Python List – Extracting First n Elements with Slicing and itertools Module

Python is a popular programming language with popular features in the list of data structures. In this guide, you will learn how to extract the first n elements from a list in Python.

For example, we may want the first 3 or first 5 items for processing from a list. In this article, I will show you how to easily extract the first n elements from a Python list using slicing and the itertools module.

We will discuss various techniques to achieve the extraction process with sample examples.


What is a List in Python?

A list is one of the basic data type, which is built-in in Python and used to store a collection od items in a specific order. These lists are kept enclosed inside the brackets [] for example:

numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
fruits = ['apple', 'banana', 'mango']

Lists are mutable, meaning we can modify, add or remove elements from a list after it has been created. These may contain any of the mix pf data type elements like integers, strings, objects etc.

mixed_list = [1, 'Hello', 3.4, True]

We can easily access the list element using its index which starts from 0 for the first item. In lists following methods we can use for various operations:

append() to add elements

extend() to join two lists

insert() to insert an item at the given index

remove() to remove by value

pop() to remove by index

sort() to sort a list in place


How to Get First n Elements of a List?

Now, let’s discuss the methods to extract the first n elements from a Python list. There are following two methods to get the First elements of lists:

1. Using Slicing to Extract First n Elements

2. Using itertools.islice()


1. Using Slicing to Extract First n Elements

Slicing is the simplest way to extract the first n elements from a list in Python. Slicing as the name sounds, allows us to slice out a portion of the list or any other iterable by specifying the start and end indices. It is a more compact and readable form to fetch specified elements from a list and works with both simple and complex structures in lists.

Syntax of Slicing

The basic syntax of slicing a list in Python is as follows:

new_list = original_list[start:end]


  • new_list: The extracted portion of the original list.
  • original_list: The list we want to slice.
  • start: The index of the first element which we want to be included.
  • end: The index immediately after the last element which we want to include.


Example of Slicing

To get the first n elements, we specify 0 as the start index and n as the end index. Here is an example:

fruits = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'orange', 'kiwi', 'melon']

# Extract first 3 elements
first_3 = fruits[:3] 

# ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry']


We can also omit the start index, as it defaults to 0:

first_5 = fruits[:5]

# ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'orange', 'kiwi']

Some important points to note about slicing:

  • Slicing creates a new list with the sliced elements and the original list remains unchanged.
  • The start index is inclusive and the end index is exclusive.
  • It can work with any sequence type like strings, tuples, etc.


2. Using itertools.islice()

The itertools module provides useful tools for working with iterators and sequences in Python. It contains a function called islice() which allows us to extract elements from an iterable by using the index. This method can work with large datasets where memory efficiency is more crucial.


Syntax of islice

The syntax of using the islice function is as follows:

import itertools

new_iterator = itertools.islice(iterable, stop)


  • new_iterator: The extracted elements.
  • iterable: The iterable which can be a list, string, etc.
  • stop: The index up to which we want to extract elements.


Example of islice

To extract the first n elements from a list, we can pass the list to islice() along with n as the stopping point:

from itertools import islice

fruits = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'orange', 'kiwi', 'melon']

first_3 = list(islice(fruits, 3))

# ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry']

The islice() function returns an iterator. So we convert it to a list to get the sliced elements.

The main advantages of using itertools.islice() are:

  • It does not create a new list like slicing. It simply returns an iterator over the sliced elements which is more memory efficient if we are working with large lists.
  • It works on any type pf iterable, not just sequence types. So it can handle generators, files, custom iterables, etc.
  • We can specify a start index instead of starting always at 0.

For example:

from itertools import islice

fruits = ['apple', 'banana', 'cherry', 'orange', 'kiwi', 'melon'] 

# Extract from index 3, stopping before index 6
print(list(islice(fruits, 3, 6)))  
# ['cherry', 'orange', 'kiwi']

So itertools.islice() provides more flexibility in extracting slices from iterables.


Comparing Slicing and itertools

Here is a quick comparison between both slicing and the itertools modules. They are both efficient ways to extract elements from a list, but they have different use cases and benefits:

Aspect Slicing itertools.islice
Memory Efficiency Copies the sliced portion of the list Returns an iterator, memory-efficient
Versatility Works with various data types and lists Can be used with any iterable
Readability Intuitive syntax Requires importing the itertools module
Performance Generally fast Better suited for large datasets



In this guide, we discussed two important methods slicing and using the itertools module’s islice function for easily extracting the first n elements from a Python list. By using the practical example we discussed how to use them to fetch the sliced values and also compared their advantages and use-cases. Hope this will be helpful…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *