Python

Python is a wonderful and powerful programming language that's easy to use (easy to read and write) and with Raspberry Pi lets you connect your project to the real world.

Python logo

Python syntax is very clean, with an emphasis on readability and uses standard English keywords. Start by opening IDLE from the desktop.

IDLE

The easiest introduction to Python is through IDLE, a Python development environment. Open IDLE from the Desktop or applications menu:

Python in the applications menu

IDLE gives you a REPL (Read-Evaluate-Print-Loop) which is a prompt you can enter Python commands in to. As it's a REPL you even get the output of commands printed to the screen without using print.

Note two versions of Python are available: Python 2 and Python 3. Python 3 is the newest version and is recommended, however Python 2 is available for legacy applications which do not support Python 3 yet. For the examples on this page you can use Python 2 or 3 (see Python 2 vs. Python 3).

You can use variables if you need to but you can even use it like a calculator. For example:

>>> 1 + 2
3
>>> name = "Sarah"
>>> "Hello " + name
'Hello Sarah'

IDLE also has syntax highlighting built in and some support for autocompletion. You can look back on the history of the commands you've entered in the REPL with Alt + P (previous) and Alt + N (next).

Basic Python usage

Hello world in Python:

print("Hello world")

Simple as that!

Indentation

Some languages use curly braces { and } to wrap around lines of code which belong together, and leave it to the writer to indent these lines to appear visually nested. However, Python does not use curly braces but instead requires indentation for nesting. For example a for loop in Python:

for i in range(10):
    print("Hello")

The indentation is necessary here. A second line indented would be a part of the loop, and a second line not indented would be outside of the loop. For example:

for i in range(2):
    print("A")
    print("B")

would print:

A
B
A
B

whereas the following:

for i in range(2):
    print("A")
print("B")

would print:

A
A
B

Variables

To save a value to a variable, assign it like so:

name = "Bob"
age = 15

Note here I did not assign types to these variables, as types are inferred, and can be changed (it's dynamic).

age = 15
age += 1  # increment age by 1
print(age)

This time I used comments beside the increment command.

Comments

Comments are ignored in the program but there for you to leave notes, and are denoted by the hash # symbol. Multi-line comments use triple quotes like so:

"""
This is a very simple Python program that prints "Hello".
That's all it does.
"""

print("Hello")

Lists

Python also has lists (called arrays in some languages) which are collections of data of any type:

numbers = [1, 2, 3]

Lists are denoted by the use of square brackets [] and each item is separated by a comma.

Iteration

Some data types are iterable, which means you can loop over the values they contain. For example a list:

numbers = [1, 2, 3]

for number in numbers:
    print(number)

This takes each item in the list numbers and prints out the item:

1
2
3

Note I used the word number to denote each item. This is merely the word I chose for this - it's recommended you choose descriptive words for variables - using plurals for lists, and singular for each item makes sense. It makes it easier to understand when reading.

Other data types are iterable, for example the string:

dog_name = "BINGO"

for char in dog_name:
    print(char)

This loops over each character and prints them out:

B
I
N
G
O

Range

The integer data type is not iterable and trying to iterate over it will produce an error. For example:

for i in 3:
    print(i)

will produce:

TypeError: 'int' object is not iterable

Python error

However you can make an iterable object using the range function:

for i in range(3):
    print(i)

range(5) contains the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 (five numbers in total). To get the numbers 1 to 5 use range(1, 6).

Length

You can use functions like len to find the length of a string or a list:

name = "Jamie"
print(len(name))  # 5

names = ["Bob", "Jane", "James", "Alice"]
print(len(names))  # 4

If statements

You can use if statements for control flow:

name = "Joe"

if len(name) > 3:
    print("Nice name,")
    print(name)
else:
    print("That's a short name,")
    print(name)

Python files in IDLE

To create a Python file in IDLE, click File > New File and you'll be given a blank window. This is an empty file, not a Python prompt. You write a Python file in this window, save it, then run it and you'll see the output in the other window.

For example, in the new window, type:

n = 0

for i in range(1, 101):
    n += i

print("The sum of the numbers 1 to 100 is:")
print(n)

Then save this file (File > Save or Ctrl + S) and run (Run > Run Module or hit F5) and you'll see the output in your original Python window.

Executing Python files from the command line

You can write a Python file in a standard editor like Vim, Nano or LeafPad, and run it as a Python script from the command line. Just navigate to the directory the file is saved (use cd and ls for guidance) and run with python, e.g. python hello.py.

Python command line

More

See more advanced information covering:

  • Python 2 vs. Python 3
  • Convention
  • Other ways of using Python
  • Installing Python libraries
  • GPIO

Also see the page on running the preinstalled Python Games

Python Documentation

Full documentation for Python is available at python.org/doc