I was told that using the cmp function can be very useful in code-golf. But unfortunately, Python 3 doesn't have a cmp function.

So what's the shortest equivalent of cmp that works in python 3?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You should clarify that you are looking for cmp or an alternative in the context of golfing. Otherwise, this might get closed as a general programming question very quickly. \$\endgroup\$ May 7, 2015 at 20:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MartinBüttner I think this is in context of the OP's golf advice question where an answer used cmp though the question asked for Python 3. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    May 7, 2015 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor I know it is, but others might not. \$\endgroup\$ May 7, 2015 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ If it is helpful to know, you can use cmp(a,b) in Python 2. \$\endgroup\$
    – mbomb007
    May 7, 2015 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


Python 3 does not have cmp. For golfing, you can do

11 chars


which loses 3 chars over cmp(a,b).

Amusingly, this is also an "official" workaround. The What's New in Python 3 page says "(If you really need the cmp() functionality, you could use the expression (a > b) - (a < b) as the equivalent for cmp(a, b).)"

  • 15
    \$\begingroup\$ beware precedence problems! the actual equivalent of cmp(a,b) is ((a > b) - (a < b)) \$\endgroup\$
    – Sparr
    May 7, 2015 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ if a or b are more complex expressions - say calls to functions with very long running times, then this is very bad for your running time. Worse, if a or b contains a call to a function with side-effects, this can even change the semantic of your program. \$\endgroup\$
    – Algoman
    May 9, 2018 at 10:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Algoman Oh noes, running time, the most important part of code-golfing /s. If you want to avoid running functions twice, just assign them to variables beforehand (which you're probably going to end up doing anyway to save on bytes) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jo King
    Oct 30, 2018 at 11:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm working on a transpiler - it reads an expression and is supposed to generate an expression out of it. That cmp in the original expression could be nested deeply. it would be very ugly and hard (if not impossible) to implement, if I were to generate the target-code like that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Algoman
    Oct 30, 2018 at 23:04
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Algoman So replace cmp(exp1,exp2) with (lambda a,b:(a>b)-(a<b))(exp1,exp2). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2018 at 18:24

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