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What is Python?

Python is an interpreted, object-oriented, high-level programming language with dynamic semantics. Its high-level built in data structures, combined with dynamic typing and dynamic binding, make it very attractive for Rapid Application Development, as well as for use as a scripting or glue language to connect existing components together. Python's simple, easy to learn syntax emphasizes readability and therefore reduces the cost of program maintenance. Python supports modules and packages, which encourages program modularity and code reuse. The Python interpreter and the extensive standard library are available in source or binary form without charge for all major platforms, and can be freely distributed.

Often, programmers fall in love with Python because of the increased productivity it provides. Since there is no compilation step, the edit-test-debug cycle is incredibly fast. Debugging Python programs is easy: a bug or bad input will never cause a segmentation fault. Instead, when the interpreter discovers an error, it raises an exception. When the program doesn't catch the exception, the interpreter prints a stack trace. A source level debugger allows inspection of local and global variables, evaluation of arbitrary expressions, setting breakpoints, stepping through the code a line at a time, and so on. The debugger is written in Python itself, testifying to Python's introspective power. On the other hand, often the quickest way to debug a program is to add a few print statements to the source: the fast edit-test-debug cycle makes this simple approach very effective.

Comparing Python with Java

Python programs are generally expected to run slower than Java programs, but they also take much less time to develop. Python programs are typically 3-5 times shorter than equivalent Java programs. This difference can be attributed to Python's built-in high-level data types and its dynamic typing. For example, a Python programmer wastes no time declaring the types of arguments or variables, and Python's powerful polymorphic list and dictionary types, for which rich syntactic support is built straight into the language, find a use in almost every Python program. Because of the run-time typing, Python's run time must work harder than Java's. For example, when evaluating the expression a+b, it must first inspect the objects a and b to find out their type, which is not known at compile time. It then invokes the appropriate addition operation, which may be an overloaded user-defined method. Java, on the other hand, can perform an efficient integer or floating point addition, but requires variable declarations for a and b, and does not allow overloading of the + operator for instances of user-defined classes.

For these reasons, Python is much better suited as a "glue" language, while Java is better characterized as a low-level implementation language. In fact, the two together make an excellent combination. Components can be developed in Java and combined to form applications in Python; Python can also be used to prototype components until their design can be "hardened" in a Java implementation. To support this type of development, a Python implementation written in Java is under development, which allows calling Python code from Java and vice versa. In this implementation, Python source code is translated to Java bytecode (with help from a run-time library to support Python's dynamic semantics).

Read first: Python for Java Programmers - This will explain some of the key differences between the Java and the                                                                        Python programming environments.

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Rice University MOOC: An Introduction to Programming in Python

Additional Tools

Computer Science Circles - Python (University of Waterloo)

The Zen of Python

Video course

Python Reference Chart

Subpages (2): MIT Course Python Textbook