Annotated At Runtime

PEP 593 is a bit vague on how you’re supposed to actually consume arguments to Annotated; here is my proposal.

pythonprogrammingmypy Thursday December 07, 2023

PEP 0593 added the ability to add arbitrary user-defined metadata to type annotations in Python.

At type-check time, such annotations are… inert. They don’t do anything. Annotated[int, X] just means int to the type-checker, regardless of the value of X. So the entire purpose of Annotated is to provide a run-time API to consume metadata, which integrates with the type checker syntactically, but does not otherwise disturb it.

Yet, the documentation for this central purpose seems, while not exactly absent, oddly incomplete.

The PEP itself simply says:

A tool or library encountering an Annotated type can scan through the annotations to determine if they are of interest (e.g., using isinstance()).

But it’s not clear where “the annotations” are, given that the PEP’s entire “consuming annotations” section does not even mention the __metadata__ attribute where the annotation’s arguments go, which was only even added to CPython’s documentation. Its list of examples just show the repr() of the relevant type.

There’s also a bit of an open question of what, exactly, we are supposed to isinstance()-ing here. If we want to find arguments to Annotated, presumably we need to be able to detect if an annotation is an Annotated. But isinstance(Annotated[int, "hello"], Annotated) is both False at runtime, and also a type-checking error, that looks like this:

1
Argument 2 to "isinstance" has incompatible type "<typing special form>"; expected "_ClassInfo"

The actual type of these objects, typing._AnnotatedAlias, does not seem to have a publicly available or documented alias, so that seems like the wrong route too.

Now, it certainly works to escape-hatch your way out of all of this with an Any, build some version-specific special-case hacks to dig around in the relevant namespaces, access __metadata__ and call it a day. But this solution is … unsatisfying.

What are you looking for?

Upon encountering these quirks, it is understandable to want to simply ask the question “is this annotation that I’m looking at an Annotated?” and to be frustrated that it seems so obscure to straightforwardly get an answer to that question without disabling all type-checking in your meta-programming code.

However, I think that this is a slight misframing of the problem. Code that is inspecting parameters for an annotation is going to do something with that annotation, which means that it must necessarily be looking for a specific set of annotations. Therefore the thing we want to pass to isinstance is not some obscure part of the annotations’ internals, but the actual interesting annotation type from your framework or application.

When consuming an Annotated parameter, there are 3 things you probably want to know:

  1. What was the parameter itself? (type: The type you passed in.)
  2. What was the name of the annotated object (i.e.: the parameter name, the attribute name) being passed the parameter? (type: str)
  3. What was the actual type being annotated? (type: type)

And the things that we have are the type of the Annotated we’re querying for, and the object with annotations we are interrogating. So that gives us this function signature:

1
2
3
4
5
def annotated_by(
    annotated: object,
    kind: type[T],
) -> Iterable[tuple[str, T, type]]:
    ...

To extract this information, all we need are get_args and get_type_hints; no need for __metadata__ or get_origin or any other metaprogramming. Here’s a recipe:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
def annotated_by(
    annotated: object,
    kind: type[T],
) -> Iterable[tuple[str, T, type]]:
    for k, v in get_type_hints(annotated, include_extras=True).items():
        all_args = get_args(v)
        if not all_args:
            continue
        actual, *rest = all_args
        for arg in rest:
            if isinstance(arg, kind):
                yield k, arg, actual

It might seem a little odd to be blindly assuming that get_args(...)[0] will always be the relevant type, when that is not true of unions or generics. Note, however, that we are only yielding results when we have found the instance type in the argument list; our arbitrary user-defined instance isn’t valid as a type annotation argument in any other context. It can’t be part of a Union or a Generic, so we can rely on it to be an Annotated argument, and from there, we can make that assumption about the format of get_args(...).

This can give us back the annotations that we’re looking for in a handy format that’s easy to consume. Here’s a quick example of how you might use it:

 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8
 9
10
11
12
13
14
15
@dataclass
class AnAnnotation:
    name: str

def a_function(
    a: str,
    b: Annotated[int, AnAnnotation("b")],
    c: Annotated[float, AnAnnotation("c")],
) -> None:
    ...

print(list(annotated_by(a_function, AnAnnotation)))

# [('b', AnAnnotation(name='b'), <class 'int'>),
#  ('c', AnAnnotation(name='c'), <class 'float'>)]

Acknowledgments

Thank you to my patrons who are supporting my writing on this blog. If you like what you’ve read here and you’d like to read more of it, or you’d like to support my various open-source endeavors, you can support me on Patreon as well! I am also available for consulting work if you think your organization could benefit from expertise on topics like “how do I do Python metaprogramming, but, like, not super janky”.