Chapter 11: Dictionaries (Notes from Think Python)



 Dictionaries :

It is best to think of a dictionary as an unordered set of  key: value  pairs, with the requirement that the keys are unique (within one dictionary). A pair of braces creates an empty dictionary: {}. Placing a comma-separated list of key:value pairs within the braces adds initial key:value pairs to the dictionary; this is also the way dictionaries are written on output.

Source: Python Software Foundation / 5.5 Dictionaries

  • Elements of a dictionary are never indexed.
  • Indices are called “keys”
  • A ” KeyValue ” pair is an Item
  • To add items (Key-Value pairs), we can use [ ] :

>>> eng2span [‘one’] = [‘uno’]
>>> print eng2span
{ ‘one’ : ‘uno’ }   key     value

>>> eng2span = {‘one’:’uno’ , ‘two’:’dos’ , ‘three’:’tres’}

Python uses Keys to look up the corresponding values.

>>> print eng2span [‘two’]

Operators :

  • in : It tells you whether something appears as a Key in the dictionary.
    >>> ‘one’ in eng2span
  • NOTE 1 : Python uses an algorithm called a hashtable for the in operator.
  • NOTE 2 : Hash is a function that takes a value (of any kind) and returns an integer. Dictionaries use integers, called Hash Values, to store and look up Key-Value pairs.
  • TIP : Use Hash with immutable keys.

Built-in functions :

  • len ( ) : works on dictionaries
    >>> len (eng2span)
  • dict ( ) : creates a new dictionary with no items { }

Methods :

  • values ( ) :
    >>> vals = eng2span.values()
    >>> ‘uno’ in vals    #Recall that ‘uno’ is a Value
  • items ( ) : This method returns a list of tuples, where each tuple is a key-value pair.
    >>> d = { ‘a’: 0, ‘b’:1, ‘c’:2}
    >>> t = d.items()
    >>> print t
    [  (‘a’, 0),       (‘b’,1),           (‘c’,2) ]    # List of Tuples
    tuple           tuple             tuple
    key-value     key-value       key-value   #Each pair of key-value is an item.NOTE : The items of the dictionary are in no particular order.

Memo :

In order to keep track of values that have already been computed, we can store them in a dictionary.

[…] A previously computed value that is stored for later use is called a memo.

Source: Think Python by Allen B. Downey

Global Variables :

Variables in _ _main_ _ are sometimes called global because they can be accessed from any function. Unlike local variables, which disappear when their function ends, global variables persist from one function call to the next from any function. They persist from one function call to the next.
Source: Think Python by Allen B. Downey

  • Common use: Use Global Variables for flags, that is, Boolean variables that indicate (“flag”) whether a condition is true.
  • To reassign a Global Variable we have to declare the Global Variable before we use it:
    – been_called = False
    – def example2 ( ):
    – TAB global been_called
    – TAB been_called = TrueNOTE: If the Global Variable is mutable, we can modify it without declaring it.

Dictionaries as a set of counters :

Implentation no1 :
  • Create 26 variables one of each letter of the alphabet.
    – Traverse strings, and chained conditional to increment the corresponding counter.
Implentation no2 :
  • List with 26 elements.
    – Convert each character into a number, using the built-in function ord ( ).
    – Use the number as an index into the list, and increment the appropriate counter.
Implementation no3:
  • Create a dictionary with { character : counters }
    keys            values
  • We could add new items to the dictionary.
  • We could also increment the value of an existing item.

Looping and Dictionaries

  • The for statement traverses the keys of the dictionary.
    – def print_hist (h):   # where variable ‘h’ is a dictionary
    – TAB for c in h :
    – TAB TAB print  c,  h[c]
    key  value

Statements :

  • for

Lookups :

  • Given dictionary ‘d’
  • Given a Key ‘k’
  • Given the corresponding value of k, v   #where variable ‘v’ is a value
  • Forward Lookup : v = d [ k ]
  • No simple syntax to do a Reverse Lookup.

Long integers

>>> fibonacci (50)
12586269025L     #where L stands for Long Integer

Mathematical operators work with long integers, and the functions in the math module, too, so in general any code that works with int will also work with long.

Source: Think Python by Allen B. Downey

Tips for Debugging bigger datasets :

  •  Scale down input
    – Edit the files themselves
    – Modify the program to read only the first n lines
  • Check summaries and types
    – Print summaries of the data: Number of items in a dictionary ; Total of a list of numbers
    – A common cause in runtime errors is a value that is not the right type. TO DEBUG: Print the type of a value
  • Write self-checks
    – Write code to check errors automatically
  • Pretty print the output
    – Formatting debugging output

To finish here is an image to visualize Strings, Lists and Dictionaries.

String / List / Dictionary in Python

String / List / Dictionary in Python


Olé to you nonetheless just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.

Elizabeth Gilbert – TED Talk


Chapter 10: Lists


Lists illustration

Lists illustration


List :

A list is a sequence of values […] The values in a list are called elements or sometimes items.



[ 1,  2,  [ ‘three’,  ‘four’ ],  5  ]

  • Lists’ elements can be: int, strings, float, other lists
  • Lists may be nested.
  • Lists are mutable:
    • >>> numbers = [17, 123]
    • >>> numbers [1] = 5
    • >>> print numbers
    • [17, 5]


List Assignment :

  • We can assign list values to variables.

>>> cheeses = [‘Brie’, ‘Jarlsberg’, ‘Gouda’]    #Variable cheeses gets a list value
>>> numbers = [17, 123]    #Variable numbers gets a list value
>>> empty = []    #Empty list    #Variable empty gets a list value
>>> print cheeses, numbers, empty

[‘Brie’, ‘Jarlsberg’, ‘Gouda’] [17, 123] []


Boolean operators that work with Lists :

  • in
  • is


Traversing a list :

  • for loop

for i in cheeses:
TAB print i


To write or update the elements on a list :

  •  To write or update the elements in the list, we work with indices:


For Loop Traversing List

For Loop Traversing List


NOTE: “A For loop over an empty list never executes the body”


Python List update

Python List update


Operations that apply to lists :

  • + (concatenation)
  • * (multiplication)


List slicing :

List slicing

List slicing



List methods :


  • append : adds a new element to the end of a list
    >>> t = [‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’]
    >>> t.append ( ‘d’ )
    >>> print t
    ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’


  • extend : takes a list as an argument and appends all of the elements
    >>> t1 = [‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’]
    >>> t2 = [‘d’, ‘e’]
    >>> t.extend ( t2 )
    >>> print t1
    ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘e’
    NOTE: t2 was left intact/unmodified


  • sort : arranges the elements of the list from low to high


  • capitalize :

The method capitalize() returns a copy of the string with only its first character capitalized. For 8-bit strings, this method is locale-dependent.

Source: Tutorials Point / Python String capitalize() Method


  • split: breaks a string into words


  • join:

[The method] join is the inverse of split. It takes a list of strings and concatenates the elements.

[NOTE] join is a string method, so you have to invoke it on the delimiter and pass the list as a parameter.


Python split method

Python split method


  • pop: “modifies the list and returns the element that was removed”
    It works with indices. If no index, then the pop method deletes and returns the last element.


  • remove: This method is useful ” if we know the element we want to remove but not the index”.
    NOTE: The return value of remove is None.


del statement :

  • del: modifies the list and returns the elements that were not removed.

To remove a list element, you can use either the del statement if you know exactly which element(s) you are deleting



Built-in functions :


  • sum :
    >>> t = [1, 2, 3]
    >>> sum ( t )
    6#6 is the combination of the sequence elements


  • list :  breaks a string into individual characters (elements)
    >>> t = ‘happy’
    >>> x = list ( t )
    [‘h’, ‘a’, ‘p’, ‘p’, ‘y’]#6 is the combination of the sequence elements


 Conversion :


Conversions: Python List - Strings

Conversions: Python List – Strings


 Object and Values :

List: Objects and Values

List: Objects and Values


To verify whether two variables refer to the same object, we can use the Boolean is operator:

>>> d = [1, 2, 3]

>>> g = [1, 2, 3]

>>> d is g



  • Variable d is equivalent to variable g because they have the same element.
  • Variable d is not identical to variable g because they are not the same object.
  • If two objects are identical, then they are also equivalent.
  • If two objects are equivalent, they are not necessarily identical.

NOTE: An object has a value.


Aliasing :

An object with more than one reference has more than one name, so we say the object is aliased.


>>> a = [1, 2, 3]

>>> b = a

>>> b is a

  • “If the aliased object is mutable, changes made with one alias affect the other”





Beware, working with mutable objects and aliasing is error-prone. For immutable objects (like strings), aliasing is not much of a problem.



Acknowledgments :

These notes represent my understanding from the book Think Python: How to Think Like a Computer Scientist written by Allen B. Downey.

Part of the chapter is transcribed and all the quotes unless specified otherwise come directly from his book.

Thank you Professor Downey for making this knowledge available.


Also, I would like to thank the open source community for their valuable contribution in making resources on programming available.

Thank you