What is it?
Python is one of the trio of programming languages that make up the "p" of the Lamp (Linux, Apache, MySQL) development stack.
Like Perl and PHP, it can be downloaded free of charge, together with a range of tutorial material and other resources to suit every level, and it is an ideal addition to the portfolio of the cash-strapped developer who wants to move on.
Less widely used than Perl and PHP, Python nevertheless has its own particular strengths, and it is used by many businesses and academic organisations.
Python users claim high productivity, partly thanks to the comprehensiveness of the standard library. The emphasis on simplicity of syntax and readability is said to lead to high quality, maintainable code. But the description "minimalist", often applied to Python, is not always meant as a compliment, particularly when used by Perl developers.
Where did it originate?
Python was created in 1990 by Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum during a holiday when he was also reading Monty Python scripts. He had been working on a language for beginners, ABC, and its user-friendliness has been kept in Python. Python was written in C, but there is also a pure Java version called Jython.
What is it for?
Python supports several programming paradigms, including object orientation and structured programming. It can be easily extended using C, C++, Java or .net, and it integrates well with other languages and tools.
Python is sometimes described as a scripting language, but it has a much wider range of applications, including web development, application integration, network programming, graphical user interfaces, test scripts, bug tracking, lifecycle management, games, scientific and educational applications, and 3D graphics.
What makes it special?
In particular, Python users cite the standard library, plus the thousands of third-party add on modules, which cover most developer requirements when creating internet applications, interfacing to databases, porting applications and testing code.
How difficult is it to master?
With its roots in ABC, Python was designed with beginners in mind, as reflected in its simple, consistent syntax. It is also recommended as a general introduction to programming - van Rossum claims that people can work with user-defined objects on their first course. The amount of functionality in the standard library means that learners can soon begin tackling real coding tasks.
Where is it used?
Python users include Nasa, Google, Yahoo, Industrial Light and Magic, AstraZeneca, Honeywell and the University of St Andrews. It is also shipped with many Linux and Unix distributions and some Windows machines. There is an extensive database of software development and business application case studies at
What systems does it run on?
Windows, Linux/Unix, Mac OS X, OS/2, Amiga, Palm handhelds, and Nokia mobile phones. Python has also been ported to the Java and .net virtual machines. There are downloadable interfaces to MySQL, Oracle, MS SQL Server, PostgreSQL and others.
What is coming up?
New releases of Python arrive every 18 months or so, but the language is very stable and these tend to be evolutionary.
Links to free Python tutorials for beginners and experienced programmers can be found at
Rates of pay
Developers who combine Python with other web skills can look for a salary of £30,000 and upwards.
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