Factorial Function in Python

Exploring different approaches to calculating the factorial of a number is a great way to develop your algorithmic thinking skills.

The factorial of a non-negative integer n is the product of all positive integers less than or equal to n. It is denoted by n! and is defined as: n! = n * (n-1) * (n-2) * … * 2 * 1. For n = 0, the factorial is defined as: 0! = 1.


For ease and efficiency, you should probably use the built-in math library:

>>> import math
>>> math.factorial(10)

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Some Approaches to Calculating Factorials with Python

We’ll start by focus on non-recursive methods that do not rely on any external packages. Here are a few efficient ways to calculate factorials in Python using basic language features.

Iterative Method

This is a straightforward and efficient way to calculate factorials using a loop.

def factorial_iterative(n):
    result = 1
    for i in range(2, n + 1):
        result *= i
    return result

# Example usage:
print(factorial_iterative(5))  # Output: 120

Using Reduce

The reduce function from the functools module can be used to apply a function cumulatively to the items of a sequence.

from functools import reduce

def factorial_reduce(n):
    return reduce(lambda x, y: x * y, range(1, n + 1), 1)

# Example usage:
print(factorial_reduce(5))  # Output: 120

Using a Generator

Using a generator can make the code much more memory-efficient.

def factorial_generator(n):
    def generator():
        result = 1
        for i in range(1, n + 1):
            result *= i
            yield result
    return list(generator())[-1]

# Example usage:
print(factorial_generator(5))  # Output: 120

Using a While Loop

A while loop can also be used for the factorial calculation.

def factorial_while(n):
    result = 1
    while n > 1:
        result *= n
        n -= 1
    return result

# Example usage:
print(factorial_while(5))  # Output: 120

Using List Comprehension

List comprehension is usually used for creating lists, but here we can use it for calculating the factorial in a single line.

def factorial_list_comprehension(n):
    result = 1
    [result := result * i for i in range(1, n + 1)]
    return result

# Example usage:
print(factorial_list_comprehension(5))  # Output: 120

Recursive Method

The recursive method is straightforward but not the most efficient due to the overhead of recursive calls.

def factorial_recursive(n):
    if n == 0:
        return 1
        return n * factorial_recursive(n-1)

# Example usage:
print(factorial_recursive(5))  # Output: 120

Using math.factorial

Python’s standard library provides a highly optimized factorial function.

import math

# Example usage:
print(math.factorial(5))  # Output: 120

Using Memoization

Memoization stores the results of expensive function calls and reuses them when the same inputs occur again, thus reducing the number of calculations.

from functools import lru_cache

def factorial_memoized(n):
    if n == 0:
        return 1
        return n * factorial_memoized(n-1)

# Example usage:
print(factorial_memoized(5))  # Output: 120

Using Itertools for Big Integers

For very large numbers, the iterative method with itertools can be more efficient and handle big integers gracefully.

import itertools

def factorial_itertools(n):
    return list(itertools.accumulate(range(1, n + 1), lambda x, y: x * y))[-1]

# Example usage:
print(factorial_itertools(5))  # Output: 120

Using NumPy for Vectorized Computation

NumPy can be used for efficient computation, although it might be overkill for simple factorials.

import numpy as np

def factorial_numpy(n):
    return np.prod(np.arange(1, n + 1))

# Example usage:
print(factorial_numpy(5))  # Output: 120


This article has explored various methods for finding factorials with Python. They are of varying degrees of efficiency. If you just want a quick solution, use math.factorial(). However, if you want to develop your algorithmic thinking skill and Python knowledge, have a go at some of the other approaches. I recommend reading the description then trying for yourself, rather than just copying the solution.

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