Today a colleague posted the following code snippet:

actual = set(["foo", "bar"] + [<other strings here>])  
expected = set(["bar", "foo"] + [<other strings here])
if not actual == expected: 
    print(f"Unexpected: {actual - expected}")

They were facing the occassional error of Unexpected: set() and felt a bit lost.

After originally thinking about the ordering and edge cases that could affect it somehow to cause the match to be True but also reduce to zero, I came to look at the subtraction and realised that this would happen when when all elements of actual exist within expected, but expected also has additional values.

For example:

>>> actual = set(["bar", "foo"])
>>> expected = set(['foo', 'bar', 'car'])
>>> actual == expected
>>> actual - expected

Whereas if that was reversed, you get the additional value within actual, as it was never subtracted away:

>>> actual = set(['foo', 'bar', 'car'])
>>> expected = set(["bar", "foo"])
>>> actual == expected
>>> actual - expected

When working with sets, subtraction may not always give you what you think, and so methods have been provided for comparisons. In this case, python provides .difference() and .symmetric_difference():

symmetric_difference() would be fitting, as it will emit any item which is not common across both sets. In fact, this is essentially an XOR operation, and python does provide an operator for this - ^

And so, we could rewrite the comparison with the method:

>>> actual.symmetric_difference(expected)

or, using the operator:

>>> actual ^ expected

We’d then need to identify if the element was in actual or expected, but I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader.