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What is a decorator in Python

Understanding Decorators in Python

When you're starting out in the programming world, you might feel like you're wandering through a forest of new terms and concepts. Today, we're going to explore a fascinating part of Python's landscape: decorators. Imagine you're an artist, and you've just painted a beautiful canvas. But you realize that every painting you do could use a nice frame to enhance its appearance. Instead of adding the frame to each painting manually, you create a tool that automatically adds a frame to any painting you make. In Python, this tool is akin to a decorator – it's a way to add functionality to your functions.

The Basics of a Function

Before we dive into decorators, let's quickly review what a function is in Python. A function is a block of code that performs a specific task. You can think of it as a mini-program within your larger program. Here's a simple example:

def greet(name):
    return f"Hello, {name}!"

When you call greet("Alice"), it will return "Hello, Alice!". Simple, right?

What Is a Decorator?

Now, let's introduce the concept of a decorator. A decorator is a function that takes another function and extends its behavior without explicitly modifying it. It's like our framing tool for paintings – it adds something extra to the original piece without changing the painting itself.

Imagine you want to keep track of how many times your greet function is called. Instead of adding counting logic to the greet function itself, you can create a decorator that does that for you.

Your First Decorator

Let's create a simple decorator that counts the number of times a function is called:

def counter(func):
    def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
        wrapper.count += 1
        print(f"Function has been called {wrapper.count} times")
        return func(*args, **kwargs)
    wrapper.count = 0
    return wrapper

def greet(name):
    return f"Hello, {name}!"

# Now, every time you call greet, it will tell you how many times it's been called.

What's happening here? The counter function is our decorator. It takes another function func as an argument and defines a new function wrapper inside it. This wrapper function does some additional work (counting calls) and then calls the original func function. The @counter syntax is a "syntactic sugar" in Python that applies the decorator to the greet function.

Under the Hood of Decorators

To understand decorators, you need to grasp two key concepts in Python: functions are objects, and functions can be passed around as arguments. This is why we can define a function inside another function and then return it – just like any other object.

When we use the @counter syntax, Python essentially does this:

greet = counter(greet)

The counter decorator returns the wrapper function, which replaces the original greet function. But inside the wrapper, we still call the original greet using func(*args, **kwargs), which passes all received arguments to the original function.

Decorators with Arguments

Sometimes, you might want your decorator to take arguments, just like any other function. Let's say you want to create a decorator that repeats the output of a function a given number of times. Here's how you could do that:

def repeater(times):
    def decorator(func):
        def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
            for _ in range(times):
                value = func(*args, **kwargs)
            return value
        return wrapper
    return decorator

def greet(name):
    print(f"Hello, {name}!")


This might look a bit more complex, but it's just another level of functions. The repeater takes the times argument and returns a decorator. That decorator then takes a function and returns the wrapper, which repeats the function call times times.

Practical Uses of Decorators

Decorators are not just theoretical; they have many practical applications. One common use is timing a function to see how long it runs, which can be useful for optimizing code.

import time

def timer(func):
    def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
        start_time = time.time()
        result = func(*args, **kwargs)
        end_time = time.time()
        print(f"Function took {end_time - start_time} seconds to complete.")
        return result
    return wrapper

def long_running_function():
    time.sleep(2)  # Simulates a long-running process


Here, the timer decorator measures the time before and after calling the function and prints out the difference.

Intuition and Analogies

To really grasp decorators, it can help to think of them in terms of everyday analogies. Imagine you're at a sandwich shop. You order a basic sandwich, but you have the option to add extras like avocado or bacon. These extras are like decorators – they add something to the base item without fundamentally changing what it is. You still have a sandwich, but it's enhanced with additional toppings.


Decorators in Python are powerful tools that allow you to modify the behavior of functions in a clean, readable way. They can seem complex at first glance, but once you understand the basic principles, they're as easy to use as adding avocado to your sandwich. Remember, decorators are just functions that take functions and return enhanced versions of them. With decorators, you can write more modular and maintainable code, keeping your base functions simple and layering additional behavior as needed. As you continue your programming journey, decorators will be one of the many tools in your toolkit that make your code more Pythonic – elegant, expressive, and efficient. So, go ahead and add that extra zest to your functions with decorators, and watch your code transform from good to great!