Python Introduction

This reference manual describes the Python programming language. It is not intended as a tutorial.

  1. Download Python
  2. Read the Documentation
  3. Go through The Python Tutorial
  4. Familiarize yourself with python
  5. Invoke the interpretor
Alternate Implementations

Though there is one Python implementation which is by far the most popular, there are some alternate implementations which are of particular interest to different audiences.

Known implementations include:


This is the original and most-maintained implementation of Python, written in C. New language features generally appear here first.


Python implemented in Java. This implementation can be used as a scripting language for Java applications, or can be used to create applications using the Java class libraries. It is also often used to create tests for Java libraries. More information can be found at the Jython website.

Python for .NET

This implementation actually uses the CPython implementation, but is a managed .NET application and makes .NET libraries available. It was created by Brian Lloyd. For more information, see the Python for .NET home page.


An alternate Python for .NET. Unlike Python.NET, this is a complete Python implementation that generates IL, and compiles Python code directly to .NET assemblies. It was created by Jim Hugunin, the original creator of Jython. For more information, see the IronPython website.


An implementation of Python written completely in Python. It supports several advanced features not found in other implementations like stackless support and a Just in Time compiler. One of the goals of the project is to encourage experimentation with the language itself by making it easier to modify the interpreter (since it is written in Python). Additional information is available on the PyPy project’s home page.

Each of these implementations varies in some way from the language as documented in this manual, or introduces specific information beyond what’s covered in the standard Python documentation. Please refer to the implementation-specific documentation to determine what else you need to know about the specific implementation you’re using.


The descriptions of lexical analysis and syntax use a modified BNF grammar notation. This uses the following style of definition:

name ::= lc_letter (lc_letter | "_")*
lc_letter ::= "a"..."z"

The first line says that a name is an lc_letter followed by a sequence of zero or more lc_letters and underscores. An lc_letter in turn is any of the single characters 'a' through 'z'. (This rule is actually adhered to for the names defined in lexical and grammar rules in this document.)

Each rule begins with a name (which is the name defined by the rule) and ::=. A vertical bar (|) is used to separate alternatives; it is the least binding operator in this notation. A star (*) means zero or more repetitions of the preceding item; likewise, a plus (+) means one or more repetitions, and a phrase enclosed in square brackets ([ ]) means zero or one occurrences (in other words, the enclosed phrase is optional). The * and + operators bind as tightly as possible; parentheses are used for grouping. Literal strings are enclosed in quotes. White space is only meaningful to separate tokens. Rules are normally contained on a single line; rules with many alternatives may be formatted alternatively with each line after the first beginning with a vertical bar.

in lexical definitions (as the example above), two more conventions are used: Two literal characters separated by three dots mean a choice of any single character in the given (inclusive) range of ASCII characters. A phrase between angular brackets (<...>) gives an informal description of the symbol defined; e.g., this could be used to describe the notion of ‘control character’ if needed.

Even though the notation used is almost the same, there is a big difference between the meaning of lexical and syntactic definitions: a lexical definition operates on the individual characters of the input source, while a syntax definition operates on the stream of tokens generated by the lexical analysis. All uses of BNF in the next chapter (“Lexical Analysis”) are lexical definitions; uses in subsequent chapters are syntactic definitions.

Lexical analysis

A Python program is read by a parser. Input to the parser is a stream of tokens, generated by the lexical analyzer. This chapter describes how the lexical analyzer breaks a file into tokens.

Python reads program text as Unicode code points; the encoding of a source file can be given by an encoding declaration and defaults to UTF-8, see PEP 3120 for details. If the source file cannot be decoded, a SyntaxError is raised.

Line structure

A Python program is divided into a number of logical lines.

Logical lines

The end of a logical line is represented by the token NEWLINE. Statements cannot cross logical line boundaries except where NEWLINE is allowed by the syntax (e.g., between statements in compound statements). A logical line is constructed from one or more physical lines by following the explicit or implicit line joining rules.

Physical lines

A physical line is a sequence of characters terminated by an end-of-line sequence. In source files and strings, any of the standard platform line termination sequences can be used - the Unix form using ASCII LF (linefeed), the Windows form using the ASCII sequence CR LF (return followed by linefeed), or the old Macintosh form using the ASCII CR (return) character. All of these forms can be used equally, regardless of platform. The end of input also serves as an implicit terminator for the final physical line.

When embedding Python, source code strings should be passed to Python APIs using the standard C conventions for newline characters (the \n character, representing ASCII LF, is the line terminator).


A comment starts with a hash character (#) that is not part of a string literal, and ends at the end of the physical line. A comment signifies the end of the logical line unless the implicit line joining rules are invoked. Comments are ignored by the syntax.

Encoding declarations

If a comment in the first or second line of the Python script matches the regular expression coding[=:]\s*([-\w.]+), this comment is processed as an encoding declaration; the first group of this expression names the encoding of the source code file. The encoding declaration must appear on a line of its own. If it is the second line, the first line must also be a comment-only line. The recommended forms of an encoding expression are

# -*- coding: < encoding-name> -*-

which is recognized also by GNU Emacs, and
# vim:fileencoding=< encoding-name>
which is recognized by Bram Moolenaar’s VIM.

If no encoding declaration is found, the default encoding is UTF-8. In addition, if the first bytes of the file are the UTF-8 byte-order mark (b'\xef\xbb\xbf'), the declared file encoding is UTF-8 (this is supported, among others, by Microsoft’s notepad). If an encoding is declared, the encoding name must be recognized by Python (see Standard Encodings). The encoding is used for all lexical analysis, including string literals, comments and identifiers.

Explicit line joining

Two or more physical lines may be joined into logical lines using backslash characters (\), as follows: when a physical line ends in a backslash that is not part of a string literal or comment, it is joined with the following forming a single logical line, deleting the backslash and the following end-of-line character. For example:

if 1900 < year < 2100 and 1 <= month <= 12 \
and 1 <= day <= 31 and 0 <= hour < 24 \
and 0 <= minute < 60 and 0 <= second < 60: # Looks like a valid date
return 1

A line ending in a backslash cannot carry a comment. A backslash does not continue a comment. A backslash does not continue a token except for string literals (i.e., tokens other than string literals cannot be split across physical lines using a backslash). A backslash is illegal elsewhere on a line outside a string literal.