UNB/ CS/ David Bremner/ teaching/ cs2613/ books/ practical-python/ 02 Working with data/ 01 Datatypes

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2.1 Datatypes and Data structures

This section introduces data structures in the form of tuples and dictionaries.

Primitive Datatypes

Python has a few primitive types of data:

We learned about these in the introduction.

None type

email_address = None

None is often used as a placeholder for optional or missing value. It evaluates as False in conditionals.

if email_address:
    send_email(email_address, msg)

Data Structures

Real programs have more complex data. For example information about a stock holding:

100 shares of GOOG at $490.10

This is an "object" with three parts:


A tuple is a collection of values grouped together.


s = ('GOOG', 100, 490.1)

Sometimes the () are omitted in the syntax.

s = 'GOOG', 100, 490.1

Special cases (0-tuple, 1-tuple).

t = ()            # An empty tuple
w = ('GOOG', )    # A 1-item tuple

Tuples are often used to represent simple records or structures. Typically, it is a single object of multiple parts. A good analogy: A tuple is like a single row in a database table.

Tuple contents are ordered (like an array).

s = ('GOOG', 100, 490.1)
name = s[0]                 # 'GOOG'
shares = s[1]               # 100
price = s[2]                # 490.1

However, the contents can't be modified.

>>> s[1] = 75
TypeError: object does not support item assignment

You can, however, make a new tuple based on a current tuple.

s = (s[0], 75, s[2])

Tuple Packing

Tuples are more about packing related items together into a single entity.

s = ('GOOG', 100, 490.1)

The tuple is then easy to pass around to other parts of a program as a single object.

Tuple Unpacking

To use the tuple elsewhere, you can unpack its parts into variables.

name, shares, price = s
print('Cost', shares * price)

The number of variables on the left must match the tuple structure.

name, shares = s     # ERROR
Traceback (most recent call last):
ValueError: too many values to unpack

Tuples vs. Lists

Tuples look like read-only lists. However, tuples are most often used for a single item consisting of multiple parts. Lists are usually a collection of distinct items, usually all of the same type.

record = ('GOOG', 100, 490.1)       # A tuple representing a record in a portfolio

symbols = [ 'GOOG', 'AAPL', 'IBM' ]  # A List representing three stock symbols


A dictionary is mapping of keys to values. It's also sometimes called a hash table or associative array. The keys serve as indices for accessing values.

s = {
    'name': 'GOOG',
    'shares': 100,
    'price': 490.1

Common operations

To get values from a dictionary use the key names.

>>> print(s['name'], s['shares'])
GOOG 100
>>> s['price']

To add or modify values assign using the key names.

>>> s['shares'] = 75
>>> s['date'] = '6/6/2007'

To delete a value use the del statement.

>>> del s['date']

Why dictionaries?

Dictionaries are useful when there are many different values and those values might be modified or manipulated. Dictionaries make your code more readable.

# vs


In the last few exercises, you wrote a program that read a datafile Data/portfolio.csv. Using the csv module, it is easy to read the file row-by-row.

>>> import csv
>>> f = open('Data/portfolio.csv')
>>> rows = csv.reader(f)
>>> next(rows)
['name', 'shares', 'price']
>>> row = next(rows)
>>> row
['AA', '100', '32.20']

Although reading the file is easy, you often want to do more with the data than read it. For instance, perhaps you want to store it and start performing some calculations on it. Unfortunately, a raw "row" of data doesn’t give you enough to work with. For example, even a simple math calculation doesn’t work:

>>> row = ['AA', '100', '32.20']
>>> cost = row[1] * row[2]
Traceback (most recent call last):
    File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: can't multiply sequence by non-int of type 'str'

To do more, you typically want to interpret the raw data in some way and turn it into a more useful kind of object so that you can work with it later. Two simple options are tuples or dictionaries.

Exercise 2.1: Tuples

At the interactive prompt, create the following tuple that represents the above row, but with the numeric columns converted to proper numbers:

>>> t = (row[0], int(row[1]), float(row[2]))
>>> t
('AA', 100, 32.2)

Using this, you can now calculate the total cost by multiplying the shares and the price:

>>> cost = t[1] * t[2]
>>> cost

Is math broken in Python? What’s the deal with the answer of 3220.0000000000005?

This is an artifact of the floating point hardware on your computer only being able to accurately represent decimals in Base-2, not Base-10. For even simple calculations involving base-10 decimals, small errors are introduced. This is normal, although perhaps a bit surprising if you haven’t seen it before.

This happens in all programming languages that use floating point decimals, but it often gets hidden when printing. For example:

>>> print(f'{cost:0.2f}')

Tuples are read-only. Verify this by trying to change the number of shares to 75.

>>> t[1] = 75
Traceback (most recent call last):
    File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
TypeError: 'tuple' object does not support item assignment

Although you can’t change tuple contents, you can always create a completely new tuple that replaces the old one.

>>> t = (t[0], 75, t[2])
>>> t
('AA', 75, 32.2)

Whenever you reassign an existing variable name like this, the old value is discarded. Although the above assignment might look like you are modifying the tuple, you are actually creating a new tuple and throwing the old one away.

Tuples are often used to pack and unpack values into variables. Try the following:

>>> name, shares, price = t
>>> name
>>> shares
>>> price

Take the above variables and pack them back into a tuple

>>> t = (name, 2*shares, price)
>>> t
('AA', 150, 32.2)

Exercise 2.2: Dictionaries as a data structure

An alternative to a tuple is to create a dictionary instead.

>>> d = {
        'name' : row[0],
        'shares' : int(row[1]),
        'price'  : float(row[2])
>>> d
{'name': 'AA', 'shares': 100, 'price': 32.2 }

Calculate the total cost of this holding:

>>> cost = d['shares'] * d['price']
>>> cost

Compare this example with the same calculation involving tuples above. Change the number of shares to 75.

>>> d['shares'] = 75
>>> d
{'name': 'AA', 'shares': 75, 'price': 32.2 }

Unlike tuples, dictionaries can be freely modified. Add some attributes:

>>> d['date'] = (6, 11, 2007)
>>> d['account'] = 12345
>>> d
{'name': 'AA', 'shares': 75, 'price':32.2, 'date': (6, 11, 2007), 'account': 12345}

Exercise 2.3: Some additional dictionary operations

If you turn a dictionary into a list, you’ll get all of its keys:

>>> list(d)
['name', 'shares', 'price', 'date', 'account']

Similarly, if you use the for statement to iterate on a dictionary, you will get the keys:

>>> for k in d:
        print('k =', k)

k = name
k = shares
k = price
k = date
k = account

Try this variant that performs a lookup at the same time:

>>> for k in d:
        print(k, '=', d[k])

name = AA
shares = 75
price = 32.2
date = (6, 11, 2007)
account = 12345

You can also obtain all of the keys using the keys() method:

>>> keys = d.keys()
>>> keys
dict_keys(['name', 'shares', 'price', 'date', 'account'])

keys() is a bit unusual in that it returns a special dict_keys object.

This is an overlay on the original dictionary that always gives you the current keys—even if the dictionary changes. For example, try this:

>>> del d['account']
>>> keys
dict_keys(['name', 'shares', 'price', 'date'])

Carefully notice that the 'account' disappeared from keys even though you didn’t call d.keys() again.

A more elegant way to work with keys and values together is to use the items() method. This gives you (key, value) tuples:

>>> items = d.items()
>>> items
dict_items([('name', 'AA'), ('shares', 75), ('price', 32.2), ('date', (6, 11, 2007))])
>>> for k, v in d.items():
        print(k, '=', v)

name = AA
shares = 75
price = 32.2
date = (6, 11, 2007)

If you have tuples such as items, you can create a dictionary using the dict() function. Try it:

>>> items
dict_items([('name', 'AA'), ('shares', 75), ('price', 32.2), ('date', (6, 11, 2007))])
>>> d = dict(items)
>>> d
{'name': 'AA', 'shares': 75, 'price':32.2, 'date': (6, 11, 2007)}

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