Avoiding infinite loops in __getattribute__

The method __getattribute__ needs to be written carefully in order to avoid the infinite loop. For example:

class A:
    def __init__(self):
        self.x = 100

    def __getattribute__(self, x):
        return self.x

>>> a = A()
>>> a.x    # infinite looop
RuntimeError: maximum recursion depth exceeded while calling a Python object


class B:
    def __init__(self):
        self.x = 100

    def __getattribute__(self, x):
        return self.__dict__[x]

>>> b = B()
>>> b.x    # infinite looop
RuntimeError: maximum recursion depth exceeded while calling a Python object

Hence we need to write the method in this way:

class C:
    def __init__(self):
        self.x = 100

    def __getattribute__(self, x):
        # 1. error
        # AttributeError: type object 'object' has no attribute '__getattr__'
        # return object.__getattr__(self, x)
        
        # 2. works
        return object.__getattribute__(self, x)
        
        # 3. works too
        # return super().__getattribute__(x)

My question is why does object.__getattribute__ method work? From where does object get the __getattribute__ method? And if object does not have any __getattribute__, then we are just calling the same method on class C but via the super class. Why, then calling the method via super class does not result in an infinite loop?

Answer

You seem to be under the impression that your implementation of __getattribute__ is merely a hook, that if you provide it Python will call it, and otherwise the interpreter will do its normal magic directly.

That is not correct. When python looks up attributes on instances, __getattribute__ is the main entry for all attribute access, and object provides the default implementation. Your implementation is thus overriding the original, and if your implementation provides no alternative means of returning attributes it fails. You cannot use attribute access in that method, since all attribute access to the instance (self) is channelled again through type(self).__getattribute__(self, attr).

The best way around this is by calling the overridden original again. That’s where super(C, self).__getattribute__(attr) comes in; you are asking the next class in the class-resolution order to take care of the attribute access for you.

Alternatively, you can call the unbound object.__getattribute__() method directly. The C implementation of this method is the final stop for attribute access (it has direct access to __dict__ and is thus not bound to the same limitations).

Note that super() returns a proxy object that’ll look up whatever method can be found next in the method-resolution ordered base classes. If no such method exists, it’ll fail with an attribute error. It will never call the original method. Thus Foo.bar() looking up super(Foo, self).bar will either be a base-class implementation or an attribute error, never Foo.bar itself.

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