Writing Python Programs
So far, we’ve discussed how to use the UNIX command line to filter and modify files. We’ve also discussed how to use the Python interactive interpreter to play around with Python expressions and statements. Our next task is to learn how to put a punch of Python expressions and statements in order, and put them in a file. This is what’s known as a Python program or “script.” (The words “program” and “script” sound scary and technical, but they’re meant in senses of those word that you’re already familiar with—“script” or “program” as in a list of things that you want to happen.)
Using a text editor
In order to write scripts, we need to be able to make plain text files. A “plain text” file is a file with text in it but no other weird formatting information, like you’d get with (e.g.) Microsoft Word. There are many text editors out there, with different benefits and drawbacks. Two that I can vouch for:
In the following two sections, I’m going to show you how to use these text editors to edit a plain text file.
After installing your text editor, launch it. Type the following text into the window:
Congratulations, you’ve just written a Python program! It’s a very simple
program—it only has one statement, which causes the string
Hello there to
be written to output.
Save the file to your hard drive, then open a Terminal window and navigate to the folder where you saved the file. Type the following on the command line:
$ python hello.py
You should see the string
Okay! Now we’re ready to write some actual Python programs.
Programs are a sequence of statements
So what is a program? Well, a program is a sequence of statements that we want to computer to execute, arranged in the order we want the computer to execute them.
An “expression,” if you remember, is like asking the computer a question: “Computer, what’s three plus five?” or “how many letters are in the word ‘abcedarian’?” A “statement” is more than asking Python to answer a question: a statement asks Python to change the state of the world.
We’ve seen a few statements so far, such as when we’ve assigned values to variables in the interactive interpreter:
>>> x = 3 + 5
In the above example, we’ve asked the computer to tell us what 3 + 5 is…
but we’ve also asked it to do something: store that value in a variable
Another example of a statement is
>>> print(3 + 5) 8
Again, above we’ve asked the computer a question (the expression
3 + 5),
but we’ve also asked it to do something (display it to the screen).
As an example of a sequence of statements, create a new file on the server and call it “statements.py”. Cut and paste this into it:
3 + 5
Now upload that file to the server and run it using Python, like so:
(Make sure you’re in the same directory as the Python file when you type
the above command.) What happens? Nothing! That’s because we’ve asked
Python to evaluate the statement
3 + 5… but we didn’t tell it to actually
do anything with that value. Open the file again and make this change:
print(3 + 5)
And run the script again. You should see the number
8 printed to the screen.
Open the file again and put some more statements in there:
text = "This is some text." text_snippet = text[-5:] print(text_snippet)
Run the program and you should see the following output:
In the above example, we have some expressions (such as the expression
is some text." which creates a string value;
text[-5:] which evaluates to a
slice of the named string; and
text_snippet which evaluates to the string
assigned to it earlier in the program) and some statements that use those
expressions (assigning to the variables
Learning how to program Python is all about learning how to write expressions, then use those expressions in statements to make changes to the state of Python, or to display things to output.
Acting on every line in standard input
We’re going to start writing Python programs by writing programs that work a lot like UNIX command-line tools: by reading one line from input at a time, making a decision about that line or modifying that line, and then printing output back to the screen.
Here’s the first program. Cut and paste it into a file called
# our very first program import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() print(line)
This program has some boilerplate in it that I won’t explain in too much detail right now, but just to give you an idea:
- The line
import systells Python that we want to use functions and variables defined in a “module” called
sys(more about this later in the course!)
for line in sys.stdinis a way of telling Python, “Hey, all the code after this line? I want to you run that code for every line that you read from standard input.”
- The first line of the file,
# our very first program, is a “comment.” A comment is a part of the program that the computer will ignore. We can use them to make notes in our program, e.g., to explain what a particular part of the program does so we can remember what we meant when we’re looking at the file later. You can make comments in Python by putting the hash character (
#) anywhere—any text after the hash character counts as a comment.
Make sure that lines 4 and 5 (
line = line.strip() and
“indented” over using a tab or spaces. (You can use however many spaces you
want, as long as both lines have the same number of spaces at the beginning.)
To run this program, save it, and then in your terminal window, type
$ python cat.py
Type in a few lines, then hit Ctrl+D. (You may need to hit Ctrl+D more than once.) What happened?
cat.py is a very simple “clone” of the
cat command-line tool in UNIX. You can use it to display the contents of a file:
$ python cat.py <sea_rose.txt
This should display the contents of
Wait, why did we do
line = line.strip()? That’s a good question! Here’s an exercise: trying removing that line, and then re-running the program. You’ll find that you get an extra line after each line that you print out! Weird. The reason for this is two-fold: (1) when Python reads a line in from standard input, it includes the new line character (
\n) in the string; (2) the
.strip()to remove whitespace (i.e., spaces, new lines, tabs) etc. from the end of the string. Good catch!
This program isn’t very interest on its own. Here’s how we’re going to make it
more interesting. Instead of just printing the value in variable
write an expression on that line that evaluates to the string, but with
some transformation applied.
So, for example, let’s write a program that prints out only the first ten characters of each line:
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() print(line[:10])
Save this modified version of the program with a different filename—
experiment1.py, for example. Run this using
sea_rose.txt as input, like so:
$ python experiment1.py <sea_rose.txt
and you should get the following output:
SEA ROSE Rose, hars marred and meagre flo spare of l more preci than a wet single on you are ca Stunted, w you are fl you are li in the cri that drive Can the sp drip such hardened i
Or, try this:
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() print(line.title().swapcase())
Save this as a different file (say,
experiment2.py) and run it using Python,
sea_rose.txt as input. You should get the following output:
sEA rOSE rOSE, hARSH rOSE, mARRED aND wITH sTINT oF pETALS, mEAGRE fLOWER, tHIN, sPARE oF lEAF, mORE pRECIOUS tHAN a wET rOSE sINGLE oN a sTEM -- yOU aRE cAUGHT iN tHE dRIFT. sTUNTED, wITH sMALL lEAF, yOU aRE fLUNG oN tHE sAND, yOU aRE lIFTED iN tHE cRISP sAND tHAT dRIVES iN tHE wIND. cAN tHE sPICE-rOSE dRIP sUCH aCRID fRAGRANCE hARDENED iN a lEAF?
Pretty cool, huh? We can now write programs that behave like simple UNIX
command-line tools that modify each line of input as it comes in. And because
our programs run on the command-line, we can use pipes and redirection to
combine their output! For example, we can pipe the output of running
sea_rose.txt so it’s the input of
$ python experiment1.py <sea_rose.txt | python experiment2.py
The output will look like this:
sEA rOSE rOSE, hARS mARRED aND mEAGRE fLO sPARE oF l mORE pRECI tHAN a wET sINGLE oN yOU aRE cA sTUNTED, w yOU aRE fL yOU aRE lI iN tHE cRI tHAT dRIVE cAN tHE sP dRIP sUCH hARDENED i
We can also add more statements in the indented part of the code, and assign to
other variables if we want. And we don’t have to
line variable if
we don’t want to—we can print some other expression entirely! For example,
let’s say we wanted to print out the first four characters of each line,
followed by the last four characters, storing those portions of the string in
variables. Let’s try this:
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() first_four = line[:4] last_four = line[-4:] print(first_four + last_four)
Save this as
fours.py and run it on
SEA ROSE Roseose, marrals, meaghin, spareaf, moreious thanrose singm -- you ift. Stuneaf, you and, you fted in tsand thatind. Can rose dripance hardeaf?
EXERCISE: Write a Python program that prints out the length of each line in the input.
EXERCISE 2: Write a Python program that prints out each line of input twice.
EXERCISE 3: Write a Python program that uses the
.replace()method to make replacements to the text on each line.
Making decisions about lines
We’ve seen how to make a version of UNIX cat. Now let’s make a Python program called
simplegrep.py, which is program that works a lot like UNIX grep.
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() if "you" in line: print(line)
Run this with
sea_rose.txt as input, and you’ll get the following results:
you are caught in the drift. you are flung on the sand, you are lifted
The new thing in this program is the
if statement. Here’s how
if followed by an expression that evaluates to
followed by a colon. Any statements that are tabbed over under the
statement will only be executed if the expression evaluates to
simplegrep.py above only printed out those three lines: it used
in operator to check to see if
you was a substring of each line, and
then only printed out the lines where that was the case.
You can put any expression that evaluates to
False after the
if keyword. Here’s a program that only prints out lines that are at least
20 characters long:
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() if len(line) >= 20: print(line)
… producing the following output:
marred and with stint of petals, meagre flower, thin, you are caught in the drift. Stunted, with small leaf, you are flung on the sand, that drives in the wind. drip such acrid fragrance
You can put multiple statements in the part of the code that
if, and the expression you print out doesn’t have to be
line. Here’s a program that finds the first comma in each line, and then
only prints out what follows the comma:
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() space_position = line.find(" ") if space_position != -1: substring = line[space_position+1:] print(substring)
Run this with
sea_rose.txt and you’ll get the following output:
ROSE harsh rose, and with stint of petals, flower, thin, of leaf, precious a wet rose on a stem -- are caught in the drift. with small leaf, are flung on the sand, are lifted the crisp sand drives in the wind. the spice-rose such acrid fragrance in a leaf?
EXERCISE: Write a Python program that prints only the lines in input that begin with a capital letter. (Hint: use string indexes and the
You can use the
else keyword to write code that will execute if the
expression in an
if statement evaluated to
False. Here’s a modified
version of the length-checking program above that prints the string “LONG” if
the line is longer than 20 characters, and “SHORT” otherwise:
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() if len(line) >= 20: print("LONG") else: print("SHORT")
Running this with
sea_rose.txt yields the following output:
SHORT SHORT SHORT LONG LONG SHORT SHORT SHORT SHORT SHORT LONG SHORT LONG LONG SHORT SHORT LONG SHORT SHORT LONG SHORT SHORT
elif keyword (short for “else if…”) allows you to write even more
sophisticated tests: if the expression in the initial
if clause evaluates to
False, any following
elif statement will have its expression
evaluated; if that expression succeeds, the statements tabbed over beneath
elif will be executed. If neither the
if expression nor the
expression evaluates to
True, the statements beneath the
else will run.
Here’s a program to illustrate, which prints different strings according to how many punctuation marks are in each line of input.
import sys for line in sys.stdin: line = line.strip() punctuation = line.count(".") + line.count(",") + line.count("-") + line.count("?") if punctuation >= 2: print("many") elif punctuation == 1: print("only one") else: print("none :(")
Here’s the output from
none :( none :( many only one many only one none :( none :( none :( many only one none :( many only one none :( none :( only one none :( only one none :( only one none :(
You can actually have as many
elif statements as you want, checking for
many different conditional expressions.
There’s much more to talk about here!