Python Language FAQ - Section 1 
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 Python Language FAQ - Section 1

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The whole Python FAQ - Section 1

Last changed on Mon Jun 28 19:36:09 1999 EDT

(Entries marked with ** were changed within the last 24 hours; entries
marked with * were changed within the last 7 days.)

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1. General information and availability

1.1.  What is Python?
1.2.  Why is it called Python?
1.3.  How do I obtain a copy of the Python source?
1.4.  How do I get documentation on Python?
1.5.  Are there other ftp sites that mirror the Python distribution?
1.6.  Is there a newsgroup or mailing list devoted to Python?
1.7.  Is there a WWW page devoted to Python?
1.8.  Is the Python documentation available on the WWW?
1.9.  Are there any books on Python?
1.10. Are there any published articles about Python that I can
      reference?
1.11. Are there short introductory papers or talks on Python?
1.12. How does the Python version numbering scheme work?
1.13. How do I get a beta test version of Python?
1.14. Are there copyright restrictions on the use of Python?
1.15. Why was Python created in the first place?
1.16. Do I have to like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"?
1.17. What is Python good for?
1.18. Can I use the FAQ Wizard software to maintain my own FAQ?
1.19. Which editor has good support for editing Python source code?

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1. General information and availability

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1.1. 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. 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 brands of UNIX, on the Mac, and
on PCs under MS-DOS, Windows, Windows NT, and OS/2.

To find out more, the best thing to do is to start reading the tutorial from
the documentation set (see a few questions further down).

See also question 1.17 (what is Python good for).

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1.2. Why is it called Python?

Apart from being a computer scientist, I'm also a fan of "Monty Python's
Flying Circus" (a BBC comedy series from the seventies, in the -- unlikely
-- case you didn't know). It occurred to me one day that I needed a name
that was short, unique, and slightly mysterious. And I happened to be
reading some scripts from the series at the time... So then I decided to
call my language Python. But Python is not a joke. And don't you associate
it with dangerous reptiles either! (If you need an icon, use an image of the
16-ton weight from the TV series or of a can of SPAM :-)

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1.3. How do I obtain a copy of the Python source?

The latest complete Python source distribution is always available by
anonymous ftp, e.g. ftp://ftp.python.org/pub/python/src/python1.4.tar.gz. It
is a gzipped tar file containing the complete C source,{*filter*}documentation,
Python library modules, example programs, and several useful pieces of
freely distributable software. This will compile and run out of the box on
most UNIX platforms. (See section 7 for non-UNIX information.)

An index of said ftp directory can be found in the file INDEX. An HTML
version of the index can be found in the file index.html,
ftp://ftp.python.org/pub/python/index.html.

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1.4. How do I get documentation on Python?

All documentation is available on-line, starting at
http://www.*-*-*.com/

The{*filter*}source for the documentation is part of the source distribution.
If you don't have LaTeX, the latest Python documentation set is available,
in various formats like postscript and html, by anonymous ftp - visit the
above URL for links to the current versions.

PostScript for a high-level description of Python is in the file
nluug-paper.ps (a separate file on the ftp site).

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1.5. Are there other ftp sites that mirror the Python distribution?

The following anonymous ftp sites keep mirrors of the Python distribution:

USA:

            ftp://ftp.python.org/pub/python/
            ftp://gatekeeper.dec.com/pub/plan/python/
            ftp://ftp.uu.net/languages/python/
            ftp://ftp.wustl.edu/graphics/graphics/sgi-stuff/python/
            ftp://ftp.sterling.com/programming/languages/python/
            ftp://uiarchive.cso.uiuc.edu/pub/lang/python/
            ftp://ftp.pht.com/mirrors/python/python/
            ftp://ftp.cdrom.com/pub/python/

Europe:

            ftp://ftp.cwi.nl/pub/python/
            ftp://ftp.funet.fi/pub/languages/python/
            ftp://ftp.sunet.se/pub/lang/python/
            ftp://unix.hensa.ac.uk/mirrors/uunet/languages/python/
            ftp://ftp.lip6.fr/pub/python/
            ftp://sunsite.cnlab-switch.ch/mirror/python/
            ftp://ftp.informatik.tu-muenchen.de/pub/comp/programming/languages/py...

Australia:

            ftp://ftp.dstc.edu.au/pub/python/

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1.6. Is there a newsgroup or mailing list devoted to Python?

There is a newsgroup, comp.lang.python, and a mailing 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. To subscribe to the mailing

http://www.*-*-*.com/

More info about the newsgroup and mailing list, and about other lists, can
be found at http://www.*-*-*.com/

Archives of the newsgroup are kept by Deja News and accessible through the
"Python newsgroup search" web page,
http://www.*-*-*.com/
pointer to other archival collections.

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1.7. Is there a WWW page devoted to Python?

Yes, http://www.*-*-*.com/

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1.8. Is the Python documentation available on the WWW?

Yes, see http://www.*-*-*.com/ (Python's home page). It contains pointers
to hypertext versions of the whole documentation set (as hypertext, not just
PostScript).

If you wish to browse this collection of HTML files on your own machine, it
is available bundled up by anonymous ftp, e.g.
ftp://ftp.python.org/pub/python/doc/html.tar.gz.

An Emacs-INFO set containing the library manual is also available by ftp,
e.g. ftp://ftp.python.org/pub/python/doc/lib-info.tar.gz.

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1.9. Are there any books on Python?

Yes, several:

          + Internet Programming with Python
            by Aaron Watters, Guido van Rossum, and James Ahlstrom
            MIS Press/Henry Holt publishers
            ISBN: 1-55851-484-8
            First published October, 1996

          + Programming Python
            by Mark Lutz
            O'Reilly & Associates
            ISBN: 1-56592-197-6
            First published October, 1996

          + Das Python-Buch (in German)
            by Martin von Loewis and Nils Fischbeck
            Addison-Wesley-Longman, 1997
            ISBN: 3-8273-1110-1

More are coming:

          + Python Pocket Reference
            by Mark Lutz
            O'Reilly & Associates
            ISBN 1-56592-500-9
            1st Edition October 1998 (est.)
            80 pages (est.), $6.95 (est.)

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1.10. Are there any published articles about Python that I can reference?

If you can't reference the web site, and you don't want to reference the
books (see previous question), there are several articles on Python that you
could reference.

Most publications about Python are collected on the Python web site:

        http://www.*-*-*.com/

It is no longer recommended to reference this very old article by Python's
author:

        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.

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1.11. Are there short introductory papers or talks on Python?

There are several - you can find links to some of them collected at
http://www.*-*-*.com/ #intros.

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1.12. 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 major changes in functionality or source
structure. B is the minor version number, incremented for less
earth-shattering changes to a release. C is the patchlevel -- it is
incremented for each new patch release. Not all releases have patch
releases. Note that in the past, patches have added significant changes; in
fact the changeover from 0.9.9 to 1.0.0 was the first time that either A or
B changed!

Beta versions have an additional suffix of "betaN" for some small number N.
Note that (for instance) all versions labeled 1.4betaN precede the actual
release of 1.4. 1.4b3 is short for 1.4beta3.

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1.13. How do I get a beta test version of Python?

If there are any beta releases, they are published in the normal source
directory (e.g. ftp://ftp.python.org/pub/python/src/).

Alpha releases are only open to PSA members. See http://www.*-*-*.com/
for information on how to join ($50/year).

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1.14. Are there copyright restrictions on the use of Python?

Hardly. 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. Also, don't use the author's institute's name in
publicity without prior written permission, and don't hold them responsible
for anything (read the actual copyright for a precise legal wording).

In particular, 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, or to
sell products that enhance Python or incorporate Python (or part of it) in
some form. I would still like to know about all commercial use of Python!

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1.15. Why was Python created in the first place?

Here's a very brief summary of what got me started:

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
Python).

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 M3 report). M3 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
improvements.

In February 1991, after just over a year of development, I decided to post
to USENET. The rest is in the Misc/HISTORY file.

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1.16. Do I have to like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"?

No, but it helps. Pythonistas like the occasional reference to SPAM, and of
course, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

The two main reasons to use Python are:

     - Portable
     - Easy to learn

The three main reasons to use Python are:

     - Portable
     - Easy to learn
     - Powerful standard library

(And nice red uniforms.)

And remember, there is no rule six.

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1.17. What is Python good for?

Python is used in many situations where a great deal of dynamism, ease of
use, power, and flexibility are required.

In the area of basic text manipulation core Python (without any non-core
extensions) is easier to use and is roughly as fast as just about any
language, and this makes Python good for many system administration type
tasks and for CGI programming and other application areas that manipulate
text and strings and such.

When augmented with standard extensions (such as PIL, COM, Numeric,
oracledb, kjbuckets, tkinter, win32api, etc.) or special purpose extensions
(that you write, perhaps using helper tools such as SWIG, or using object
protocols such as ILU/CORBA or COM) Python becomes a very convenient "glue"
or "steering" language that helps make heterogeneous collections of
unrelated software packages work together. For example by combining Numeric
with oracledb you can help your SQL database do statistical analysis, or
even Fourier transforms. One of the features that makes Python excel in the
"glue language" role is Python's simple, usable, and powerful C language
runtime API.

Many developers also use Python extensively as a graphical user interface
development aide.

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1.18. Can I use the FAQ Wizard software to maintain my own FAQ?

Sure. Version 1.0 is distributed in the Tools subdirectory of the Python 1.5
source release at

      http://www.*-*-*.com/

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1.19. Which editor has good support for editing Python source code?

On Unix, the first choice is Emacs/XEmacs. There's an elaborate mode for
editing Python code, which is available from the Python source distribution
(Misc/python-mode.el). It's also bundled with XEmacs (we're still working on
legal details to make it possible to bundle it with FSF Emacs). And it has
its own web page:

        http://www.*-*-*.com/

There are many other choices, for Unix, Windows or Macintosh. Richard Jones
compiled a table from postings on the Python newsgroup:

        http://www.*-*-*.com/ ~richard/editors.html

See also FAQ question 7.10 for some more Mac and Win options.

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Sun, 23 Dec 2001 03:00:00 GMT  
 
 [ 1 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. Python Language FAQ - Section 5

2. Python Language FAQ - Section 7

3. Python Language FAQ - Section 3

4. Python Language FAQ - Section 1

5. Python Language FAQ - Section 2

6. Python Language FAQ - Section 7

7. Python Language FAQ - Section 8

8. Python Language FAQ - Section 5

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