Call by Reference

Finally, it is important to remember that any instantiated objects used as arguments to a method are passed in a call-by-reference manner. So, any modifications to those objects made inside of a method will also be reflected in the code that called the method.

Here’s a quick example:

class Reference:
  def __init__(self):
    self.x = 0
from Reference import *

class Main:
  def main():
    some_ref = Reference()
    some_ref.x = 10
    print(some_ref.x)  # 15
  def modify(a_ref):
    a_ref.x = 15
if __name__ == "__main__":

As we can see, when we call the modify() function and pass a Reference object as an argument, we can modify the attributes inside of that object and see those changes back in the main() method after modify() is called.

Of course, if we reassign the argument’s variable to a new instance of Reference inside of the modify() function, then we won’t see those changes in main() because we are dealing with a newly created object.

Call by Object Reference

In many examples, Python exhibits behavior very similar to “call-by-reference” as discussed in other programming languages. However, because Python allows both mutable and immutable objects, there are some subtle differences in how it handles objects stored in variables compared to languages like Java and C++.

One developer has proposed the term call-by-object-reference to help clarify the difference. You can read more on his blog .

For now, we’ll continue to use the term call-by-reference since it has a standard usage across many programming languages. When in doubt, it is always a good idea to write a simple test case and make sure the program you are developing works as expected.

So, we’ll need to keep this in mind as we use objects as parameters and returned values in any methods we create in our programs.