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General Python FAQ
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General Information
What is Python?
Python is an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented programming language. It
incorporates modules, exceptions, dynamic typing, very high level dynamic data
types, and classes. It supports multiple programming paradigms beyond
object-oriented programming, such as procedural and functional programming.
Python combines remarkable power with very clear syntax. It has interfaces to
many system calls and libraries, as well as to various window systems, and is
extensible in C or C++. It is also usable as an extension language for
applications that need a programmable interface. Finally, Python is portable:
it runs on many Unix variants including Linux and macOS, and on Windows.
To find out more, start with :ref:`tutorial-index`. The `Beginner's Guide to
Python <>`_ links to other
introductory tutorials and resources for learning Python.
What is the Python Software Foundation?
The Python Software Foundation is an independent non-profit organization that
holds the copyright on Python versions 2.1 and newer. The PSF's mission is to
advance open source technology related to the Python programming language and to
publicize the use of Python. The PSF's home page is at
Donations to the PSF are tax-exempt in the US. If you use Python and find it
helpful, please contribute via `the PSF donation page
Are there copyright restrictions on the use of Python?
You can do anything you want with the source, as long as you leave the
copyrights in and display those copyrights in any documentation about Python
that you produce. If you honor the copyright rules, it's OK to use Python for
commercial use, to sell copies of Python in source or binary form (modified or
unmodified), or to sell products that incorporate Python in some form. We would
still like to know about all commercial use of Python, of course.
See `the license page <>`_ to find further
explanations and the full text of the PSF License.
The Python logo is trademarked, and in certain cases permission is required to
use it. Consult `the Trademark Usage Policy
<>`__ for more information.
Why was Python created in the first place?
Here's a *very* brief summary of what started it all, written by Guido van
I had extensive experience with implementing an interpreted language in the
ABC group at CWI, and from working with this group I had learned a lot about
language design. This is the origin of many Python features, including the
use of indentation for statement grouping and the inclusion of
very-high-level data types (although the details are all different in
I had a number of gripes about the ABC language, but also liked many of its
features. It was impossible to extend the ABC language (or its
implementation) to remedy my complaints -- in fact its lack of extensibility
was one of its biggest problems. I had some experience with using Modula-2+
and talked with the designers of Modula-3 and read the Modula-3 report.
Modula-3 is the origin of the syntax and semantics used for exceptions, and
some other Python features.
I was working in the Amoeba distributed operating system group at CWI. We
needed a better way to do system administration than by writing either C
programs or Bourne shell scripts, since Amoeba had its own system call
interface which wasn't easily accessible from the Bourne shell. My
experience with error handling in Amoeba made me acutely aware of the
importance of exceptions as a programming language feature.
It occurred to me that a scripting language with a syntax like ABC but with
access to the Amoeba system calls would fill the need. I realized that it
would be foolish to write an Amoeba-specific language, so I decided that I
needed a language that was generally extensible.
During the 1989 Christmas holidays, I had a lot of time on my hand, so I
decided to give it a try. During the next year, while still mostly working
on it in my own time, Python was used in the Amoeba project with increasing
success, and the feedback from colleagues made me add many early
In February 1991, after just over a year of development, I decided to post to
USENET. The rest is in the ``Misc/HISTORY`` file.
What is Python good for?
Python is a high-level general-purpose programming language that can be applied
to many different classes of problems.
The language comes with a large standard library that covers areas such as
string processing (regular expressions, Unicode, calculating differences between
files), internet protocols (HTTP, FTP, SMTP, XML-RPC, POP, IMAP),
software engineering (unit testing, logging, profiling, parsing
Python code), and operating system interfaces (system calls, filesystems, TCP/IP
sockets). Look at the table of contents for :ref:`library-index` to get an idea
of what's available. A wide variety of third-party extensions are also
available. Consult `the Python Package Index <>`_ to
find packages of interest to you.
How does the Python version numbering scheme work?
Python versions are numbered "A.B.C" or "A.B":
* *A* is the major version number -- it is only incremented for really major
changes in the language.
* *B* is the minor version number -- it is incremented for less earth-shattering
* *C* is the micro version number -- it is incremented for each bugfix release.
See :pep:`6` for more information about bugfix releases.
Not all releases are bugfix releases. In the run-up to a new major release, a
series of development releases are made, denoted as alpha, beta, or release
candidate. Alphas are early releases in which interfaces aren't yet finalized;
it's not unexpected to see an interface change between two alpha releases.
Betas are more stable, preserving existing interfaces but possibly adding new
modules, and release candidates are frozen, making no changes except as needed
to fix critical bugs.
Alpha, beta and release candidate versions have an additional suffix:
* The suffix for an alpha version is "aN" for some small number *N*.
* The suffix for a beta version is "bN" for some small number *N*.
* The suffix for a release candidate version is "rcN" for some small number *N*.
In other words, all versions labeled *2.0aN* precede the versions labeled
*2.0bN*, which precede versions labeled *2.0rcN*, and *those* precede 2.0.
You may also find version numbers with a "+" suffix, e.g. "2.2+". These are
unreleased versions, built directly from the CPython development repository. In
practice, after a final minor release is made, the version is incremented to the
next minor version, which becomes the "a0" version, e.g. "2.4a0".
See also the documentation for :data:`sys.version`, :data:`sys.hexversion`, and
How do I obtain a copy of the Python source?
The latest Python source distribution is always available from, at The latest development sources can be obtained
The source distribution is a gzipped tar file containing the complete C source,
Sphinx-formatted documentation, Python library modules, example programs, and
several useful pieces of freely distributable software. The source will compile
and run out of the box on most UNIX platforms.
Consult the `Getting Started section of the Python Developer's Guide
<>`__ for more
information on getting the source code and compiling it.
How do I get documentation on Python?
.. XXX mention py3k
The standard documentation for the current stable version of Python is available
at PDF, plain text, and downloadable HTML versions are
also available at
The documentation is written in reStructuredText and processed by `the Sphinx
documentation tool <>`__. The reStructuredText source for
the documentation is part of the Python source distribution.
I've never programmed before. Is there a Python tutorial?
There are numerous tutorials and books available. The standard documentation
includes :ref:`tutorial-index`.
Consult `the Beginner's Guide <>`_ to
find information for beginning Python programmers, including lists of tutorials.
Is there a newsgroup or mailing list devoted to Python?
There is a newsgroup, :newsgroup:`comp.lang.python`, and a mailing list,
`python-list <>`_. The
newsgroup and mailing list are gatewayed into each other -- if you can read news
it's unnecessary to subscribe to the mailing list.
:newsgroup:`comp.lang.python` is high-traffic, receiving hundreds of postings
every day, and Usenet readers are often more able to cope with this volume.
Announcements of new software releases and events can be found in
comp.lang.python.announce, a low-traffic moderated list that receives about five
postings per day. It's available as `the python-announce mailing list
More info about other mailing lists and newsgroups
can be found at
How do I get a beta test version of Python?
Alpha and beta releases are available from All
releases are announced on the comp.lang.python and comp.lang.python.announce
newsgroups and on the Python home page at; an RSS feed of
news is available.
You can also access the development version of Python through Git. See
`The Python Developer's Guide <>`_ for details.
How do I submit bug reports and patches for Python?
To report a bug or submit a patch, use the issue tracker at
For more information on how Python is developed, consult `the Python Developer's
Guide <>`_.
Are there any published articles about Python that I can reference?
It's probably best to cite your favorite book about Python.
The `very first article <>`_ about Python was
written in 1991 and is now quite outdated.
Guido van Rossum and Jelke de Boer, "Interactively Testing Remote Servers
Using the Python Programming Language", CWI Quarterly, Volume 4, Issue 4
(December 1991), Amsterdam, pp 283--303.
Are there any books on Python?
Yes, there are many, and more are being published. See the wiki at for a list.
You can also search online bookstores for "Python" and filter out the Monty
Python references; or perhaps search for "Python" and "language".
Where in the world is located?
The Python project's infrastructure is located all over the world and is managed
by the Python Infrastructure Team. Details `here <>`__.
Why is it called Python?
When he began implementing Python, Guido van Rossum was also reading the
published scripts from `"Monty Python's Flying Circus"
<>`__, a BBC comedy series from the 1970s. Van Rossum
thought he needed a name that was short, unique, and slightly mysterious, so he
decided to call the language Python.
Do I have to like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"?
No, but it helps. :)
Python in the real world
How stable is Python?
Very stable. New, stable releases have been coming out roughly every 6 to 18
months since 1991, and this seems likely to continue. As of version 3.9,
Python will have a major new release every 12 months (:pep:`602`).
The developers issue "bugfix" releases of older versions, so the stability of
existing releases gradually improves. Bugfix releases, indicated by a third
component of the version number (e.g. 3.5.3, 3.6.2), are managed for stability;
only fixes for known problems are included in a bugfix release, and it's
guaranteed that interfaces will remain the same throughout a series of bugfix
The latest stable releases can always be found on the `Python download page
<>`_. There are two production-ready versions
of Python: 2.x and 3.x. The recommended version is 3.x, which is supported by
most widely used libraries. Although 2.x is still widely used, `it is not
maintained anymore <>`_.
How many people are using Python?
There are probably millions of users, though it's difficult to obtain an exact
Python is available for free download, so there are no sales figures, and it's
available from many different sites and packaged with many Linux distributions,
so download statistics don't tell the whole story either.
The comp.lang.python newsgroup is very active, but not all Python users post to
the group or even read it.
Have any significant projects been done in Python?
See for a list of projects that use Python.
Consulting the proceedings for `past Python conferences
<>`_ will reveal contributions from many
different companies and organizations.
High-profile Python projects include `the Mailman mailing list manager
<>`_ and `the Zope application server
<>`_. Several Linux distributions, most notably `Red Hat
<>`_, have written part or all of their installer and
system administration software in Python. Companies that use Python internally
include Google, Yahoo, and Lucasfilm Ltd.
What new developments are expected for Python in the future?
See for the Python Enhancement Proposals
(PEPs). PEPs are design documents describing a suggested new feature for Python,
providing a concise technical specification and a rationale. Look for a PEP
titled "Python X.Y Release Schedule", where X.Y is a version that hasn't been
publicly released yet.
New development is discussed on `the python-dev mailing list
Is it reasonable to propose incompatible changes to Python?
In general, no. There are already millions of lines of Python code around the
world, so any change in the language that invalidates more than a very small
fraction of existing programs has to be frowned upon. Even if you can provide a
conversion program, there's still the problem of updating all documentation;
many books have been written about Python, and we don't want to invalidate them
all at a single stroke.
Providing a gradual upgrade path is necessary if a feature has to be changed.
:pep:`5` describes the procedure followed for introducing backward-incompatible
changes while minimizing disruption for users.
Is Python a good language for beginning programmers?
It is still common to start students with a procedural and statically typed
language such as Pascal, C, or a subset of C++ or Java. Students may be better
served by learning Python as their first language. Python has a very simple and
consistent syntax and a large standard library and, most importantly, using
Python in a beginning programming course lets students concentrate on important
programming skills such as problem decomposition and data type design. With
Python, students can be quickly introduced to basic concepts such as loops and
procedures. They can probably even work with user-defined objects in their very
first course.
For a student who has never programmed before, using a statically typed language
seems unnatural. It presents additional complexity that the student must master
and slows the pace of the course. The students are trying to learn to think
like a computer, decompose problems, design consistent interfaces, and
encapsulate data. While learning to use a statically typed language is
important in the long term, it is not necessarily the best topic to address in
the students' first programming course.
Many other aspects of Python make it a good first language. Like Java, Python
has a large standard library so that students can be assigned programming
projects very early in the course that *do* something. Assignments aren't
restricted to the standard four-function calculator and check balancing
programs. By using the standard library, students can gain the satisfaction of
working on realistic applications as they learn the fundamentals of programming.
Using the standard library also teaches students about code reuse. Third-party
modules such as PyGame are also helpful in extending the students' reach.
Python's interactive interpreter enables students to test language features
while they're programming. They can keep a window with the interpreter running
while they enter their program's source in another window. If they can't
remember the methods for a list, they can do something like this::
>>> L = []
>>> dir(L) # doctest: +NORMALIZE_WHITESPACE
['__add__', '__class__', '__contains__', '__delattr__', '__delitem__',
'__dir__', '__doc__', '__eq__', '__format__', '__ge__',
'__getattribute__', '__getitem__', '__gt__', '__hash__', '__iadd__',
'__imul__', '__init__', '__iter__', '__le__', '__len__', '__lt__',
'__mul__', '__ne__', '__new__', '__reduce__', '__reduce_ex__',
'__repr__', '__reversed__', '__rmul__', '__setattr__', '__setitem__',
'__sizeof__', '__str__', '__subclasshook__', 'append', 'clear',
'copy', 'count', 'extend', 'index', 'insert', 'pop', 'remove',
'reverse', 'sort']
>>> [d for d in dir(L) if '__' not in d]
['append', 'clear', 'copy', 'count', 'extend', 'index', 'insert', 'pop', 'remove', 'reverse', 'sort']
>>> help(L.append)
Help on built-in function append:
L.append(object) -> None -- append object to end
>>> L.append(1)
>>> L
With the interpreter, documentation is never far from the student as they are
There are also good IDEs for Python. IDLE is a cross-platform IDE for Python
that is written in Python using Tkinter.
Emacs users will be happy to know that there is a very good Python mode for
Emacs. All of these programming environments provide syntax highlighting,
auto-indenting, and access to the interactive interpreter while coding. Consult
`the Python wiki <>`_ for a full list
of Python editing environments.
If you want to discuss Python's use in education, you may be interested in
joining `the edu-sig mailing list