In [^4]: if -False: print ('yes!')

You see, the bool type was introduced in Python-2.3 all the way back in 2003. Before that, the concept of true was represented by any 'true' object, and most of the time as the integer 1; false was mostly 0. In Python-2.2.1, True and False were added to the builtins, but only as other names for 1 and 0. According the that page and the PEP, bool is a subtype of int so you could still do arithmetic operations like True+1 (!!!), but I'm pretty sure deep down below the just wanted to be retro compatible.

I have to be honest, I don't like that, or the fact that applying - to bools convert them to ints, so I decided to subclass bool and implement __neg__() in such a way that it returns the original value. And that's when I got the real surprise:

In [^5]: class FalseBool (bool):
   ...:     pass
TypeError: type 'bool' is not an acceptable base type

Probably you didn't know (I didn't), but Python has such a thing as a 'final class' flag. It can only be used while defining classes in a C extension. It's a strange flag, because most of the classes have to declare it just to be subclassable; it's not even part of the default flags. Even more surprising, is that there are a lot of classes that are not subclassable: around 124 in Python-3.6, and only 84 that are subclassable.

So there you go. You learn something new every day. If you're curious, here's the final implementation of FalseBool:

class FalseBool:
    def __init__ (self, value):
        if not isinstance (value, bool):
            raise ValueError

        self.value= value

    def __bool__ (self):
        return self.value

    def __neg__ (self):
        return self.value

This will go in ayrton's next release, which I hope will be soon. I'm also working in implementing all of the different styles of expansion found in bash. I even seem to have found some bugs in it.

  1. I'm talking about the shell, not to confuse with python-sh

  2. Well, there are a couple of infix binary operands in the form -XY