You can skip this section if you are using a lab computer with Python already installed. Otherwise, download Python 3.x.y from the Python web site. The install process is entirely straightforward, just work your way through the steps.
From the Windows Start menu, select All Programs » Python 3.x » IDLE (Python GUI). There will be a similarly named program in Applications » Python 3.x on the Mac.
A window called the “Python Shell” will appear. It displays a prompt like “
>>>”. This is the window in which you will interact with your program.
You need a second window, in which you will type and save the content of your program. Select File » New File from the menu.
While in the new window, select File » Save and give it a filename that ends with
.py (this will enable syntax coloring). You can also choose the folder to save it in, such as your Documents or Desktop folder.
Type your code into the
.py file, and save it with File » Save, or Ctrl-S or ⌘-S.
Use Run » Run Module (F5) to run it, and interact with the program in the Shell window.
Here is a program you can try that prints messages on the screen. You can copy and paste this block into your
.py file, then save and run. (Note: the coloring used on this web page may not precisely match the colors you see in IDLE.)
When you run this program, the Shell window will contain:
>>> ====================== RESTART ====================== >>> Hello! 7 3+4 2*7 is 14 >>>
The double quotes indicate a string of characters (text). That portion is output exactly as written. Any portion not in quotes is interpreted by Python. Thus the difference between printing
3+4 (which produces
7) and printing
The most common error you will see is probably “Invalid syntax”. It pops up like this:
Dismiss that message, and you see it also highlights a portion of your program in red.
Often the red part is just after the source of the actual error. In this case, we omitted the comma between the two different things in the print statement on that line.
Another kind of error shows up in the Shell window. It might look like this:
Traceback (most recent call last): File "C:/Users/league/Desktop/myprogram.py", line 4, in
print("2*7 is", x) NameError: name 'x' is not defined
The actual error is the last line. This one is called a
NameError. But the
Traceback section can help you too, by telling you which line number to examine (in this case, line 4).
We can store variables very simply in Python by using an equals sign. Variable names consist of a sequence of letters, numbers, and underscores (no spaces), but they cannot start with a number. Here are examples of valid variable names:
These are not valid:
Variable names are case-sensitive, so
X are both valid, but they are not the same variable. Below is a program that uses variables to perform a computation.
When you run it, the output should look something like this:
>>> ====================== RESTART ====================== >>> Average is 29.333333333333332
Python (and most languages) distinguish between numbers that are integers (whole numbers), and numbers that can contain decimal points. The latter are called floating-point numbers. When you divide two integers, Python 3 automatically converts them to floating-point – not every language does this. If you want integer division, use a double-slash (
//) as the divide operator.
>>> 9/2 4.5 >>> 3/4 0.75 >>> 9//2 4 >>> 3//4 0
It is often useful to add notes to your program, for yourself or other humans. Any text on a line that follows a pound sign (
#) will be ignored by Python. So we can use this facility to add a header describing the program:
Or to explain a particular piece of code on the same line:
It can even be used to disable a line of code without deleting it from your program… then it’s easy to put back if you need to. This is called “commenting out” code.
Python has a very handy built-in function for receiving input from the user of your program. It works like this:
On the left side of the equal sign is a variable name. On the right side is the
input function. In the parentheses, you specify a string that will be the prompt presented to the user. When you run the above program, it looks like this:
>>> ====================== RESTART ====================== >>> Enter your name:
You are expected to type something at this point, and press enter. Whatever string you type will be placed into the variable
name. Here’s a more complete sample program:
Running the program looks like the following. The parts the user types are indicated by «angle quotes».
>>> ====================== RESTART ====================== >>> Enter your name: «Chris» Welcome to my program, Chris What year were you born? «1988» You are 26 years old.
Python has values for Booleans – they are called
False. Note that, like variable names, they are case-sensitive, so you must capitalize them as shown. There are also operators that produce Boolean values. The most obvious ones are for numeric comparisons. Consider this transcript in the Python shell:
The last example in that block is
<=, pronounced “less than or equal.” There is also
>= for “greater than or equal.” You cannot have a space between the two operators:
< = will be a syntax error.
Checking whether two things are exactly the same is a little tricky. The equals sign
= is already used to mean variable assignment, as in:
This statement above does not ask whether
my_quiz_score is equal to the value 38. Instead, it sets the value of that variable to 38, and whatever value it had previously is lost.
In order to ask the question, whether a variable is equal to a certain value, you need to use a double equal sign:
==, like this:
The opposite of the equality operator is
!=, and it is simply pronounced “not equals.”
Python also has operators from Boolean logic; they are called
not. Here are a few examples involving them:
That last example determines whether the value of
my_quiz_score is within a certain range: from zero to forty, inclusive.
Now that we’ve seen Boolean expressions, we’re ready to explore conditional statements. They have a keyword
if (must be lower case), and then the Boolean expression, followed by a colon (
:) – it’s a very common mistake to forget the colon!
On the next line, and indented a few spaces, you put any statements that should be executed only if the condition is true. Here is an example:
You can see that the last print statement in that block is not indented. That means it is no longer controlled by the
if. If we reach this code when the value of
38, the output will be:
Congratulations, that's a good score. Thanks for taking the course.
And the variable
grade will contain the text string
"A". On the other hand, if
31, the output will be only the last line:
Thanks for taking the course.
It’s also possible to provide an
else block that executes when the
if block doesn’t. Here’s a complete program you can paste into the Python program window and run with F5:
When you run it, try entering different values at the prompt in the shell window, and observe the results.
It’s a fairly common pattern to “chain together” a series of if/else conditions, something like this:
You can see that the indentation increases each time an
if is embedded within the
else of another
if. Try tracing this code with
my_quiz_score set to different values, to see what ends up being stored in
grade. You may even want to revise the previous program using this technique, so it can output more than just
This chain is common enough that Python provides a shortcut for it so that the continued indentation doesn’t get out of hand. The shortcut relies on the keyword
elif, and it looks like this:
This program does the same thing as the previous one, but it’s a little cleaner and shorter.
These are helpful exercises, to test putting it all together. First, create a program that does the following:
Enter quiz 1 score: «90» Enter quiz 2 score: «80» Your average is 85.0 Your grade is B
It can just use 90/80/70/60 as the thresholds for A/B/C/D. Once you have that working, try this one:
Enter quiz 1 score: «60» Enter quiz 2 score: «95» Enter quiz 3 score: «92» Dropping the 60 Your average is 93.5 Your grade is A
It will ask for three scores, but then drop the lowest one before computing the average of the other two.
Once you have saved your
.py file, it may not work just to double-click your file again to reopen it. That will run the program in a console window, which is especially awkward because it might not pause to show the output before the window disappears.
Instead, you can right-click in the
.py file and select “Edit with IDLE” (if on Windows). Or simply open IDLE first and then use the File » Open menu and navigate to the
.py file from there.
This prints a bunch of powers of two using a
This is a variation of the previous, where we find the first power of two that is larger than ten million.
import random numFlips = 10000000 numHeads = 0 for i in range(numFlips): secretNumber = random.randrange(1,101) if secretNumber > 50: coinflip = "HEADS" numHeads = numHeads + 1 else: coinflip = "TAILS" #print(coinflip) percent = (numHeads / numFlips) * 100 print("There were", numHeads, "heads:", percent, "%")