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HPR - HPR1138: Programming languages 2 - Python

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Programming languages 2 - Getting started with Python

1 Characteristics

2 Installation

3 Syntax and semantics

4 Interpreter

5 Standard library

6 Documentation and tutorials

Python is a very interesting language in the sense that it covers a

very wide range of use cases.

It can be useful for simple scripting tasks, that is automating

repetitive tasks that you usually do by hand.

It can also be useful for text file processing, like parsing log

files or specific formats like XML.

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.

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).

You can it also as an extension language, since a Python

interpreter can be embedded in C/C++ programs.

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.

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.

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


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


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 pyhton 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


Internet Access

Dates and Times

Data Compression

Performance Measurement

Output Formatting

Working with Binary Data Record Layouts



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.

Go to this episode


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