1.2. The Python Interpreter and Idle, Part I

1.2.1. Your Python Folder and Python Examples

First you need to set up a location to store your work and the example programs from this tutorial. If you are on a Windows computer, follow just one of the three choices below to find an appropriate place to download the example archive examples.zip, and then follow the later instructions to unzip the archive.

Your Own Computer
If you are at your own computer, you can put the folder for your Python programs most anywhere you like. For Chapter 4, it will be important that none of the directories leading down to your Python folder contain any blanks in them. In particular in Windows, “My Documents” is a bad location. In Windows you can create a directory in C: drive, like C:\myPython. You should have installed Python to continue. This also means there is a problem putting the folder under your home folder if you put a blank in the login ID.
Your Flash Drive
If you do not have your own computer, or you want to have your materials easily travel back and forth between the lab and home, you will need a flash drive. Plug your flash drive into the computer USB port. Please Note: Flash drives are easy for me to forget and leave in the computer. I have lost a few this way. If you are as forgetful as I, you might consider a string from the flash drive to something you will not forget to take with you. Open My Computer (on the desktop) to see where the flash drive is mounted, and open that drive.
Temporary
If you (temporarily) do not have a flash drive and you are at a Loyola lab computer: Open My Computer from the desktop, and then select create a folder with your name or initials to make it easy for you to save and remove things. Change to that folder. You should place the examples archive here. You will need to save your work somehow before you log off of the computer. You may want to email individual files to yourself, or rezip the examples folder and send just the one archive file to yourself each time until you remember a flash drive!

In Windows, after you have chosen a location for the archive, examples.zip, download it by right clicking on http://anh.cs.luc.edu/python/hands-on/3.1/examples.zip and selecting “Save As” or the equivalent on your browser and then navigate to save the archive to the chosen location on your computer. Note that the examples, like this version of the tutorial, are for Python 3.1 and later. There were major changes to Python in version 3.0, making it incompatible with earlier versions.

If you are using Python version 2.7 for some good reason, you should continue with the older version of the tutorial. Go to http://anh.cs.luc.edu/python/hands-on and find the links to the proper version of the tutorial and examples.

Once you have the archive, you need to extract the files. Make a file browser window set to the directory where you put the zip file. Then:

Windows
Right click on examples.zip, select Extract All. This will create the folder examples. End up with a file browser window showing the contents of the examples folder. This will be your Python folder in later discussion.
Mac
Double click on the zip file and the expanded examples folder appears.

Warning

On Windows, files in a zip archive can be viewed while they are still in the zip archive. Modifying and adding files is not so transparent. Be sure that you unzip the archive and work from the regular directory that holds the resulting unzipped files.

Warning

Make sure that all the directories leading down to your Python examples directory do not include any spaces in them. This will be important in Chapter 4 for the local web server. In particular, that means you should not place your folder under “My Documents”. A directory like C:\hands-on or C:\python would be fine.

You also have the option of downloading

The disadvantage of a local copy is that the tutorial may be updated online after you get your download. The change log file http://anh.cs.luc.edu/python/hands-on/3.1/changelog.html will show a summary of any major changes.

1.2.2. Running A Sample Program

This section assumes Python, version at least 3.1, is already on your computer. Windows does not come with Python. (To load Python see Obtaining Python for Your Computer.)

Before getting to the individual details of Python, you will run a simple text-based sample program. Find madlib.py in your Python folder, set up in Your Python Folder and Python Examples.

Options for running the program:

  • If you have trouble with the following options, opening the program in Idle is discussed in Starting Idle.

  • In Windows, you can display your folder contents, and double click on madlib.py to start the program.

  • On a Mac, you can Ctrl-click on madlib.py in the Finder, select Open With, and choose the Python Launcher for your Python 3 version. When you are done with the program, close the terminal window.

  • In Linux you may be able to open a terminal window, change into your Python examples directory, and enter the command

    python madlib.py
    

    or possibly to distinguish Python 2 and 3:

    python3 madlib.py
    

    If neither of these work, get help.

You can also start idle from a Windows command window. You will want the current directory to be where your programs are. You can enter the full path to Python, for instance:

C:\python34\python madlib.py

or if python is in your system’s path, you can skip the part before “python”. In whatever manner you start the program, run it, responding to the prompts on the screen. Be sure to press the enter key at the end of each response requested from you.

Try the program a second time and make different responses.

1.2.3. A Sample Program, Explained

If you want to get right to the detailed explanations of writing your own Python, you can skip to the next section Starting Idle. If you would like an overview of a working program, even if all the explanations do not make total sense yet, read on.

Here is the text of the madlib.py program, followed by line-by-line brief explanations. Do not worry if you not totally understand the explanations! Try to get the gist now and the details later. The numbers on the right are not part of the program file. They are added for reference in the comments below:

#! /usr/bin/env python3                                  0
'''                                                      1
String Substitution for a Mad Lib                        2
Adapted from code by Kirby Urner                         3
'''                                                      4
                                                         5
storyFormat = '''                                        6
Once upon a time, deep in an ancient jungle,             7
there lived a {animal}.  This {animal}                   8
liked to eat {food}, but the jungle had                  9
very little {food} to offer.  One day, an               10
explorer found the {animal} and discovered              11
it liked {food}.  The explorer took the                 12
{animal} back to {city}, where it could                 13
eat as much {food} as it wanted.  However,              14
the {animal} became homesick, so the                    15
explorer brought it back to the jungle,                 16
leaving a large supply of {food}.                       17
                                                        18
The End                                                 19
'''                                                     20
                                                        21
def tellStory():                                        22
    userPicks = dict()                                  23
    addPick('animal', userPicks)                        24
    addPick('food', userPicks)                          25
    addPick('city', userPicks)                          26
    story = storyFormat.format(**userPicks)             27
    print(story)                                        28
                                                        29
def addPick(cue, dictionary):                           30
    '''Prompt for a user response using the cue string, 31
    and place the cue-response pair in the dictionary.  32
    '''                                                 33
    prompt = 'Enter an example for ' + cue + ': '       34
    response = input(prompt)                            35
    dictionary[cue] = response                          36
                                                        37
tellStory()                                             38
input('Press Enter to end the program.')                39

Line By Line Explanation

#! /usr/bin/env python3                                  0

This is not technically a part of the program. It is there to tell the operating system what version of Python to choose, since the older Python 2 is incompatible with the newer Python 3. We will mostly run programs from inside the Idle programming environment, where this line is not needed. To run just by clicking on the program in an operating system window, however, the line is important if your computer also has Python 2.

'''                                                      1
String Substitution for a Mad Lib                        2
Adapted from code by Kirby Urner                         3
'''                                                      4

1-4: There is multi-line text enclosed in triple quotes. Quoted text is called a string. A string at the very beginning of a program like this is documentation for the file.

5,21,29,37: Blank lines are included for human readability to separate logical parts. The computer ignores the blank lines.

storyFormat = '''                                        6
Once upon a time, deep in an ancient jungle,             7
there lived a {animal}.  This {animal}                   8
liked to eat {food}, but the jungle had                  9
very little {food} to offer.  One day, an               10
explorer found the {animal} and discovered              11
it liked {food}.  The explorer took the                 12
{animal} back to {city}, where it could                 13
eat as much {food} as it wanted.  However,              14
the {animal} became homesick, so the                    15
explorer brought it back to the jungle,                 16
leaving a large supply of {food}.                       17
                                                        18
The End                                                 19
'''                                                     20

6: The equal sign tells the computer that this is an assignment statement. The computer will now associate the value of the expression between the triple quotes, a multi-line string, with the name on the left, storyFormat.

7-20: These lines contain the body of the string and the ending triple quotes. This storyFormat string contains some special symbols making it a format string, unlike the string in lines 1-4. The storyFormat string will be used later to provide a format into which substitutions are made. The parts of the string enclosed in braces are places a substitute string will be inserted later. The substituted string will come from a custom dictionary that will contain the user’s definitions of these words. The words in the braces: {animal}, {food}, {city}, indicate that animal, food, and city are words in a dictionary. This custom dictionary will be created in the program and contain the user’s definitions of these words. These user’s definitions will be substituted later in the format string where each {...} is currently.

def tellStory():                                        22
    userPicks = dict()                                  23
    addPick('animal', userPicks)                        24
    addPick('food', userPicks)                          25
    addPick('city', userPicks)                          26
    story = storyFormat.format(**userPicks)             27
    print(story)                                        28

22: def is short for definition. This line is the heading of a definition, which makes the name tellStory becomes defined as a short way to refer to the sequence of statements that start indented on line 23, and continue through line 28.

23: The equal sign tells the computer that this is another assignment statement. The computer will now associate the name userPicks with a new empty dictionary created by the Python code dict().

24-26: addPick is the name for a sequence of instructions defined on lines 29-31 for adding another definition to a dictionary, based on the user’s input. The result of these three lines is to add definitions for each of the three words animal, food, and city to the dictionary called userPicks.

27: Assign the name story to a string formed by substituting into storyFormat using definitions from the dictionary userPicks, to give the user’s customized story.

28: This is where all the work becomes visible: Print the story string to the screen.

def addPick(cue, dictionary):                           30
    '''Prompt for a user response using the cue string, 31
    and place the cue-response pair in the dictionary.  32
    '''                                                 33
    prompt = 'Enter an example for ' + cue + ': '       34
    response = input(prompt)                            35
    dictionary[cue] = response                          36

30: This line is the heading of a definition, which gives the name addPick as a short way to refer to the sequence of statements indented on line 34-36. The name addPick is followed by two words in parenthesis, cue and dictionary. These two words are associated with an actual cue word and dictionary given when this definition is invoked in lines 24-26.

31-33: A documentation comment for the addPick definition.

34: The plus sign here is used to concatenate parts of the string assigned to the name prompt. The current value of cue is placed into the string.

35: The right-hand-side of this equal sign causes an interaction with the user, to input text from the keyboard: The prompt string is printed to the computer screen, and the computer waits for the user to enter a line of text. That line of text then becomes a string inside the program. This string is assigned to the name response.

36: The left-hand-side of the equal sign is a reference to the definition of the cue word in the dictionary. The whole line ends up making the definition of the current cue word become the response typed by the user.

tellStory()                                             38
input('Press Enter to end the program.')                39

38: The definition of tellStory above does not make the computer do anything besides remember what the instruction tellStory means. It is only in this line, with the name, tellStory, followed by parentheses, that the whole sequence of remembered instructions are actually carried out.

39: This line is only here to accommodate running the program in Windows by double clicking on its file icon. Without this line, the story would be displayed and then the program would end, and Windows would make it immediately disappear from the screen! This line forces the program to continue being displayed until there is another response from the user, and meanwhile the user may look at the output from tellStory.

1.2.4. Starting Idle

The program that translates Python instructions and then executes them is the Python interpreter.

This interpreter is embedded in a number of larger programs that make it particularly easy to develop Python programs. Such a programming environment is Idle, and it is a part of the standard distribution of Python.

Read the section that follows for your operating system:

Windows

(Assuming you already have Python installed.) Display your Python folder. You should see icons for Idle34Shortcut for Python 3.4, Idle33Shortcut for Python 3.3, (and maybe a similar icon with a version after 3.4 - ignore any that do not correspond to your version of Python). Double click on the appropriate shortcut, and an Idle window should appear. After this the instructions are the same in any operating environment.

CAUTION: Do not move the shortcut to your desktop. It should to be in the folder with the examples. Instead you might put a shortcut to this examples folder on your desktop.

An alternative for opening an existing Python program in Python 3+ is to go to an operating system directory window and use the context menu that you get by right-clicking, and select Open With Idle. This alternative depends on the operating system being set up to recognize the Python file type, .py.

Mac

With OS X a simple approach is to open Python files ending in .py into an Edit window by selecting them directly in an operating system finder window. From there you can create or open other files.

You should also be able to open Idle from Spotlight.

There is more special Mac information in http://anh.cs.luc.edu/python/hands-on//3.1/pythonOnMac.html.

Linux
The approach depends on the installation. In Ubuntu, you should find Idle in the Programming section of the Applications menu. You are better starting idle from a terminal, with the current directory being your Python folder. You may need a special name set up to distinguish idle for versions 2 and 3, for instance idle3 for version 3.X.

The heading data when you open Idle shows the exact version, like 3.4.0. You can see if it matches the latest current version of Python.

1.2.5. Windows in Idle

Idle has several parts you may choose to display, each with its own window. Depending on the configuration, Idle can start up showing either of two windows, an Edit Window or a Python Shell Window. You are likely to first see an Edit window, whose top left corner looks something like in Windows:

image

For more on the Edit Window, see The Idle Editor and Execution.

If you see this Edit Window with its Run menu on top, go to the Run menu and choose PYTHON SHELL to open a Python Shell Window for now. Then you may close the Edit Window.

Either initially, or after explicitly opening it, you should now see the Python Shell window, with a menu like the following, though the text may be slightly different:

image

Look at the Python Shell. ...

In the Shell the last line should look like

>>>

The >>> is the prompt, telling you Idle is waiting for you to type something. Continuing on the same line enter

6+3

Be sure to end with the Enter key. After the Shell responds, you should see something like

>>> 6+3
9
>>>

The shell evaluates the line you entered, and prints the result. You see Python does arithmetic. At the end you see a further prompt >>> where you can enter your next line.... The result line, showing 9, that is produced by the computer, does not start with >>>.