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Python decorators are executed at the time the function is defined

November 3, 2021

When writing a CLI tool I’ve come to re-use a generic decorator that sets the correct subscription in Azure:

def set_az_context(func):
    """Set Azure CLI context to match given subscription."""

    is_logged_in, result = get_az_context()
    if not is_logged_in:

    def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
        subscription = kwargs["subscription"].value

        if result["name"] != subscription:
            logger.debug(f"Current subscription not set to: '{subscription}'")
            logger.info(f"Changing subscription to: '{subscription}'")
            exit_code, _, logs = az(f"account set --subscription {subscription}")
            if exit_code != 0:
                raise typer.Exit(exit_code)
        return func(*args, **kwargs)

    return wrapper

It works just fine and multiple sub-commands rely on this decorator. Since the main command imports all of the sub-commands with every execution, the decorator is actually ran every time a sub-command’s (i.e. Python module’s) main function (i.e. the decorated function) is imported.

This was news to me as I’ve read up a lot on decorators, but none of the sources has explicitly stated this, despite the proof being in the PEP 318 pudding:

Some of the advantages of this form are that the decorators live outside the method body — they are obviously executed at the time the function is defined.

There’s no follow-up to the “obviously” part, which is leaving me at bit perplexed.

While the code above seems to sufficiently guard against constantly re-running a potentially expensive operation, it still kind of goes against the expectation that I had, obviously falsely, that it was only applied during run-time.

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