Python Programming/Variables and Strings
In this section, you will be introduced to two different kinds of data in Python: variables and strings. Please follow along by running the included programs and examining their output.
A variable is something that holds a value that may change. In simplest terms, a variable is just a box that you can put stuff in. You can use variables to store all kinds of stuff, but for now, we are just going to look at storing numbers in variables.
lucky = 7 print (lucky) 7
This code creates a variable called
lucky, and assigns to it the integer number
7. When we ask Python to tell us what is stored in the variable
lucky, it returns that number again.
We can also change what is inside a variable. For example:
changing = 3 print (changing) 3 changing = 9 print (changing) 9 different = 12 print (different) 12 print (changing) 9 changing = 15 print (changing) 15
We declare a variable called
changing, put the integer
3 in it, and verify that the assignment was properly done. Then, we assign the integer
changing, and ask again what is stored in
changing. Python has thrown away the
3, and has replaced it with
9. Next, we create a second variable, which we call
different, and put
12 in it. Now we have two independent variables,
changing, that hold different information, i.e., assigning a new value to one of them is not affecting the other.
You can also assign the value of a variable to be the value of another variable. For example:
red = 5 blue = 10 print (red, blue) 5 10 yellow = red print (yellow, red, blue) 5 5 10 red = blue print (yellow, red, blue) 5 10 10
To understand this code, keep in mind that the name of the variable is always on the left side of the equals sign (the assignment operator), and the value of the variable is on the right side of the equals sign. First the name, then the value.
We start out declaring that
10. As you can see, you can pass several arguments to
Now we create a third variable, called
yellow. To set its value, we tell Python that we want
yellow to be whatever
red is. (Remember: name to the left, value to the right.) Python knows that
5, so it also sets
yellow to be
Now we're going to take the
red variable, and set it to the value of the
blue variable. Don't get confused — name on the left, value on the right. Python looks up the value of
blue, and finds that it is
10. So, Python throws away
red's old value (
5), and replaces it with
10. After this assignment Python reports that
But didn't we say that
yellow should be whatever value
red is? The reason that
yellow is still
10, is because we only said that
yellow should be whatever
red is at the moment of the assignment. After Python has figured out what
red is and assigned that value to
yellow doesn't care about
red any more.
yellow has a value now, and that value is going to stay the same no matter what happens to
For the name of the variable, it can only consist of uppercase and lowercase letters (A-Z, a-z), digits (0-9), and the underscore character (_), and the first character of the name cannot be a digit. For example,
_#$ad are not valid variable names, while
a__bc are valid variable names.
A 'string' is simply a list of characters in order. A character is anything you can type on the keyboard in one keystroke, like a letter, a number, or a backslash. For example, "
hello" is a string. It is five characters long —
o. Strings can also have spaces: "
hello world" contains 11 characters: 10 letters and the space between "
hello" and "
world". There are no limits to the number of characters you can have in a string — you can have anywhere from one to a million or more. You can even have a string that has 0 characters, which is usually called an "empty string."
There are three ways you can declare a string in Python: single quotes (
'), double quotes (
"), and triple quotes (
"""). In all cases, you start and end the string with your chosen string declaration. For example:
>>> print ('I am a single quoted string') I am a single quoted string >>> print ("I am a double quoted string") I am a double quoted string >>> print ("""I am a triple quoted string""") I am a triple quoted string
You can use quotation marks within strings by placing a backslash directly before them, so that Python knows you want to include the quotation marks in the string, instead of ending the string there. Placing a backslash directly before another symbol like this is known as escaping the symbol.
>>> print ("So I said, \"You don't know me! You'll never understand me!\"") So I said, "You don't know me! You'll never understand me!" >>> print ('So I said, "You don\'t know me! You\'ll never understand me!"') So I said, "You don't know me! You'll never understand me!" >>> print ("""The double quotation mark (\") is used to indicate direct quotations.""") The double quotation mark (") is used to indicate direct quotations.
If you want to include a backslash in a string, you have to escape said backslash. This tells Python that you want to include the backslash in the string, instead of using it as an escape character. For example:
>>> print ("This will result in only three backslashes: \\ \\ \\") This will result in only three backslashes: \ \ \
As you can see from the above examples, only the specific character used to quote the string needs to be escaped. This makes for more readable code.
To see how to use strings, let's go back for a moment to an old, familiar program:
>>> print("Hello, world!") Hello, world!
Look at that! You've been using strings since the very beginning!
You can add two strings together using the
+ operator: this is called concatenating them.
>>> print ("Hello, " + "world!") Hello, world!
Notice that there is a space at the end of the first string. If you don't put that in, the two words will run together, and you'll end up with
You can also repeat strings by using the
* operator, like so:
>>> print ("bouncy " * 5) bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy >>> print ("bouncy " * 10) bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy
bouncy gets repeated 5 times in the 1st example and 10 times in the 2nd.
If you want to find out how long a string is, you use the
len() function, which simply takes a string and counts the number of characters in it. (
len stands for "length.") Just put the string that you want to find the length of inside the parentheses of the function. For example:
>>> print (len("Hello, world!")) 13
Strings and VariablesEdit
Now that you've learned about variables and strings separately, let's see how they work together.
Variables can store much more than just numbers. You can also use them to store strings! Here's how:
question = "What did you have for lunch?" print (question) What did you have for lunch?
In this program, we are creating a variable called
question, and storing the string "
What did you have for lunch?" in it. Then, we just tell Python to print out whatever is inside the
question variable. Notice that when we tell Python to print out
question, there are no quotation marks around the word
question: this tells Python that we are using a variable, not a string. If we put in quotation marks around
question, Python would treat it as a string, as shown below:
question = "What did you have for lunch?" print ("question") question
Let's try something different. Sure, it's all fine and dandy to ask the user what they had for lunch, but it doesn't make much difference if they can't respond! Let's edit this program so that the user can type in what they ate.
question = "What did you have for lunch?" print (question) answer = raw_input() #You should use "input()" in python 3.x, because python 3.x doesn't have a function named "raw_input". print ("You had " + answer + "! That sounds delicious!")
To ask the user to write something, we used a function called
raw_input(), which waits until the user writes something and presses enter, and then returns what the user wrote. Don't forget the parentheses! Even though there's nothing inside of them, they're still important, and Python will give you an error if you don't put them in. You can also use a different function called
input(), which works in nearly the same way. We will learn the differences between these two functions later.
In this program, we created a variable called
answer, and put whatever the user wrote into it. Then, we print out a new string, which contains whatever the user wrote. Notice the extra space at the end of the "
You had " string, and the exclamation mark at the start of the "
! That sounds delicious!" string. They help format the output and make it look nice, so that the strings don't all run together.
Combining Numbers and StringsEdit
Take a look at this program, and see if you can figure out what it's supposed to do.
print ("Please give me a number: ") number = raw_input() plusTen = number + 10 print ("If we add 10 to your number, we get " + plusTen)
This program should take a number from the user, add 10 to it, and print out the result. But if you try running it, it won't work! You'll get an error that looks like this:
Traceback (most recent call last): File "test.py", line 5, in <module> print "If we add 10 to your number, we get " + plusTen TypeError: cannot concatenate 'str' and 'int' objects
What's going on here? Python is telling us that there is a
TypeError, which means there is a problem with the types of information being used. Specifically, Python can't figure out how to reconcile the two types of data that are being used simultaneously: integers and strings. For example, Python thinks that the
number variable is holding a string, instead of a number. If the user enters
number will contain a string that is two characters long: a
1, followed by a
5. So how can we tell Python that
15 should be a number, instead of a string?
Also, when printing out the answer, we are telling Python to concatenate together a string ("
If we add 10 to your number, we get ") and a number (
plusTen). Python doesn't know how to do that -- it can only concatenate strings together. How do we tell Python to treat a number as a string, so that we can print it out with another string?
Luckily, there are two functions that are perfect solutions for these problems. The
int() function will take a string and turn it into an integer, while the
str() function will take an integer and turn it into a string. In both cases, we put what we want to change inside the parentheses. Therefore, our modified program will look like this:
print ("Please give me a number:",) response = raw_input() number = int(response) plusTen = number + 10 print ("If we add 10 to your number, we get " + str(plusTen))
That's all you need to know about strings and variables! We'll learn more about types later.
List of Learned FunctionsEdit
print(): Print the output information to the user
raw_input(): asks the user for a response, and returns that response. (Note that in version 3.x
raw_input()does not exist and has been replaced by
len(): returns the length of a string (number of characters)
str(): returns the string representation of an object
int(): given a string or number, returns an integer
- Write a program that asks the user to type in a string, and then tells the user how long that string was.
- Ask the user for a string, and then for a number. Print out that string, that many times. (For example, if the string is
helloand the number is
3you should print out
hello hello hello.)
- What would happen if a mischievous user typed in a word when you ask for a number? Try it.