Skip to main content

Merging dicts using singledispatch

I am working on some code that reads config values from different sources. I would like to merge them in a way that values that are themselves dicts get the items from both sources, something like:

source_1 = {'foo': 10, 'options': {'a':1, 'b':1}
source_2 = {'foo': 20, 'options': {'a':2, 'c':3}

# merging source_1 and source_2 would give me:
{'foo': 20, 'options': {'a':2, 'b':1, 'c':3}

Notice how this is different from a simple dict.update() because options contains an item 'b'. Apart from that I would like list to be merged, that is merging [1, 2] and [3, 4] would result in [1 ,2, 3, 4].

I found some implementations but it seems that everybody has a different use-case for what "merge" should exactly do. So I decided to create a MergeDict that can be easily extended/configured.


The merge operation is specific depending on the type of the item. That makes a perfect opportunity to use singledispatch. Python 3.4 added support for single dispatch (see PEP 443). I am not using python 3.4 yet but there is also a package on pypi.

A single-dispatch is form of generic programming where you register different functions to be executed depending on the type of the first argument.

Here is a simple example:

from singledispatch import singledispatch

# the function to be executed by default gets a singledispatch decorator
def fun(arg):
    print("default: {}".format(arg))

# register alternate function when argument is an int
def _(arg):
    print("int: {}".format(arg))

# register alternate function when argument is a list
def _(arg):
    print("list: {}".format(" ".join(str(a) for a in arg)))

# default: hi

# int: 1

# list: 1 2 3


A MergeDict defines a merge() method. Each item is merged using the merge_value() function, by default it works the same as update() just replacing the value...

class MergeDict(dict):

    def merge(self, other):
        """merge other dict into self"""
        class Sentinel: pass
        for key, other_value in other.items():
            this_value = self.get(key, Sentinel)
            if this_value is Sentinel:
                self[key] = other_value
                self[key] = self.merge_value(this_value, other_value)

    def merge_value(this, other):
        """default merge operation, just replace the value"""
        return other

Applying singledispatch to class methods is a bit tricky, but ideally users would sub-class from MergeDict and define new merge() methods with a decorator similar to singledispatch.

The idea is to just annotate the methods but really register the dispatch only on object initialization.

class MergeDict(dict):

    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        super(MergeDict, self).__init__(*args, **kwargs)
        # register singlesingle dispatch methods
        self.merge_value = singledispatch(self.merge_value)
        for val in self.__class__.__dict__.values():
            _type = getattr(val, 'merge_dispatch', None)
            if _type:
                self.merge_value.register(_type, val)

    class dispatch:
        """decorator to mark methods as single dispatch functions."""
        def __init__(self, _type):
            self._type = _type
        def __call__(self, func):
            func.merge_dispatch = self._type
            return func

An example of a merge that sum up int values:

from mergedict import MergeDict

class SumDict(MergeDict):

    def merge_int(this, other):
        return this + other

a = SumDict({'a':2, 'b':3})
a.merge({'a':2, 'c':5})
# {'a':4, 'b':3, 'c':5}


Check mergedict on pypi.


Comments powered by Disqus