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hpr1138 :: Programming languages 2 - Python

An introduction to the Python language

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Hosted by garjola on 2012-12-12 is flagged as Explicit and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.
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Part of the series: Programming 101

A series focusing on concepts and the basics of programming

Programming languages 2 - Getting started with Python

Python is a very interesting language in the sense that it covers a very wide range of use cases.
  1. It can be useful for simple scripting tasks, that is automating repetitive tasks that you usually do by hand.
  2. It can also be useful for text file processing, like parsing log files or specific formats like XML.
  3. You can use use it as a glue language, that is a mix of system calls to command-line programs, like in scripting, but also by calling foreing language libraries which provide Python bindings.
  4. You can use Python as a first language in a Computer Science curriculum, since it is simple to learn and supports different programming paradigms (Object Oriented, Procedural, Functional).
  5. You can it also as an extension language, since a Python interpreter can be embedded in C/C++ programs.
  6. Python being a very rich language with a very rich standard library, you can use it to build very complex applications. There are many ways of using it to build complex Graphical User Interfaces, since many graphical libraries provide Python bindings (, GTK, etc.). Python also provides a default library for GUIs, which is called Tkinter and is based on Tcl/Tk.
  7. You can also use Python for web development, either by using the standard library utilities or by using one of the very popular web frameworks like Zope, Plone or Django.
  8. Finally, Python is also extensively used in scientific computing, since projects like SciPy, Numpy or Matplotlib provide a set of tools which allow Python to be as powerful as languages like Matlab or IDL with the advantage of being a full fledged language with a very rich standard library.

2 Installation

There are 2 current versions of Python: version 2 and version 3. Version 3 is not fully compatible with version 2, so if you are starting with Python, I think is is wise to go with version 3, but be aware that most existing applications and Open Source projects use version 2.

If you are using a GNU based system, chances are that Python is already installed in you system. Otherwise, it will be available in your distribution repositories. As far as I know, Python is also available on the Mac via the terminal. On widows, you will have to download a Python distribution from On this page you will also find links for downloading Python for Linux, MacOS, etc.

If you go to this site, you will notice that they mention alternative implementations of Python. The implementation I will be talking about here is the one done in C.

To install Python, you also can download the source code and compile it yourself.

3 Syntax and semantics

Have a look at this link

Python is intended to be a highly readable language. It is designed to have an uncluttered visual layout, frequently using English keywords where other languages use punctuation. Python requires less boilerplate than traditional manifestly typed structured languages such as C or Pascal, and has a smaller number of syntactic exceptions and special cases than either of these.

The simplicity of Python is demonstrated by its version of the classic "Hello world" program:

print("Hello world")


Python uses whitespace indentation, rather than curly braces or keywords, to delimit blocks; a feature also termed the off-side rule. An increase in indentation comes after certain statements; a decrease in indentation signifies the end of the current block.

Statements and control flow

Python's statements include (among others):

The if statement, which conditionally executes a block of code, along with else and elif (a contraction of else-if).

The for statement, which iterates over an iterable object, capturing each element to a local variable for use by the attached block.

The while statement, which executes a block of code as long as its condition is true.

The class statement, which executes a block of code and attaches its local namespace to a class, for use in object-oriented programming.

The def statement, which defines a function or method.

The import statement, which is used to import modules whose functions or variables can be used in the current program.

Each statement has its own semantics: for example, the def statement does not execute its block immediately, unlike most other statements.


Python expressions are similar to languages such as C and Java.

In Python, == compares by value, in contrast to Java, where it compares by reference. (Value comparisons in Java use the equals() method.) Python's is operator may be used to compare object identities (comparison by reference). Comparisons may be chained, for example a <= b <= c.

Python uses the words and, or, not for its boolean operators rather than the symbolic &&, ||, ! used in Java and C.

Conditional expressions in Python are written as x if c else y (different in order of operands from the ?: operator common to many other languages).


Methods on objects are functions attached to the object's class; the syntax instance.method(argument) is, for normal methods and functions, syntactic sugar for Class.method(instance, argument). Python methods have an explicit self parameter to access instance data, in contrast to the implicit self in some other object-oriented programming languages (for example, Java, C++ or Ruby).


Python uses duck typing and has typed objects but untyped variable names. Type constraints are not checked at compile time; rather, operations on an object may fail, signifying that the given object is not of a suitable type. Despite being dynamically typed, Python is strongly typed, forbidding operations that are not well-defined (for example, adding a number to a string) rather than silently attempting to make sense of them.

Python allows programmers to define their own types using classes, which are most often used for object-oriented programming. New instances of classes are constructed by calling the class (for example, SpamClass() or EggsClass()), and the classes themselves are instances of the metaclass type (itself an instance of itself), allowing metaprogramming and reflection.

4 Interpreter

The section 3 of the python tutorial (An informal introduction to Python) gives a very good overview of the use of the interactive interpreter.

Of course, if you are going to write long programs, you will want to save them to files which can then be passed to the interpreter for execution.

5 Standard library

Python has a very rich standard library, that is a set of modules which are part of the standard Python installation and which provide many interesting functions which in many other languages are only provided by 3rd party libraries :

  • Operating System Interface
  • Command Line Arguments
  • Error Output Redirection and Program Termination
  • String Pattern Matching
  • Mathematics
  • Internet Access
  • Dates and Times
  • Data Compression
  • Performance Measurement
  • Output Formatting
  • Working with Binary Data Record Layouts
  • Multi-threading
  • Logging
  • Decimal Floating Point Arithmetic

6 Documentation and tutorials

The main reference is the Python documentation page at . There you will find a very useful tutorial (this is the place to start), the standard library reference, and many other interesting information.


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Comment #1 posted on 2012-12-13T17:04:36Z by cobra2


What an awesome show. Thanks for the show notes and going in depth like that. I love it. Keep it up man.

Comment #2 posted on 2012-12-13T18:18:36Z by pokey


You just taught me more about python in 10 minutes than I was able to learn in a week when I tried it on my own. I may have to give it another go.

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