What is Python? Everything you need to know

Why the Python programming language shines for data science, machine learning, systems automation, web and API development, and beyond

What is Python? Everything you need to know
Danleo (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dating from 1991, Python is a relatively new programming language. From the start, Python was considered a gap-filler, a way to write scripts that “automate the boring stuff” (as one popular book on learning Python put it) or to rapidly prototype applications that will be implemented in one or more other languages.

However, over the past few years, Python has emerged as a first-class citizen in modern software development, infrastructure management, and data analysis. It  is no longer a back-room utility language, but a major force in web application development and systems management and a key driver behind the explosion in big data analytics and machine intelligence.

Related video: Why Python makes programming easier

Python’s success revolves around several advantages it provides for beginners and experts alike:

Python is easy to learn. The number of features in the language itself is modest, requiring relatively little investment of time or effort to produce one’s first programs. Python syntax is designed to be readable and straightforward. This simplicity makes Python an ideal teaching language, and allows newcomers to pick it up quickly. Developers spend more time thinking about the problem they’re trying to solve, and less time thinking about language complexities or deciphering code left by others.

Python is broadly used and supported. Python is both popular and widely used, as the high rankings in surveys like the Tiobe Index and the large number of GitHub projects using Python attest. Python runs on every major operating system and platform, and most minor ones too. Many major libraries and API-powered services have Python bindings or wrappers, allowing Python to interface freely with those services or make direct use of those libraries. Python may not be the fastest language, but what it lacks in speed, it makes up for in versatility.

Python is not a “toy” language. Even though scripting and automation cover a large chunk of Python’s use cases (more on that below), Python is also used to build robust, professional-quality software, both as standalone applications and as web services.

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