A Concise Guide to Python 3
© David Matuszek, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017


Python is open source. It is available from http://www.python.org/download/ and is, at the time of this writing, at version 3.6.2. It comes with a nice (if very basic) IDE, called idle.

This document describes some of the more commonly useful Python functions and methods. There are very many additional functions and methods, and some of the ones described herein take additional, optional parameters to make them even more useful. See The Python Standard Library documentation for more detailed information.

Formatting is significant

All programming languages have some way of grouping statements, usually braces, {...}, or begin...end. It is then the programmer's responsibility to adjust the indentation to match. Python dispenses with the braces and uses the indentation itself to indicate grouping. For example,
if 2 + 2 == 4:
print('Arithmetic works!')
print('...as expected.')
print('Somebody goofed up somewhere!')

The first line in a program may not be indented. Lines in the same block must be indented the same amount (4 spaces is standard). Tab characters may be used, but are discouraged, and may not be legal in a future version of Python. Any good editor will have an option to replace tabs with spaces as you type.

Each simple statement is written on a separate line. If a line contains an unclosed '(', '[', or '{', it is continued on the next line; otherwise, a line may be continued by ending it with a backslash, '\'. You can put multiple statements on a line if you separate them with semicolons, but this is discouraged.


Coding conventions

(Major points summarized from PEP 8.)

Naming conventions

Documentation string conventions

(Major points summarized from PEP 257.)


Identifiers begin with a letter or underscore and may contain letters, underscores, and digits; case is significant. Unicode characters may be used.


Methods and functions

Functions defined within a class are called methods. Function calls are written as functionName(arguments), for example, abs(-5). Method calls are written as object.methodName(arguments), for example, 'abc'.upper(). All values are objects, and may have methods.

Built-in object types


An integer consists of a sequence of digits. It is decimal (base 10) unless the first digit is zero.

A floating point ("real") number includes a decimal point, an exponent suffix, or both. The exponent consists of an optional sign, the letter e or E, and one or more digits.

An imaginary number consists of a decimal integer or a floating point number, suffixed by j (not i) or J. A complex number consists of the sum or difference of an integer or floating-point number and an imaginary number.

A leading sign, if present, is not counted as part of the number, but as an operator.

Functions on numbers

Here are some of the functions available if you import the named library (math or random):


A string is a sequence of zero or more characters, enclosed in single quotes ('...'), double quotes ("..."), triple single quotes ('''...'''), or triple double quotes ("""..."""). It can be treated as a sequence of characters.

A string may contain "escaped" characters; the most important ones are \' (single quote), \" (double quote), \\ (backslash), \t (tab), and \n (newline).

A raw string is a string prefixed with r or R. In a raw string the backslash does not escape characters; all characters stand for themselves.

Triply-quoted strings may extend across several lines, and include the line breaks as part of the string, unless the line break is preceded by a backslash ('\'). As in a raw string, the backslash does not escape characters; all characters stand for themselves.

A formatted string, or f-string, is prefixed with f or F. In an f-string, any expression surrounded by braces, {}, is replaced by its value. To put a brace character in an f-string, double it.

In Python 3, unlike Python 2, code and strings are in Unicode. Unicode characters may be entered directly, or by escape sequences  \uXXXX, where the Xs are four hexadecimal digits, or by \N{name}, where the name is a standard Unicode name for a character.

A string occurring by itself (not part of some other statement) as the first line within a function, method, or class, is a documentation string, and is stored in the variable named __doc__.

Functions on strings

String methods

Boolean values

Python has the values True and False, but in addition, all numeric zero values are false, and all nonzero values are true. In a numeric expression, True has the value 1 and False has the value 0. The special value None indicates "no value," and is treated as false.

Python has the boolean operators not, and, and or, with the usual meanings. The and and or operators are short-circuit; that is, the second operand is evaluated only if necessary.


A string is an immutable sequence of characters (see above).

A tuple is an immutable sequence of values, not necessarily all the same type, enclosed in parentheses, (). To distinguish a one-tuple from a parenthesized expression, put a comma after the single value, for example, ("just one",).

A list is a mutable sequence of values, not necessarily all the same type, enclosed in brackets, [].

A range is an iterator that produces a sequence of integers. range(stop) produces the integers 0..stop-1; range(start, stop) produces the integers start...stop-1; and range(start, stop, step) produces the integers start, start+step,... up to but not including stop. The step may be negative.

For any sequence or range seq:

For any sequence (but not ranges), all the above subsequences are assignable; that is, they may occur on the lefthand side of the assignment operator, =.

All ranges and sequence types are iterable. Iterating through a string produces single characters.

Other iterable data types

The following types are iterable but are not sequences, as the order in which values are stored is determined by their hash codes (dictionary: hash code of the keys), not lexicographically, or by the order in which they are inserted by the programmer.

A set is one or more values, not necessarily all the same type, enclosed in braces, {}. The empty set cannot be written as {}; use set() instead.

A dictionary is zero or more key:value pairs, enclosed in braces, {}. Keys must be immutable.

Functions on iterable data types

List comprehensions

A list comprehension is a way of computing a list from a sequence. There are two general forms:

If expressions

An if expression is not a statement; it is an expression that results in one of two values. The form is:

Converting between types


Arithmetic Comparisons
+ addition (also unary plus) < less than
- subtraction (also unary minus) <= less than or equal to
* multiplication == equal to
/ division
(integer division in Python 2.5)
!= not equal to (deprecated)
// integer division <> not equal to
% modulus >= greater than or equal to
** exponentiation
(right associative)
> greater than

Comparisons can be chained, for example, 0 < x <= 100.

Boolean (Logical) Bit operations
not negation ~ bitwise complement
and conjunction (short circuit) & bitwise and
or disjunction (short circuit) | bitwise or
is identity ^ bitwise exclusive or
is not non-identity << left shift
in membership >> right shift
not in non-membership


Statement type Examples Comments
assert expression1
assert expression1, expression2
assert 2 + 2 == 4
assert x > 0, "Bad value"
Raises an AssertException if expression1 is false, and has no effect otherwise. The optional expression2 is used as a message by the AssertException.
variable = expression count = 0 Assignment.
var1, ..., varN = val1, ..., valN name, age = 'Bill', 43 Multiple (simultaneous) assignment
variable op= expression count += 1 Augmented assignment. v op= e is equivalent to v = v op e, where the op may be any of + - * / ** << >> & | ^.
if expression:
elif expression:
if x > y:
   print("x is bigger")
elif y > x:
   print("y is bigger")
Multiple elifs may be used. Using elif instead of else/if saves a level of indentation, and makes parallel cases appear parallel rather than nested.
for variable in sequence:
for x in (5, 4, 3, 2, 1):
   print(x, end=' ')
   print("Blast off!")
The else: clause is done when the loop exits.
while expression:
while x < 1000:
   x *= 2
The optional else: clause is done when the loop exits.
break break Exits the immediately enclosing loop; the else part, if present, is skipped.
continue continue Starts the next iteration of the loop.
pass pass Does nothing. Occasionally needed due to the use of formatting rather than punctuation.
raise exception
raise exception(value)
raise ValueError Raises an exception. The value is any expression, used as a message in the exception. By itself in an except clause, raise by itself re-raises the same exception.
except expression as variable:
   average = sum / count
except ZeroDivisionError as e:
   print("divided by zero!")
   print("average = ", average)
The expression and variable are optional. The optional else clause, if present, is executed if no exception was raised.
except expression as variable:
   average = sum / count
except ZeroDivisionError:
   print("divided by zero!")
The expression and as variable are optional. The optional finally clause, if present, is executed whether or not an exception was raised.
del variable del x Deletes a variable.
exec expression exec "print('hello')" Executes a string, open file object, or code object.
import module
from module import names
from module import *
import module as name

from module import name1 as name2
from java import util Names may be changed when imported.
When using the *, imported methods don't need to be prefixed with the name of the source file.
global var1, ..., varN global max, min Any variable given a value within a function is local to that function unless declared global in the function.
return value
return result As in Java.
yield value yield n Returns the next result when next(iterator) is called.
class name:
class name (base1, ..., baseN):
class student (person):
    passing = True
Declares a class and tells what classes it extends.
def name (parameters):
   "Documentation string"
def sum (x, y):
   return x + y
Declares a function. The Documentation string tells the purpose of the function.


The simplest form of a named function is:

    def functionName(parameter1, ..., parameterN):
        """Optional but strongly recommended documentation string goes here."""
        # Statements, possibly including a return statement

In Python functions are values, and can be assigned to variables. For example, absval = abs makes absval a synonym for abs, and absval(-5) will return 5. As values, they may be passed as arguments to other functions, and returned as the result of other functions.

The form of an anonymous function is:

    lambda parameter1, ..., parameterN: expression

Parameters must be simple names, not expressions. The function can be called by giving its name and values for the parameters, for example, average(3.5, y). Parentheses are required, in both the function definition and the function call, even if the function does not take parameters.

Note: Parameters in the function definition are sometimes called "formal parameters"; values in the call to a function are called "actual parameters" or "arguments". Sometimes formal parameters are also called "arguments", though this is an incorrect usage.

Every function returns a value. Use statements of the form return value to specify the value to return. Omit the value, or simply "flow off" the end of the function, to return the special value None.

Parameters and arguments

With no additional syntax, arguments are matched to parameters by position.

Parameters in a function definition may be:

Arguments in a function call may be:


The scope of a name is the part of the program in which the name has meaning and can be used.

To simplify somewhat, Python has two scopes: local and global. Local variables are those defined within a function or method, and are available only within that function or method. Global variables are those available throughout the program. Local and global variables are in different namespaces, so the same name can be used both locally and globally, with different values (though this is confusing and should be avoided).

Terminology: To "read" a variable is to get the value it contains; to "write to" a variable is to change that value.

Python's rules are goofy somewhat unusual.

Input and output

Interactive I/O

input() or input(prompt) reads one line, as a string, from the user.

print(expr1, ..., exprN, sep=sepString, end=endString, file=outputFile) evaluates and prints the expressions, with sepString between them, and endString after the last expression, on outputFile. The keyword arguments sep, end, and file may be omitted, with the default values ' ' (a single space), '\n' (a newline), and stdout, respectively.

File I/O

To do file I/O you must (1) open the file, (2) use the file, and (3) close the file.

Text (default, non-binary) mode converts platform-specific line endings to the current platform. This will corrupt binary files. Text files, on the other hand, can be read and written as binary without harm.

Operating system commands

First, import os. Then,

Unit testing

Unit tests and test cases

A unit test is a test of the methods in a single class. A test case tests the response of a single method to a particular set of inputs. To do unit testing,

  1. import unittest
  2. import fileToBeTested or from fileToBeTested import *
  3. class NameOfTestClass(unittest.TestCase):
    1. Define def setUp(self) and def tearDown(self) if wanted.
    2. Provide one or more def testSomething(self) methods (names must begin with test).

setUp is called before each test case, and should initialize everything to a "clean" state.
tearDown is called after each test case, to remove artifacts (such as files) that may have been created.

If you use from file import * then you don't have to precede every function call with the name of the file it was imported from.

The following are some of the methods available in test methods:

Typically b and x are calls to the method being tested, while a is the expected result. The message is optional, and only used if there is some reason to provide additional information.

Arguments to a function are always evaluated before the function is called. Therefore, the assertRaises test must have the above special form, so that the call to the tested function can be delayed, then called from within the assertRaises method.

A common idiom is to put a call to the main function as the last line in the code file, for example, main(). This causes the main method to run immediately after the file is loaded. When doing unit testing, this is undesirable. Instead, replace that line with

    if __name__ == '__main__':
# or however you want the program to start

and put the following code at the end of the test file:

In this way, the program will be run if loaded from the program file, and the tests will be run if loaded from the test file.

For best results, the methods being tested should be single-purpose (not do a bunch of things) and should not do input or output.

Test suites

Unit tests can be combined into a test suite. If file testfoo.py contains the class TestFoo, and file testbar.py contains the class TestBar, the test suite can be written like this:

import unittest
import testfoo, testbar

def suite():
    suite = unittest.TestSuite()
    return suite

if __name__ == '__main__':
    test_suite = suite()
    runner = unittest.TextTestRunner()
    runner.run (test_suite)

Classes and methods

A class describes a new type of object, and bundles together the methods used for working with objects of that type. The syntax for defining a class is

class ClassName(NameOfParentClass):
    variable and method definitions

where NameOfParentClass is the name of the superclass (usually object).

To create an instance (object) of a class, use the name of the class as if it were a function name.

The class being defined inherits all the variables and methods of the parent class.

To allow parameterized creation of new objects, define a method named __init__ within the class. The first (required) parameter of this method is conventionally named self and refers to the object being created. To create an instance, do not call __init__; use the name of the class as if it were a function name, and supply values for all the parameters except self. To create instance variables in __init__ (or any other method), use self.name=value.

To call a method defined in an object (more properly called "sending a message to the object"), use the syntax object.method(arguments). To call a method from another method defined within the same object, use the syntax self.method(arguments).

To access a variable defined in an object from within the same object, use the syntax self.variable. To directly access a variable defined in a different object, it is legal to say object.variable, but this is frowned upon.

If you define a method __str__(self), this method will be called when the object is printed; therefore, it should return a humanly-readable string. It can also be called directly by str(object).

repr(x) returns a string representing the object x, as defined by its __repr__() method, if such a method exists. Where possible, the string is one that can be read by Python to reconstruct the object.

For comparing objects, you may define the methods __lt__(self, other), __le__(self, other), __eq__(self, other), __ne__(self, other), __ge__(self, other), __gt__(self, other), and these are used by the corresponding Python operators. There are no implied relationships among these methods.

GUI (Graphical User Interface) Programming

There are several GUI systems that can be used with Python. This section discusses Tkinter, which comes bundled with the standard Python distribution. Another system of interest is WxPython, because there are versions of Wx for various other programming languages (even Java).

GUI programs work differently than programs without a GUI. Instead of all code under control of a main method, the program creates a GUI, and thereafter everything that happens is a result of some interaction with the GUI. For example, the user clicks a button, and that causes certain code to be executed.

Start with

from tkinter import *
import tkinter.ttk

After that, your code should create a window,

top = Tkinter.Tk()
# Populate the window with widgets (see below)

And turn over execution to it:


There are three main tasks to be performed: (1) Create some widgets (buttons, text areas, etc.) , (2) Arrange the widgets in the window, and (3) Associate code with some of the widgets.

Creating widgets

There are 15 types of widgets in Tkinter, each with many options, indicated with option=value. This will cover only the most common types and options. For much more detail, TutorialsPoint is an excellent reference. (In the following, we assume that the window is called top.)

fr = Frame(parent, option, ...)
This is a container for widgets. The parent may be the top-level window (top) or another Frame. Some useful options are bg=color, the background color (as a color name or hex number) and bd=n, the border width in pixels.
but = Button(top, text=string, command=function)
Creates a button containing the string, which when clicked will call the function.
lab = Label(top, text=string)
Creates a label that can be displayed to, but not edited by, the user.
ent = Entry(top, width=n)
Creates a rectangle large enough to display approximately n characters, into which the user can type a single line of text. Any number of characters may be entered.
To retrieve the text, call ent.get().
txt = Text(top, width=num_characters, height=num_lines)
Creates a rectangle num_characters wide and num_lines high, into which the user can type multiple lines of text. Any number of lines may be entered.
To retrieve the text, call txt.get(1.0, END)
var = IntVar()
chk = Checkbutton(top, text=string, variable=var, command=function)
Creates a checkbox with the given text.
var.get() will return 1 if checked, 0 if not checked.

Putting widgets into the GUI

There are three methods for arranging widgets into the main window and into Frames. Only one of these methods should be used in any given window or Frame.

Just adds the widgets to the window or Frame, one after the other. Options are:
Adds the widgets into a grid. Options are:
Specifies exactly where to place each widget. Options are: