The Python 3 range() object doesn't produce numbers immediately; it is a smart sequence object that produces numbers on demand. All it contains is your start, stop and step values, then as you iterate over the object the next integer is calculated each iteration.

The object also implements the object.__contains__ hook, and calculates if your number is part of its range. Calculating is a (near) constant time operation *. There is never a need to scan through all possible integers in the range.

From the range() object documentation:

The advantage of the range type over a regular list or tuple is that a range object will always take the same (small) amount of memory, no matter the size of the range it represents (as it only stores the start, stop and step values, calculating individual items and subranges as needed).

So at a minimum, your range() object would do:

class my_range(object):
    def __init__(self, start, stop=None, step=1):
        if stop is None:
            start, stop = 0, start
        self.start, self.stop, self.step = start, stop, step
        if step < 0:
            lo, hi, step = stop, start, -step
            lo, hi = start, stop
        self.length = 0 if lo > hi else ((hi - lo - 1) // step) + 1

    def __iter__(self):
        current = self.start
        if self.step < 0:
            while current > self.stop:
                yield current
                current += self.step
            while current < self.stop:
                yield current
                current += self.step

    def __len__(self):
        return self.length

    def __getitem__(self, i):
        if i < 0:
            i += self.length
        if 0 <= i < self.length:
            return self.start + i * self.step
        raise IndexError('Index out of range: {}'.format(i))

    def __contains__(self, num):
        if self.step < 0:
            if not (self.stop < num <= self.start):
                return False
            if not (self.start <= num < self.stop):
                return False
        return (num - self.start) % self.step == 0

This is still missing several things that a real range() supports (such as the .index() or .count() methods, hashing, equality testing, or slicing), but should give you an idea.

I also simplified the __contains__ implementation to only focus on integer tests; if you give a real range() object a non-integer value (including subclasses of int), a slow scan is initiated to see if there is a match, just as if you use a containment test against a list of all the contained values. This was done to continue to support other numeric types that just happen to support equality testing with integers but are not expected to support integer arithmetic as well. See the original Python issue that implemented the containment test.

  • Near constant time because Python integers are unbounded and so math operations also grow in time as N grows, making this a O(log N) operation. Since it’s all executed in optimised C code and Python stores integer values in 30-bit chunks, you’d run out of memory before you saw any performance impact due to the size of the integers involved here.