UNB/ CS/ David Bremner/ teaching/ cs2613/ books/ practical-python/ 01 Introduction/ 05 Lists

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1.5 Lists

This section introduces lists, Python's primary type for holding an ordered collection of values.

Creating a List

Use square brackets to define a list literal:

names = [ 'Elwood', 'Jake', 'Curtis' ]
nums = [ 39, 38, 42, 65, 111]

Sometimes lists are created by other methods. For example, a string can be split into a list using the split() method:

>>> line = 'GOOG,100,490.10'
>>> row = line.split(',')
>>> row
['GOOG', '100', '490.10']

List operations

Lists can hold items of any type. Add a new item using append():

names.append('Murphy')    # Adds at end
names.insert(2, 'Aretha') # Inserts in middle

Use + to concatenate lists:

s = [1, 2, 3]
t = ['a', 'b']
s + t           # [1, 2, 3, 'a', 'b']

Lists are indexed by integers. Starting at 0.

names = [ 'Elwood', 'Jake', 'Curtis' ]

names[0]  # 'Elwood'
names[1]  # 'Jake'
names[2]  # 'Curtis'

Negative indices count from the end.

names[-1] # 'Curtis'

You can change any item in a list.

names[1] = 'Joliet Jake'
names                     # [ 'Elwood', 'Joliet Jake', 'Curtis' ]

Length of the list.

names = ['Elwood','Jake','Curtis']
len(names)  # 3

Membership test (in, not in).

'Elwood' in names       # True
'Britney' not in names  # True

Replication (s * n).

s = [1, 2, 3]
s * 3   # [1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3]

Use for to iterate over the list contents.

for name in names:
    # use name
    # e.g. print(name)

This is similar to a foreach statement from other programming languages.

To find the position of something quickly, use index().

names = ['Elwood','Jake','Curtis']
names.index('Curtis')   # 2

If the element is present more than once, index() will return the index of the first occurrence.

If the element is not found, it will raise a ValueError exception.

List Removal

You can remove items either by element value or by index:

# Using the value

# Using the index
del names[1]

Removing an item does not create a hole. Other items will move down to fill the space vacated. If there are more than one occurrence of the element, remove() will remove only the first occurrence.

List Sorting

Lists can be sorted "in-place".

s = [10, 1, 7, 3]
s.sort()                    # [1, 3, 7, 10]

# Reverse order
s = [10, 1, 7, 3]
s.sort(reverse=True)        # [10, 7, 3, 1]

# It works with any ordered data
s = ['foo', 'bar', 'spam']
s.sort()                    # ['bar', 'foo', 'spam']

Use sorted() if you'd like to make a new list instead:

t = sorted(s)               # s unchanged, t holds sorted values

Lists and Math

Caution: Lists were not designed for math operations.

>>> nums = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
>>> nums * 2
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
>>> nums + [10, 11, 12, 13, 14]
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14]

Specifically, lists don't represent vectors/matrices as in MATLAB, Octave, R, etc. However, there are some packages to help you with that (e.g. numpy).


In this exercise, we experiment with Python's list datatype. In the last section, you worked with strings containing stock symbols.


Split it into a list of names using the split() operation of strings:

>>> symlist = symbols.split(',')

Exercise 1.19: Extracting and reassigning list elements

Try a few lookups:

>>> symlist[0]
>>> symlist[1]
>>> symlist[-1]
>>> symlist[-2]

Try reassigning one value:

>>> symlist[2] = 'AIG'
>>> symlist
['HPQ', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'MSFT', 'YHOO', 'DOA', 'GOOG']

Take a few slices:

>>> symlist[0:3]
['HPQ', 'AAPL', 'AIG']
>>> symlist[-2:]
['DOA', 'GOOG']

Create an empty list and append an item to it.

>>> mysyms = []
>>> mysyms.append('GOOG')
>>> mysyms

You can reassign a portion of a list to another list. For example:

>>> symlist[-2:] = mysyms
>>> symlist
['HPQ', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'MSFT', 'YHOO', 'GOOG']

When you do this, the list on the left-hand-side (symlist) will be resized as appropriate to make the right-hand-side (mysyms) fit. For instance, in the above example, the last two items of symlist got replaced by the single item in the list mysyms.

Exercise 1.20: Looping over list items

The for loop works by looping over data in a sequence such as a list. Check this out by typing the following loop and watching what happens:

>>> for s in symlist:
        print('s =', s)
# Look at the output

Exercise 1.21: Membership tests

Use the in or not in operator to check if 'AIG','AA', and 'CAT' are in the list of symbols.

>>> # Is 'AIG' IN the `symlist`?
>>> # Is 'AA' IN the `symlist`?
>>> # Is 'CAT' NOT IN the `symlist`?

Exercise 1.22: Appending, inserting, and deleting items

Use the append() method to add the symbol 'RHT' to end of symlist.

>>> # append 'RHT'
>>> symlist
['HPQ', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'MSFT', 'YHOO', 'GOOG', 'RHT']

Use the insert() method to insert the symbol 'AA' as the second item in the list.

>>> # Insert 'AA' as the second item in the list
>>> symlist
['HPQ', 'AA', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'MSFT', 'YHOO', 'GOOG', 'RHT']

Use the remove() method to remove 'MSFT' from the list.

>>> # Remove 'MSFT'
>>> symlist
['HPQ', 'AA', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'YHOO', 'GOOG', 'RHT']

Append a duplicate entry for 'YHOO' at the end of the list.

Note: it is perfectly fine for a list to have duplicate values.

>>> # Append 'YHOO'
>>> symlist
['HPQ', 'AA', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'YHOO', 'GOOG', 'RHT', 'YHOO']

Use the index() method to find the first position of 'YHOO' in the list.

>>> # Find the first index of 'YHOO'
>>> symlist[4]

Count how many times 'YHOO' is in the list:

>>> symlist.count('YHOO')

Remove the first occurrence of 'YHOO'.

>>> # Remove first occurrence 'YHOO'
>>> symlist
['HPQ', 'AA', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'GOOG', 'RHT', 'YHOO']

Just so you know, there is no method to find or remove all occurrences of an item. However, we'll see an elegant way to do this in section 2.

Exercise 1.23: Sorting

Want to sort a list? Use the sort() method. Try it out:

>>> symlist.sort()
>>> symlist
['AA', 'AAPL', 'AIG', 'GOOG', 'HPQ', 'RHT', 'YHOO']

Want to sort in reverse? Try this:

>>> symlist.sort(reverse=True)
>>> symlist
['YHOO', 'RHT', 'HPQ', 'GOOG', 'AIG', 'AAPL', 'AA']

Note: Sorting a list modifies its contents 'in-place'. That is, the elements of the list are shuffled around, but no new list is created as a result.

Exercise 1.24: Putting it all back together

Want to take a list of strings and join them together into one string? Use the join() method of strings like this (note: this looks funny at first).

>>> a = ','.join(symlist)
>>> a
>>> b = ':'.join(symlist)
>>> b
>>> c = ''.join(symlist)
>>> c

Exercise 1.25: Lists of anything

Lists can contain any kind of object, including other lists (e.g., nested lists). Try this out:

>>> nums = [101, 102, 103]
>>> items = ['spam', symlist, nums]
>>> items
['spam', ['YHOO', 'RHT', 'HPQ', 'GOOG', 'AIG', 'AAPL', 'AA'], [101, 102, 103]]

Pay close attention to the above output. items is a list with three elements. The first element is a string, but the other two elements are lists.

You can access items in the nested lists by using multiple indexing operations.

>>> items[0]
>>> items[0][0]
>>> items[1]
['YHOO', 'RHT', 'HPQ', 'GOOG', 'AIG', 'AAPL', 'AA']
>>> items[1][1]
>>> items[1][1][2]
>>> items[2]
[101, 102, 103]
>>> items[2][1]

Even though it is technically possible to make very complicated list structures, as a general rule, you want to keep things simple. Usually lists hold items that are all the same kind of value. For example, a list that consists entirely of numbers or a list of text strings. Mixing different kinds of data together in the same list is often a good way to make your head explode so it's best avoided.

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