Fix Maximum Recursion Depth Exceeded Error Python

The “maximum recursion depth exceeded” error in Python occurs when a function calls itself too many times, eventually exceeding the maximum depth limit of the call stack. While recursion is a powerful technique in programming, it can lead to this runtime error if not handled properly. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover what causes the recursion error, how to fix it, and best practices for using recursion successfully.

What Causes the Maximum Recursion Depth Exceeded Error?

Python limits the depth of the call stack to avoid infinite recursion, which would freeze up the interpreter. The default recursion limit is 1000, meaning a function can call itself up to 1000 times before hitting the limit. This limit prevents stack overflow errors from infinitely recursive calls.

Some common causes of exceeding the recursion depth include:

  • Recursive functions without base cases: Functions that call themselves recursively must have a base case that stops the recursion. Without it, they will keep calling until they hit the stack limit.
  • Infinite loops calling recursive functions: Loops that iterate indefinitely while also calling recursive functions on each loop will quickly exceed the limit.
  • Very deep recursive algorithms: Some complex algorithms require very deep recursion stacks, going well beyond 1000 calls. Machine learning models like decision trees often exhibit this behavior.
  • Accidental recursion: Calling the same function from within itself creates unintentional recursion that can lead to this error.

So in summary, the error occurs when recursive code does not terminate properly and creates a stack too deep for Python to handle. Let’s look at some ways to fix it.

Techniques to Fix the Maximum Recursion Depth Exceeded Error

1. Set a Base Case to Stop Recursion

The most common fix is to set a base case that stops the function from recursively calling itself. This base case gives the recursion a termination condition to avoid infinite loops.

def recursive_func(n):
   if n <= 0: # Base case
       # Recursive call

The base case here is checking if n is less than or equal to 0, in which case it just returns instead of calling itself again.

2. Increase the Recursion Limit

You can also increase the recursion limit to allow for deeper recursive calls:

import sys

This raises the limit to 1500, giving more headroom for recursive functions. However, this does not fix infinite recursion – it just delays the inevitable crash.

3. Refactor into an Iterative Solution

For recursions that cannot be easily fixed with a base case, try re-writing the function iteratively using loops instead of recursive calls. This avoids recursion completely.

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

This iterative factorial function calculates the factorial without recursion. Refactoring recursive code into iterative logic is often the best way to avoid limits on recursion depth.

4. Look for Accidental Recursion

Double check that your function is not calling itself accidentally, creating unintentional recursion. Make sure recursive calls are contained inside conditional blocks and not reached unexpectedly.

5. Use Memoization to Cache Results

For recursive functions that repeat the same logic over and over on the same inputs, memoization can be used to cache results and avoid re-computing the same thing repeatedly. Popular Python libraries like lru-cache make memoization simple.

Best Practices for Recursive Code in Python

Follow these guidelines to write clean, robust recursive functions that avoid stack overflows:

  • Always have a base case to terminate recursion. This is essential.
  • Refactor to iteration if recursion depth could be very large.
  • Use memoization to cache redundant recursive calls.
  • Double check for accidental recursion like calling the same function from within itself.
  • Increase the recursion limit cautiously for code you know has a finite maximum depth.
  • Track recursive depth and throw errors if you exceed a hardcoded limit you set.
  • Favor tail recursion if supported by your Python interpreter for better memory efficiency.

With the right approaches, recursion can elegantly solve complex problems. Just take care to avoid infinitely recursive logic causing a stack overflow. The techniques covered here will help you fix and avoid “maximum recursion depth exceeded” errors in Python.


The “maximum recursion depth exceeded” traceback indicates that a recursive function or loop is calling itself too many times without terminating. By setting a base case, refactoring to iteration, using memoization, increasing the limit carefully, and avoiding accidental recursion, you can eliminate this error and leverage recursion effectively. Mastering recursive programming while avoiding stack overflows takes practice, but helps unlock the full power and expressiveness of the Python language.

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