Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Python cheat sheet

The most important docs at python.org are the tutorial and library reference.

Pointers to the docs

Important modules: sys, os, os.path, re, math, io

Inspecting objects

>>> help(obj)
>>> dir(obj)

List comprehensions and generators

numbers = [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
[x * x for x in numbers if x % 2 == 0]

Generators might be thought of as lazy list comprehensions. Really they're just a compact syntax for defining an iterator.

def generate_squares():
  i = 1
  while True:
    yield i*i
    i += 1

Main method

def main():
    # do something here

if __name__ == "__main__":

See Guido's advice on main methods. To parse command line arguments use argparse instead o the older optparse or getopt.


The tutorial covers classes, but know that there are old-style classes and new-style classes.

class Foo(object):
  'Doc string for class'

  def __init__(self, a, b):
    'Doc string for constructor'
    self.a = a
    self.b = b
  def square_plus_a(self, x):
    'Doc string for a useless method'
    return x * x + a
  def __str__(self):
    return "Foo: a=%d, b=%d" % (self.a, self.b)

Preoccupation with classes is a bit passé these days. Javascript objects are just bags of properties to which you can add arbitrary properties whenever you feel like it. In Ruby, you might use OpenStruct. It's quite easy in Python. You just have to define your own class. I'll follow the convention I've seen elsewhere of creating an empty class called Object derived from the base object. Why you can't set attributes on an object instance is something I'll leave to the Python gurus.

class Object(object):

obj = MyEmptyClass()
obj.foo = 123
obj.bar = "A super secret message
['__doc__', '__module__', 'bar', 'foo']

You can add methods, too, but they act a little funny. Self doesn't seem to work.


Reading text files line by line can be done like so:

with open(filename, 'r') as f:
    for line in f:

Be careful not to mix iteration over lines in a file with readline().


  raise Exception('My spammy exception!', 1234, 'zot')
except Exception as e:
  print type(e)
  print e
  print "cleanup in finally clause!"

Traceback prints stack traces.

Conditional Expressions

Finally added in Python 2.5:

x = true_value if condition else false_value

Packages, Libraries, Modules

What do they call them in Python? Here's a quick tip for finding out where installed packages are:

python -c 'import sys, pprint; pprint.pprint(sys.path)'

To find out what packages are installed, open a python shell and type:


Magic methods

Python's magic methods are the source of much confusion. Rafe Kettler's Guide to Python's Magic Methods sorts things out beautifully.