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Three things I love about python

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I overheard a coworker spewing hate over python a few week’s back, he really was going on about it – I honestly couldn’t understand why he needed to hate it so badly. It’s just a language, if you don’t like it then don’t use it. He was ranting about it so much that it made an impression on me, and later that night I got to thinking and remembered several things I really like about python.

Eight years ago I stumbled across python for a personal project, and I quickly grew to love its simplicity and power. Then I got distracted by school, life, and work, there was a bunch of perl and C thrown in the mix, and I forgot about python.

Recently, I picked it back up again for personal projects on github (etc) and now I wonder why I ever stopped.

Yes it’s just a programming language, it won’t make your breakfast for you, and it doesn’t really matter if you like it, think it smells funny, think .NET is better, etc. I do want to take a moment and share three things I really like about python, three reasons why I think it’s better than sliced white bread. 🙂

Whitespace Matters

I know that lots of people hate python for this very reason, but honestly after seeing so many ugly, obfuscated lines of C and hearing endless debates over where to put the curly braces and so on – there’s something so completely liberating and beautiful about

if len(mystring) > threshold:
    do_stuff()

Yes, you’re not as free to define your own coding style as you would be in C – but you also *never* have to look at something awful like

if(strlen(mystring) > threshold){ do_stuff();
  }
else  {
do_some_other_stuff(); }

And anyone who spends a lot of time in C knows this is a trivial and not too bothersome example.

Compiled Python

Another favorite complaint about python is performance. Your boss/friend/coworker/neighbor makes some ridiculous blanket statement like “python is so slow, look how much faster X is.”

Well, they’re probably right. So if you’re writing filesystems or operating systems, or if performance matters to you that much, then use language X (usually assembly, C, or D). If your app isn’t controlling a cruise missile or processing high-frequency trading & bank transactions – then maybe python is fast enough.

Or at least, that used to be the case. With compiled python, I’m not so sure anymore. There are clearly cases where you can use python to speed up development, write cleaner code, and then get pretty respectable performance without using a lower level language. Heck, some people even use python for firmware.

Irrespective of performance, there are other benefits to compiled python – from what I understand, the python interpreter (aka virtual machine) gets embedded into your “executable”, this alleviating the requirement that python be installed on every machine you want your code to run on. Standalone executables are sometimes very nice to have and can help simplify deployment of your application, especially on non-Linux/Unix operating systems.

Interactive Mode

Like most of the other things on this post, this feature isn’t unique to python. Ruby and most of the modern dynamic languages have some kind of interactive mode / interpreter. I love being able to try out code interactively, it really makes a difference for me when developing code in python. There’s something totally awesome about being able to do the following:

$ python
Python 1.5.2b2 (#1, Feb 28 1999, 00:02:06)  [GCC 2.8.1] on sunos5
Copyright 1991-1995 Stichting Mathematisch Centrum, Amsterdam
>>> if 0 != 1:
...     print "Zero is not one! Awesome!"
Zero is not one! Awesome!
>>>

(Note: python startup header copy/pasted from python 2.5 tutorial)

Again, this example is pretty trivial (like most examples in my blog) but hey, you get what you pay for. I really love the interactive mode, it lets me try out an idea or snippet of code independent of the surrounding code it will eventually be embedded in. It’s almost like having a temporary, quick, throw-away unit test for mini code snippets. For me, it’s yet another reason to like python and ruby.

Thanks for reading, comments are always welcome

atto

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