Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the most-asked questions we get on a day-to-day basis. If you have a question, be sure to check this page and see if we've answered it already. If you'd like to suggest an entry to this page, why not submit a merge request on GitLab?

Starting Out with Python

Is Python a good first language?

In our opinion, yes it is. It's a very powerful language, but it will force you to write readable code and it's designed to allow you to write code very quickly, without you having to keep your head in a book for hours on end.

Python is used as a teaching language in many schools, colleges and universities - but it's a very capable language that is suitable for many real-world tasks as well, and it's only gaining in popularity!

I'm new to Python - how/where do I get started?

How you get started with Python is very much going to depend on your prior programming experience. If you're already an experienced programmer, you should should have no trouble following pretty much any guide out there - but for true beginners, we recommend full-on tutorials such as Automate the Boring Stuff with Python.

For more information on that and other resources, feel free to take a look at our resources page.

Should I start with Python 2 or Python 3? Which is better?

Generally, we're always going to recommend that people new to Python start with Python 3. There's a few reasons for this:

  • Python 3 is the latest-and-greatest version. It gets all the new features and is in active development.
  • Python 2 lacks many features available in Python 3 and is mechanically different in a few important areas.
  • Python 2 is being sunset and will reach its end of life in 2020. It will not be maintained past 2020. There will be no Python 2.8.
  • Most libraries now fully support Python 3, and many are dropping or have dropped support for Python 2.

The only reason a user may want to stick with Python 2 is if they are stuck working a job with a legacy codebase that cannot or will not be updated to work with Python 3. To users in those situations: Commiserations.

What IDE/Editor should I use? Should I use an IDE if I'm a beginner?

If you're a beginner, you should not be using an IDE. This is because IDEs do a lot of basic things automatically where a beginner should learn to do things themselves - for example, some IDEs can generate huge chunks of code or catch beginner errors without you even noticing you'd made a typo.

If you're not a beginner or you decide to try an IDE regardless, we heavily recommend PyCharm. This is a well-known IDE which is entirely in a league of its own, and has a very capable free "community" edition that will serve most people's needs.

We've listed off some of our favourite editors and IDEs on our resources page. Feel free to take a look if you're not sure what's out there.

By the way, we host quarterly code jams for the users of our community, and the prize for winning it is a one-year PyCharm Pro license - sponsored by JetBrains. If you like PyCharm and are thinking of grabbing a copy of Pro, why not join in?

What's wrong with "Learn Python the Hard Way"?

Learn Python the Hard Way, Zed Shaw's most infamous work, is largely considered by the Python community to be poor-quality and misleading in general. This is due to numerous issues with the material, which include being extremely opinionated and sometimes condescending, out of date, confusing and even wildly incorrect in some places.

Learners that have used Learn Python the Hard Way as their primary learning material often find themselves confused and asking questions that really don't make that much sense - it's also been observed that learners in this position tend to suffer heavily from the infamous XY Problem.

For more information on why you should avoid Learn Python the Hard Way, you can have a look at this article on the sopython wiki, which enumerates the most egregious issues with it.

If I type "python" or "pip" into a terminal, I get "command not found".

That's not a question, but there's a few things you can look at to try to solve this.

  • If you're on Windows, the python installer has an option labelled "Add to PATH" - Make sure you check this when you install python. If you forgot to do that the first time, then the easiest way to solve this problem is to reinstall Python
  • If you're on Windows, there's a good chance that python and pip aren't what you actually need to run! Some options you could try include py -3, python3 or python36 - if one of these works, then you should be able to use py -3 -m pip, pip3 or pip36 as well
  • If you're on a Mac, Python comes with the OS - however, it's quite likely to be an old version. You can solve this by using Homebrew to install a more recent version of Python, which should be made available as python3
Why can't I import this module?

When finding yourself unable to import something in Python, you can follow these steps to figure it out:

  • Is the module part of Python's standard library?
  • If not, have you installed it? If the module is on PyPi, you can install it using pip in a terminal: pip install module_name
  • If you think you've installed it, try upgrading it with pip in a terminal: pip install -U module_name - Make sure there were no errors during installation
  • If all else fails, make sure you've read the module documentation fully, and ensure that you're following it correctly
  • If you're sure that you've done everything correctly, you may have found a bug - come and chat to us, and we might recommend that you report your problem to the developer
What's PEP8? Should I care about code style?

Python Enhancement Proposal #8 is known as the official Python style guide. It sets out a lot of very clear guidelines which help you structure your code.

One of the most useful things you can do when writing your code is to follow a style guide. It makes it easier to read your code overall, but a consistent style guide is very important as it means that everyone that contributes to your project is writing code in the same style - meaning everyone will be able to read it. As PEP itself reads: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".

PEP8 isn't the only style guide available to you, but it is the most widely used and best-understood of them - and for that reason, we do recommend you use it. That said, Google's Python Style Guide is also widely used by Google engineers.

Community Questions

Why did you move to GitLab? Do you hate Microsoft?

While many of our users do prefer to work on Linux, we don't hate Microsoft. While the news about Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub did prompt us to initially mirror our GitHub repositories to GitLab for safety, we didn't outright make the move because of the acquisition - in fact, some of our staff members had been suggesting we use it from the start! Here's some of the reasons we decided to move:

  • Prior to moving to GitLab, our development efforts were split among three services: ClickUp for issue tracking, GitHub for code storage and collaboration, and Travis for continuous integration and testing. GitLab is a fantastic alternative to all of these services, and moving to it has allowed us to consolidate our efforts in one place.
  • For a long time now, GitLab has been innovating on features and pushing them to production much faster than GitHub. Using GitLab gives us far more options when it comes to issue management, merge requests, continuous integration and deployment - to name a few things.
  • In the vast majority of cases where GitHub and GitLab solve the same problem or have a similar feature, GitLab does it better.
  • GitLab has had free private repositories for some time now, and these are convenient for us to store internal documentation and tasks in.
  • GitLab is fully open-source and quite easy to host yourself. In the event that the public platform ends up dying or being abused by its staff, we can simply spin up our own instance and keep on working as if there were no problems.

Misc. Questions

What does "real" Python development look like?

Python is a very versatile language, and a real-life application using it can take many forms. That said, we do plenty of Python development here ourselves. If you're curious about this question, then why not take a look at our projects?