Tips for handling unions

This sections contains information for advanced union handling.

As mentioned in the structuring section, cattrs is able to handle simple unions of attrs classes automatically. More complex cases require converter customization (since there are many ways of handling unions).

Unstructuring unions with extra metadata

Let’s assume a simple scenario of two classes, ClassA and ClassB, both of which have no distinct fields and so cannot be used automatically with cattrs.

class ClassA:
    a_string: str

class ClassB:
    a_string: str

A naive approach to unstructuring either of these would yield identical dictionaries, and not enough information to restructure the classes.

>>> converter.unstructure(ClassA("test"))
{'a_string': 'test'}  # Is this ClassA or ClassB? Who knows!

What we can do is ensure some extra information is present in the unstructured data, and then use that information to help structure later.

First, we register an unstructure hook for the Union[ClassA, ClassB] type.

>>> converter.register_unstructure_hook(
...     Union[ClassA, ClassB],
...     lambda o: {"_type": type(o).__name__,  **converter.unstructure(o)}
... )
>>> converter.unstructure(ClassA("test"), unstructure_as=Union[ClassA, ClassB])
{'_type': 'ClassA', 'a_string': 'test'}

Note that when unstructuring, we had to provide the unstructure_as parameter or cattrs would have just applied the usual unstructuring rules to ClassA, instead of our special union hook.

Now that the unstructured data contains some information, we can create a structuring hook to put it to use:

>>> converter.register_structure_hook(
...     Union[ClassA, ClassB],
...     lambda o, _: converter.structure(o, ClassA if o["_type"] == "ClassA" else ClassB)
... )
>>> converter.structure({"_type": "ClassA", "a_string": "test"}, Union[ClassA, ClassB])

In the future, cattrs will gain additional tools to make union handling even easier and automate generating these hooks.