Check truthiness in Python

Today I just want to share with you how to check truth values in Python. Truthiness is the boolean meaning of a value, and sometimes checking it can save you a lot of hassle.

In Python veritas

Each Python built-in type has a truthiness value:

Type True when False when
NoneType never always
bool True False
str non-empty empty
int not 0 0
tuple non-empty empty
list non-empty empty
dict non-empty empty
set non-empty empty
custom object bool(obj) bool(obj)
is True is False

Checking truthiness

You can explicitly check the truth value of a value using the bool built-in function:

bool(4)           # True
bool('Hello')     # True
boole([1, 2, 3])  # True

So this - funny fact - means that bool('False') isTrue`: in Python there are no such things as Java's

Boolean b1 = Boolean.valueOf("false");       # b1 is false
boolean b2 = Boolean.parseBoolean("false");  # b2 is false

Truthiness vs nonethiness

In example, if you have a list and you want to check if it's empty or not, you can do:

my_list = []
if len(my_list) == 0:
  print 'Empty'

but also - more concisely and more Pythonically:

my_list = []
if not my_list:
  print 'Empty'

this is because the truth value of an empty list is False. But, be aware that if you do:

my_list = None
if not my_list:
  print 'Empty'

you will get the same result ("Empty" being printed)! This is because the truth value of None is False as well. So this raises a flag: checks for truthiness and nonethiness overlap, and therefore must be differentiated on a syntactical base. I usually do this by explicitly checking for nonethiness:

my_list = None
if my_list is None:  # explicit check for nonethiness
  print 'None'
if not my_list:      # check for emptiness
  print 'Empty'

Defining truthiness for your class

You can define the behaviour of your own objects when processed by the bool built-in. This is done by redefining the __bool__ hook

class MyClass():
        return False

o = MyClass()
bool(o)    # False, always

What happens if you don't redefine the hook? The Python documentation says:


Called to implement truth value testing and the built-in operation bool(); should return False or True. When this method is not defined, __len__() is called, if it is defined, and the object is considered true if its result is nonzero. If a class defines neither __len__() nor __bool__(), all its instances are considered true.


For a complete reference on Python datamodel's truthiness check out the official documentation.