Nov 15, 2023 3 mins

Shortening Python Dictionaries to a Specific Length

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Python dictionaries allow developers to store and manipulate key-value pairs efficiently. However, there are situations where it becomes necessary to truncate or shorten a dictionary to a specific length. This article explores various techniques and best practices for achieving this task, providing insights into the strengths and considerations of each approach.

Truncate by Slicing

One straightforward method to shorten a Python dictionary is by using slicing. In this approach, a subset of key-value pairs is extracted based on the desired length. The truncate_dict function below demonstrates this technique:

def truncate_dict(input_dict, length):
    return dict(list(input_dict.items())[:length])

This function takes an input dictionary and a desired length, returning a new dictionary containing only the first N key-value pairs. The slicing operation efficiently extracts the required subset, making it a concise and readable solution.

Pop Items from Dictionary

Another approach involves iteratively using the popitem() method to remove items from the dictionary until the desired length is achieved. The truncate_dict_pop function demonstrates this method:

def truncate_dict_pop(input_dict, length):
    for _ in range(len(input_dict) - length):
    return input_dict

Here, the function removes items from the dictionary until it reaches the specified length. While this method modifies the original dictionary, it can be useful when the goal is to limit the dictionary in-place.

Dictionary Comprehension

A third approach utilizes dictionary comprehension to create a new dictionary containing the first N key-value pairs. The truncate_dict_comprehension function showcases this technique:

def truncate_dict_comprehension(input_dict, length):
    return {k: input_dict[k] for k in list(input_dict)[:length]}

This concise one-liner efficiently constructs a new dictionary by iterating over the keys of the original dictionary. While this method creates a fresh dictionary, it maintains the original intact.

Considerations and Best Practices

Choosing the right method depends on the specific requirements and constraints of your application. Here are a few factors to keep in mind and recommended guidelines:

  1. Efficiency and Memory Usage:
    - Slicing (dict.items()[:length]) and dictionary comprehension ({k: input_dict[k] for k in list(input_dict)[:length]}) methods create new dictionaries. If memory usage is a concern, consider using these methods on smaller dictionaries or in situations where memory overhead is acceptable.
  • The popitem() method modifies the original dictionary in-place, making it memory-efficient. However, be cautious when using this method if maintaining the original dictionary is crucial.
  1. Maintaining Order:
    - Keep in mind that dictionary ordering is guaranteed from Python 3.7 onwards. If the order of key-value pairs is essential, ensure that your Python version supports ordered dictionaries or consider using an OrderedDict if working with an older version.

  2. Handling Edge Cases:
    - Check for edge cases, such as dictionaries with lengths smaller than the specified truncation length. Ensure that your code gracefully handles these scenarios to prevent unexpected behavior.

  3. Testing and Profiling:
    - Before implementing any method, test its performance on datasets representative of your use case. Utilize profiling tools to pinpoint bottlenecks and optimize as needed.


Shortening a Python dictionary to a specific length is a common task with multiple viable approaches. The choice between these methods depends on factors such as memory usage, in-place modification requirements, and the importance of maintaining the original order of key-value pairs.

Whether you opt for slicing, popitem(), or dictionary comprehension, understanding the implications of each method empowers you to make informed decisions based on the specific needs of your application. By incorporating these techniques into your Python programming toolkit, you can efficiently manage and manipulate dictionaries with confidence.


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