The Zen of Python

The Zen of Python

For a long time, the programming language Perl was the mainstay of the Internet. Most interactive websites in the early days were powered by Perl scripts. The Perl community’s motto at the time was, “There’s more than one way to do it.” People liked this mind-set for a while, because the flexibility written into the language made it possible to solve most problems in a variety of ways. This approach was acceptable while working on your own projects, but eventually people realized that the emphasis on flexibility made it difficult to maintain large projects over long periods of time. It was difficult, tedious, and time-consuming to review code and try to figure out what someone else was thinking when they were solving a complex problem.

Experienced Python programmers will encourage you to avoid complexity and aim for simplicity whenever possible. The Python community’s philosophy is contained in “The Zen of Python” by Tim Peters. You can access this brief set of principles for writing good Python code by entering import this into your interpreter. I won’t reproduce the entire “Zen of Python” here, but I’ll share a few lines to help you understand why they should be important to you as a beginning Python programmer

>> import this
The Zen of Python, by Tim Peters
Beautiful is better than ugly.

Python programmers embrace the notion that code can be beautiful and elegant. In programming, people solve problems. Programmers have always respected well-designed, efficient, and even beautiful solutions to problems. As you learn more about Python and use it to write more code, someone might look over your shoulder one day and say,

"Wow, that’s some beautiful code!"
Simple is better than complex.

If you have a choice between a simple and a complex solution, and both work, use the simple solution. Your code will be easier to maintain, and it will be easier for you and others to build on that code later on.

Complex is better than complicated.

Real life is messy, and sometimes a simple solution to a problem is unattainable. In that case, use the simplest solution that works.

Readability counts.

Even when your code is complex, aim to make it readable. When you’re working on a project that involves complex coding, focus on writing informativecomments for that code.

If two Python programmers are asked to solve the same problem, they should come up with fairly compatible solutions. This is not to say there’s no room for creativity in programming. On the contrary! But much of programming consists of using small, common approaches to simple situations within a larger, more creative project. The nuts and bolts of your programs should make sense to other Python programmers.

You could spend the rest of your life learning all the intricacies of Python and of programming in general, but then you’d never complete any projects. Don’t try to write perfect code; write code that works, and then decide whether to improve your code for that project or move on to something new.

As you continue to the next chapter and start digging into more involved topics, try to keep this philosophy of simplicity and clarity in mind. Experienced programmers will respect your code more and will be happy to give you feedback and collaborate with you on interesting projects.

This article is an excerpt from A Hands-On, Project-Based Introduction to Programming by Eric Matthes

Reproduced with permission from No Starch Press

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