Enum in Python

by Alex
Enum in Python

Most modern programming languages support working with enumerations and Python is no exception. The programmer can do without them. However, like many other tools, enums in Python make it easier to write and edit code.

What is enum in Python

Enum is a Python module, which literally translates to enumeration, thus reflecting the full essence of the module. Enums are a set of bounded, immutable values that can be assigned to a variable. For example:

  • red = 1
  • orange = 2
  • yellow = 3


The enum module is part of the standard Python 3 library, so you don’t need to install it separately, just connect the desired class using the import command:

from enum import enum

If for some reason the Python interpreter can not find the enum module, install it using

pip install enum


Enums are created using class syntax. This makes them easier to read and write. Example:

from enum import Enum
class Sequences(Enum): # We create the class Sequences, the parent class 
    list = 1 # of which is an Enum class
    tuple = 2
    dict = 3
print(Sequences.list) # print the values

As a result, we get the following:


The element values can be represented by any types (str, int, and others). The structure of the enumeration is as follows:

  • The Sequences class is an enumeration.
  • The attributes Sequences.list, Sequences.tuple and others are enum elements, which are functional constants.
  • The elements have names and values, the name of the Sequences.list element is “list” and the value is “3”. We refer to them with name and value, as when we output to the console in the example code shown above.

The programmer may not prescribe element values, instead he may use the auto() function, which automatically assigns a value of “1” to an element and one more to each subsequent one:

from enum import Enum, auto
class Sequences(Enum):
    list = auto() # 1
    tuple = auto() # 1 + 1 = 2
    dict = auto() # 2 + 1 = 3


Iteration Support

Enumerations are iterable objects, which means that all elements can be iterated in a loop. Example:

from enum import Enum
class Num(Enum):
    one = 1
    two = 2
    three = 3
for n in Num:

This will print the result to the console:


Human-understandable semantics

One of the reasons why programmers prefer enumerations to arrays is because they are understandable.

The type of an enum element is an enum

This means that an enum is a type for all of its elements. That is, if a programmer creates an animals enumeration with the elements: cat, dog, bird. Then:

<enum 'animals'>
<enum 'animals'>
<enum 'animals'>


Enum items are hashable. That is, the programmer can use them in dictionaries and sets. Recall that hash allows you to create high-performance structures, using hash functions to reduce the amount of data.

from enum import Enum
class Color(Enum):
    BLUE = 1
    BLACK = 2
    BROWN = 3
apples = {}
apples[Color.BLUE] = 'blue'
apples[Color.BLACK] = 'black'


{<Color.BLUE: 1>: 'blue', <Color.BLACK: 2>: 'black'}

Creating methods

The programmer can output an enumeration item entirely, either by displaying its name or by displaying its value. To simplify this, you can create a method on your own in the enumeration. Example:

from enum import Enum
class Students(Enum):
    IGOR = 1
    SERGEY = 2
    VASYA = 3
    def info(self):
        print("Name is %s, value is %s"%(self.name, self.value))

Name - IGOR, value - 1

Thus the output code is halved. Instead of writing Students.item.name and Students.item.value every time, the programmer just calls the info() method. Note that this is just a small script with the enumeration of three items, in a large program this method can greatly reduce the code.

Common errors

When working with enumerations a programmer can make the following mistakes:

  • You cannot use multiple elements with the same name, otherwise the interpreter will raise an exception.
  • If you use the @unique decorator, the interpreter will raise an error if multiple enum elements have the same value.
  • Enum elements do not support “>” or “<” comparison operations.

The programmer can create a subclass from an enumeration only if no elements are defined in it, otherwise the interpreter throws an exception.

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