Syntactic constraints. Python is a syntactically simple language with fairly strong constraints on what can and can't be done without "messing things up" (both visually and with regards to the language parser). There's no obvious way to structure this information so that people new to the concept will think, "Oh yeah, I know what you're doing." The best that seems possible is to keep new users from creating a wildly incorrect mental model of what the syntax means.
When we instantiate a SimpleMessage and then pass it to the various decorators, we now get new behavior. Moreover, since both the concrete component and the concrete decorators all implement / descend from IMessage, they are interchangeable as far as the program is concerned, meaning that we can loop over them together. Further, rather than having to create a new ExcitedAndQuizzicalMessageDecorator class, we were able to achieve the same effect by double wrapping a SimpleMessage object (first in an ExcitedMessageDecorator and then in a QuizzicalMessageDecorator). Finally, note that despite having been passed into various decorators, our simpleMsg object remains unchanged at the end of the program.
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Modifying classes in this fashion is also possible, though the benefits are not as immediately apparent. Almost certainly, anything which could be done with class decorators could be done using metaclasses, but using metaclasses is sufficiently obscure that there is some attraction to having an easier way to make simple modifications to classes. For Python 2.4, only function/method decorators are being added.
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Using functions with "action-at-a-distance" through sys.settraceback may be okay for an obscure feature that can't be had any other way yet doesn't merit changes to the language, but that's not the situation for decorators. The widely held view here is that decorators need to be added as a syntactic feature to avoid the problems with the postfix notation used in 2.2 and 2.3. Decorators are slated to be an important new language feature and their design needs to be forward-looking, not constrained by what can be implemented in 2.3.
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