Introduction to Python

Let’s start with running the Python interpreter we installed in the previous chapter. Please run:

(workshops) ~$ python
Python 3.4.0 (...)
Type "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.


Earlier we were working in the operating system’s command line and we could give commands. The prompt was ~$. After running the python command, the prompt changed to >>>. For us, that means that for now we may only use commands from the Python language. Recent commands ( such as: cd, mkdir) will not work. This is the moment when we start to learn a new language!

We don’t type the prompt >>> (the same as with ~$) - the interpreter will do that for us.

Now we can count something, for example: 2 + 2:

>>> 2 + 2

Python is excellent as a calculator:

>>> 6 * 7
>>> 1252 - 38 * 6
>>> (3 - 5) * 7
>>> 21 / 7
>>> 3**2
>>> 5 / 2

Please pay special attention when writing decimals: use a period, not a comma. Commas will be used to define tuple (but more on that later).

Introduce yourself


Numbers, however, are not enough to communicate effectively. So we need to learn how to use strings . Here are some examples:

>>> "Hello World"
'Hello World'
>>> 'Foo Bar'
'Foo Bar'
>>> "Rock 'n' Roll"
"Rock 'n' Roll"
>>> 'My name is "James"'
'My name is "James"'

You can also add strings as follows:

>>> 'My name is ' + '"James"'
'My name is "James"'

or they can be multiplied by whole numbers:

>>> 'Hastur' * 3

The string must always begin and end with the same character. This may be a single quote (') or double quotes ("). It has no effect on the value of the string, i.e, typing "Batman" creates a string Batman - quotes are not a part of it, they only indicate that it is a string ( unfortunately, Python is not so clever as to guess it by itself).

Printing the strings

How do we present values in a readable form? We can do it by using the print() command:

>>> print("Hello World")
Hello World

In a similar way, we can write several strings in a single line without adding them to each other. They will be separated by spaces:

>>> print("Hi, my name is", "Łukasz")
Hi, my name is Łukasz

print() command has many more applications as it can write almost everything. For now, the only other kind of values we know are numbers:

>>> print(1)
>>> print(1, 2, 3)
1 2 3
>>> print("2 + 2 =", 2 + 2)
2 + 2 = 4

We are done with the interactive console for now. To exit it enter quit():

>>> quit()

Or hold Ctrl+D (for Linux) or Ctrl+Z (for Windows).

Source files

So far, our code was executed in an interactive mode where we give commands separately and immediately get an answer. It’s a great way to experiment and learn new language elements, which is why we will get back to it eventually.

Our first program will look like this:

print("Hi, my name is Lucas")

In order to write and save code in a file we need to use a text editor. Find a text editor that works on your OS (see list of text editors on Wikipedia for examples). Type the above Python code and save it in a new file called Then run your first Python program, from the command line, using the following.

(workshops) ~$ python
Hi, my name is Lucas
(workshops) ~$

A single program can contain more than one command. Each should be on a separate line. For example:


print("my name is Lucas")


We can insert blank lines wherever we want in file to increase its readability. Here, we split the message header from the content and the end.

BMI calculator

Now we are going to write a simple program to calculate BMI (Body Mass Index). The formula for its calculation is as follows:

BMI = (mass (kg)) / (height (m)) squared

We already know how to divide, exponentiate, and print out numbers. Let’s create a new file called and write a program that calculates our BMI:

print("Your BMI is:", 65.5 / (1.75 ** 2))

Run our new program with:

$ python

We get the following result:

Your BMI is: 21.387755102040817

As you can see, our program still needs some improvements:

  1. If someone else would like to use this program, we must change the contents of the file.
  2. To someone who does has not memorized the BMI table, the value 21.387755102 won’t mean anything.
  3. Printing so many decimal places is unnecessary. BMI is measured with an accuracy of two decimal places.

Programming is the art of solving problems, so … let’s get to work! It will give us an opportunity to learn about some new features of Python.


Let’s try to solve the first problem. We would like to make our program more readable, i.e. so that for the person reading the results, it would be obvious which value is the weight and which is the height.

That’s why we give names to these values​​:

weight = 65.5
height = 1.75

bmi = weight / height**2
print("Your BMI is:", bmi)

The result has not changed:

Your BMI is: 21.387755102040817

In order to better understand how names work, let’s go back to the interactive mode for a while and give names to some values:

>>> x = 42
>>> PI = 3.1415
>>> name = "Amelia"
>>> print("Things:", x, PI, name)
Things: 42 3.1415 Amelia

One value can have many names:

>>> y = x
>>> print(x, y)
42 42

We also can change the value assigned to the name. The new value does not need to be of the same type as the old one:

>>> x = 13
>>> print(x)
>>> x = "Scarab"
>>> print(x)

The names are independent of each other. We have just assigned a new value to x, but the value assigned to y remains unchanged:

>>> print(y)


For those who already know other programming languages.

You probably wonder why we do not use the term “variable”. This is because the names in Python do not work in the same way as variables. In most languages, the operation y = x would create a copy of x and would introduce it in the variable y.

In Python, nothing is silently copied. y only becomes an alternative name for the same value. If you change this value, both x, and y will show the same thing.

In our example we did not change the value of the number 42, but only the value assigned to x (the values of numbers are not modified despite the fact that in 1897 the lower house of the state of Indiana voted to change the value of the number π to 3 - which was rejected in the Senate). Therefore, print(y) will give us 42.

As we have seen in our program, we can also give names to the results of calculations and use names in calculations:

>>> w = 65.5
>>> h = 175.0 / 100.0
>>> bmi = w / h**2
>>> print(w, h, bmi)
65.5 1.75 21.387755102040817

Once a value is calculated, it is not modified:

>>> w = 64
>>> print(w, h, bmi)
64 1.75 21.387755102040817

Until we give the Python the command to repeat the calculation again:

>>> bmi = w / h**2
>>> print(w, h, bmi)
64 1.75 20.897959183673468

Now is time to add some comments to our program so that the user (and us too!) remembers that the weight has to be given in kilograms.

Comments allow us to put arbitrary text in our python program. Comments will be ignored by the interpreter.

A comment in Python is everything after the character # until the end of the line:

# Weight in kilograms
weight = 65.5

# Height in meters
height = 1.75

bmi = weight / height**2 # Count BMI
print("Your BMI is:", bmi)

Calling a function

Our program looks good, but if a user wants to calculate his/her BMI, they still have to change the content of the program. It would be more convenient to enter the required values in the console after opening the program and get the BMI result.

To write such a program, we need to learn how to use the functions. The first function we are going to learn is help():

>>> help
Type help() for interactive help, or help(object) for help about object.

The help() function is very friendly and tells us how we should use it. It can also tell you how to use the other functions:

>>> help(input)
Help on function input in module builtins:

    input([prompt]) -> string

    Read a string from standard input.  The trailing newline is stripped.
    If the user hits EOF (Unix: Ctl-D, Windows: Ctl-Z+Return), raise EOFError.
    On Unix, GNU readline is used if enabled.  The prompt string, if given,
    is printed without a trailing newline before reading.

We will use input() to load data from the user. As we read in the description, input() reads the string:

>>> input()
Ala has a cat
'Ala has a cat'

Now you will learn what “calling a function” means. You can call a function using (), which is an information for the interpreter to call a function. Calling a function will run a function. If you forget to type () after the function name, the function is not called. In this situation, you will not get any informations about errors, because the command you typed is still correct.

Generally, function calls return some values. The input() function returns a string, that’s why we can use it the same way that we used strings before.

For example, we can use input() to save a given string as a name:

>>> name = input()
>>> name
>>> print("Your name is:", name)
Your name is: Joanna

Is that enough to improve our program?

>>> w = input()
>>> w
>>> print(w + 3)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: Can't convert 'int' object to str implicitly

As you can see, Python doesn’t know what result we expect. Both strings (str), and numbers (int) can’t be added together. Python does not know if we are referring to the number 63.5 or to the string "60.5". Only we know that, so we have to include this information in the program.

Let’s introduce two more functions:

>>> help(int)  
Help on class int in module builtins:

class int(object)
 |  int(x=0) -> integer
 |  int(x, base=10) -> integer
 |  Convert a number or string to an integer, or return 0 if no arguments
 |  are given.  If x is a number, return x.__int__().  For floating point
 |  numbers, this truncates towards zero.
 |  ...


>>> help(float)  
Help on class float in module builtins:

class float(object)
 |  float(x) -> floating point number
 |  Convert a string or number to a floating point number, if possible.
 |  ...

The help() function does not hesitate to inform us that, in fact, int() and float() are not functions but classes (we will talk about those later), hence the information about all the other things that you can use them for. For now, we are only interested in the basic functionality of converting strings into numbers of a determined type.

Let’s test int() and float():

>>> int("0")
>>> int(" 63 ")
>>> int("60.5")
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
ValueError: invalid literal for int() with base 10: '60.5'
>>> float("0")
>>> float(" 63 ")
>>> float("60.5")

Before we use the newly learnt functions in our program, let’s make a plan of how it should work:

  1. Ask the user to enter the height.
  2. Load the string from the user and save it under the name height.
  3. Change the string with the number to a number with a fraction.
  4. Ask the user to enter the weight.
  5. Load the string from the user and save it under the name of weight.
  6. Change the string with the number to a number with a fraction.
  7. Using the remembered values calculate BMI and save as bmi.
  8. Print the calculated BMI.

It should not surprise us that these eight points can be directly translated into eight lines of our program (not counting spaces):

print("Enter the height in meters:")
height = input()
height = float(height)

print("Enter the weight in kilograms:")
weight = input()
weight = float(weight)

bmi = weight / height**2 # calculate BMI
print("Your BMI is:", bmi)

You can save this program to and run python The result should look like this:

Enter the height in meters:
Enter the weight in kilograms:
Your BMI is: 21.387755102040817

In conclusion, to call a function we need to know its name (until now we learnt a bunch of functions: print(), help(), input(), int(), float() and quit()), and what data it expects from us (called the list of arguments).

Entering just the name does not activate the function. It will tell us only that it is a function:

>>> input  
<built-in function input>

In order to call the function, we must put parentheses after its name:

>>> input()  

Now Python will execute the function.

All arguments are given in parentheses. To specify more than one, separate them with a comma:

>>> int("FF", 16)

Checking conditions

Let’s go to our next problem. We want our program to print the appropriate classification for the calculated BMI by using the table below:

BMI Classification
< 18,5 underweight
18,5 – 24,99 normal weight
≥ 25,0 overweight

We need to use the “conditional statement” if. It will execute the rest of the program depending on a given condition:

print("Enter your height in meters:")
height = input()
height = float(height)

print("Enter your weight in kilograms:")
weight = input()
weight = float(weight)

bmi = weight / height**2  # Calculate BMI

if bmi < 18.5:
elif bmi < 25.0:
    print("normal weight")
Enter your height in meters:
Enter your weight in kilograms:
normal weight

Comparisons: true or false?

Let us now talk about comparisons. Let’s look at how they behave in a short math lesson:

>>> 2 > 1
>>> 1 == 2
>>> 1 == 1.0
>>> 10 >= 10
>>> 13 <= 1 + 3
>>> -1 != 0

The result of a comparison is always True or False. Comparisons can be combined into more complex conditions by using the words and and or:

>>> x = 5
>>> x < 10
>>> 2*x > x
>>> (x < 10) and (2*x > x)
>>> (x != 5) and (x != 4)
>>> (x != 5) and (x != 4) or (x == 5)


Another thing you should pay attention to is the indentation in the code. Open the interactive mode and enter a simple condition such as:

>>> if 2 > 1:

So far nothing has happened, as evidenced by dots ... instead of a prompt >>>, which we have seen so far. Python expects us to give further instructions that are supposed to be executed if the condition 2 > 1 turns out to be true. Let’s try to make Python print “OK”:

>>> if 2 > 1:
... print("OK")
  File "<stdin>", line 2
IndentationError: expected an indented block

Unfortunately, we did not succeed. Python needs to know whether the instruction we have written is a continuation of if or it is the next instruction not covered by the condition. To this purpose, we need to indent our code:

>>> if 2 > 1:
...  print("OK")

All you need is one space or TAB. However, all the lines that are supposed to be executed one after another should be indented the same way:

>>> if -1 < 0:
...  print("A")
...   print("B")
  File "<stdin>", line 3
IndentationError: unexpected indent

>>> if -1 < 0:
...     print("A")
...   print("B")
  File "<stdin>", line 3
IndentationError: unindent does not match any outer indentation level

>>> if -1 < 0:
...   print("A")
...   print("B")

To avoid chaos, most Python programmers use four spaces for each level of indentation. We will do the same:

>>> if 2 > 1:
...     if 3 > 2:
...         print("OK")
...     else:
...         print("FAIL")
...     print("DONE")

What if not?

Actually, we could write our program just by using if

if bmi < 18.5:
if bmi >= 18.5:
    if bmi < 25.0:
        print("normal weight")
if bmi >= 25.0:

We can also use else and elif to avoid repeating similar conditions and increase readability. In more complex programs it may not be obvious from the beginning that a certain condition is the opposite of the previous one.

Using else , we have the guarantee that the given instructions will be executed only if the instructions printed under if haven’t been executed:

if bmi < 18.5:
    # If your program executes this instruction,
    # for sure bmi >= 18.5 !
    if bmi < 25.0:
        print("normal weight")
        # now for sure bmi >= 25.0, we don’t have to
        # check it

Pay particular attention to the indentations. Every use of else, will cause an increased indentation of our code. It is very annoying when you have to check a few or a dozen or so conditions which exclude one another . Therefore the authors of Python added a little ‘improvement’ in the form of elif, instruction, which allows you to check another condition immediately:

if n < 1:
elif n < 2:
    # if it wasn’t n < 1, and now it is n < 2
elif n < 3:
    # ,if none of the previous condition was true.
    # n >= 1 i n>= 2, but n < 3
    # trolls can count only to three

Strings formatting

The last issue which we have mentioned above was the problem with too many digits in a printed BMI. Out of the three problems we had, this one is the easiest to solve.

That’s why we left it for the end of our “adventure” with the BMI calculator. We already know that we can add strings to each other and multiply them by integers. You will see that we can also format them. But first we will need one more type of data (except the strings and the numbers we already know).


At the beginning we mentioned that we can not use commas in numbers, because we will need them later while using tuples. And here they are:

>>> 1, 2, 3
(1, 2, 3)
>>> ("Ala", 15)
('Ala', 15)
>>> x = 1,5
>>> print(x)
(1, 5)

A tuple is nothing more than a few values grouped into one. The values we want to group should be separated by commas. The whole thing can be enclosed in parentheses to make it more clear, but it is not required. Except when we want to group none of the elements (however strange it may sound):

>>> ()

Tuples can be combined:

>>> names = ("Paulina", "Kowalska")
>>> details = (27, 1.70)
>>> names + details
('Paulina', 'Kowalska', 27, 1.7)

They may also contain other tuples e.g. information on a point on the map can be grouped as follows:

>>> point = ("Name of point", (x, y))

where x and y are numbers.

We can refer to the grouped values by using their positions in the tuple (counting form zero) e.g.:

>>> p = (10, 15)
>>> p[0]  #  first value
>>> p[1]  # second value


Going back to our program: currently the result is reduced to a single line. Now we want to write the BMI as a number and the interval in which it is located, that is to say:

Your BMI is equal: 21.39 (normal weight)

Modify the current program so that the calculated BMI would be available under the name of bmi,and the name of the interval under the name of category. Then we can use print() and obtain the required result:

print("Your BMI is equal:", bmi, "(" + category + ")")

Well, almost….We still have too many digits. We would also have a problem if we wanted to generate such a string and save with a name, because we use print() to separate the elements. Fortunately, there is a better way:

>>> bmi = 21.387755102040817
>>> category = "normal weight"
>>> result = "Your BMI: %f (%s)" % (bmi, category)
>>> result
'Your BMI: 21.387755 (normal weight)'
>>> print(result)
Your BMI: 21.387755 (normal weight)

We have here a string and a tuple joined by %. The string is a template which will be completed with values from the tuple. The spaces to be filled are also labeled with the percentage (%). . The letter that follows defines the type of a value we want to insert. The integers are represented by i as integer (we can also use d as decimal), strings are represented by s as string, and floating-point numbers are represented by f for float:

>>> "String: %s, Numbers: %d %f" % ("Ala", 10, 3.1415)
'String: Ala, Numbers: 10 3.141500'

Now instead of nine decimal places we always get six, but the formatting has the advantage that it allows us to have more control by putting between % and f additional information, e.g. if you want to display only two places after the decimal point:

>>> "%.2f" % 3.1415
>>> "%.2f" % 21.387755102040817

There are plenty options of formatting, so we will not show them all here. One of the most useful is the option of aligning to a specific number of characters:

WIDTH = 28

print("-" * WIDTH)
print("| Name and last name |  Weight  |")
print("-" * WIDTH)
print("| %15s | %6.2f |" % ("Łukasz", 67.5))
print("| %15s | %6.2f |" % ("Pudzian", 123))
print("-" * WIDTH)
| Name and last name  |  Weight|
|              Łukasz |  67.50 |
|             Pudzian | 123.00 |

We can also align the string - to the left by putting before the number of characters:

WIDTH = 28

print("-" * WIDTH)
print("| Name and last name |  Weight |")
print("-" * WIDTH)
print("| %-15s | %6.2f |" % ("Łukasz", 67.5))
print("| %-15s | %6.2f |" % ("Pudzian", 123))
print("-" * WIDTH)
| Name and last name|  Weight |
| Łukasz            |  67.50  |
| Pudzian           | 123.00  |

Aligning towards the centre is an additional excercise for you :).

Powtórzenie funkcji print i input

Task 1: Game ‘rock-paper-scissors’


We will implement a simple game called rock-paper-scissors. Let’s define goals of the game:

  1. Show game manual.
  2. Get users choice as an input
  3. Compare user’s choice with predefined computer’s choice
  4. Print the outcome

Initial code:

computer_choice = 'rock'

# Print game manual, possible chocies, author itp.

# Get user input

# Compare user's and computer's choices

# Print the outcome


  • Print game manual in stylish frame
  • Print game manual on call (for instance, when user’s choice was help)


In this chapter we learned basics of Python syntax. We discovered how to print integers, floating-point numbers, strings and tuples.

We learnt the function print(), that prints information for the user and the function input(), which reads it.

We also know now that indentations can be important, especially when we want to use the instruction if (also in connection with else and elif).

We successfully created a program stored in a file and ran it. Our program asks the user to answer a few simple questions, performs calculations and presents results in the form which is useful for the user.

This is quite a lot like for a first program. We still have a lot of work, anyhow you can be proud of what we have done so far!