Python Reference

by Chee Yee Lim

Posted on 2021-04-17

Collection of notes on key points for Python



  • What are the key features of Python?
    • General purpose language - capable of both programming and scripting.
    • Interpreted language - does not need to be compiled into machine level code before running.
    • High-level - highly readable and easy to write code.
    • Dynamically typed - does not need explicit declaration of variable types.
    • Good for object-oriented programming - allows the definition of classes along with composition and inheritance.
  • Special properties of Python
    • Python is a case sensitive programming language.
    • Python starts indexing from 0.
    • PEP 8 (Python Enhancement Proposal) specifies how to format Python code for maximum readability.
    • PYTHONPATH is an environment variable used by Python to look up modules.
    • Single line comments in Python start with hash #. Multi line comments are enclosed by """. """ is mostly used as docstrings (i.e. documentation strings) to explain the purpose of functions.
    • Indentations are required in Python. A new block in Python begins when the line is indented by 4 spaces.
  • Namespace
    • A namespace is a naming system used to make sure that names are unique to avoid naming conflicts.
  • Global and local variables
    • Global variables are declared in the global space or outside a function. They are accessible by any function in the program.
    • Local variables are declared in the local space of a function.

Data types

  • Standard data types of Python
    • Numbers
    • String
      • Immutable
    • Set
      • An unordered collection of unique elements.
    • List
      • An ordered collection of elements.
    • Tuple
      • A tuple is an array of values, that is immutable (i.e. read only).
    • Dictionary
      • A dictionary consists of key-value pairs, in a hash table style.
  • What are the differences between tuples and lists?
    • The elements of a list can be updated.
    • The size of a list can be updated.
    • A tuple is slightly smaller than a list, hence give slightly faster performance.
    • A tuple can be used as a key in a dictionary.
  • What are the differences between sets and lists?
    • Sets cannot contain duplicates.
    • Sets are unordered.
    • Sets are not indexed (i.e. elements unaccessible by index).
    • Sets can only contain hashable items (e.g. can't have nested lists).
  • What are the differences between arrays and lists?
    • Python doesn't have built in array support.
    • Arrays can only hold a single data type, while lists can hold any data types.
  • What are the differences between lists and numpy arrays?
    • Numpy arrays are more memory efficient.
    • Numpy arrays are faster.
    • Numpy arrays are more convenient due to developed methods.


  • What are functions?
    • A function is a block of code which only runs when it is called.
    • Data can be passed into a function as a parameter to an argument, and data can be returned from a function as a result.
  • Lambda function
    • lambda is a keyword in Python that creates an anonymous function.
    • lambda can have any number of parameters but only one expression.
  • *args vs **kwargs for function arguments
    • *args is used when we don't know how many arguments will be passed to a function. The function will access the parameters by positions.
    • **kwargs is used when we don't know how many keyword arguments will be passed to a function. The function will access the parameters by argument keywords.


  • __init__ constructor method
    • It is automatically called to initialise a new object/instance of a class.
    • All classes have the __init__ method.
  • self
    • self is an instance of a class.
    • It is explicitly included as the first parameter.
    • It helps to differentiate between the methods and attributes of a class with local variables.

Flow control

  • Break, continue, pass
    • Break allows loop termination when some conditions are met and the control is transferred to the next statement.
    • Continue allows skipping some part of a loop when some conditions are met and the control is transferred to the beginning of the loop.
    • Pass is used when you need some block of code syntactically, but you want to skip its execution. It is basically a null operation, i.e. nothing happens when executed.


  • Iterators
    • Iterators contain a countable number of values.
    • Iterators are objects which can be iterated upon, meaning that you can traverse through all the values.
    • Iterators in Python implement the iterator protocol, which consists of the methods __iter__() and __next__().
  • Iterables
    • List, tuples, dictionaries, sets and strings are all iterable objects.
    • They are iterable containers which you can get an iterator from.
      • E.g. ``` mystr = "banana" myit = iter(mystr)

        print(next(myit)) print(next(myit)) - A for loop is typically used to iterate through an iterable object. - Generators - Functions that return an iterable set of items are called generators. -rangevsxrange``` - Range and xrange are exactly the same in terms of functionality. - The only difference is range returns a list object while xrange returns an xrange object. - xrange object is a generator, which saves memory by not materialising the whole array of values in the beginning.

Copying variables

  • Shallow copy - Shallow copy is used to copy the reference pointers just like it copies the values.
  • Deep copy - Deep copy doesn't copy the reference pointers to the objects. It makes the reference to an object and the new object that is pointed by some other object gets stored.
  • For primitive data types (e.g. int), reassignment of value to a new variable will not affect the values of the previous variable.
    • E.g. x = 1 y = x y = 2 print(x) # it will be 1
  • For data structure types, reassignment of value to an element within the variable will change the original value in the previous variable.
    • E.g. x = [1,2] y = x y[1] = 9 print(x) # it will be [1,9]


  • Python has a multi-threading package but if you want to multi-thread to speed your code up, then it's usually not a good idea to use it.
  • Python has a construct called the Global Interpreter Lock (GIL). The GIL makes sure that only one of your 'threads' can execute at any one time.
    • A thread acquires the GIL, does a little work, then passes the GIL onto the next thread.
  • All this GIL passing adds overhead to execution. This means that if you want to make your code run faster, then using the threading package often isn't a good idea.