15. Classes and objects

We have used many of Python’s built-in types, like integers, strings, lists, and dictionaries. Each instance of a type in Python (e.g., a specific string, integer, or list) is called an object. Although the term “object” sounds generic, it has a very specific meaning in software design. In fact, what we’ll be learning about in this chapter is a style of programming and program design called object-oriented programming, or OOP. Before we get into designing an object-oriented program, we will first learn about how new types — and new types of objects — can be defined and created.

15.1. User-defined types

As an initial example, we’ll create a new type called Point that represents a point in two-dimensional space. In mathematical notation, points are often written in parentheses with a comma separating the coordinates. For example, (0, 0) represents the origin, and (x, y) represents the point x units to the right and y units up from the origin.

There are several ways we might represent points in Python:

  • We could store the coordinates separately in two variables, x and y.

  • We could store the coordinates as elements in a list or tuple.

  • We could create a dictionary that has two keys, x and y, with corresponding values.

  • We could create a new type to represent points as objects.

    (Woo-hoo! Pick me! Pick me!)

Creating a new type is (a little bit) more complicated than the other options, but it has advantages that will be apparent soon.

Every type in Python is defined by the type’s class. You can think of a class as a blueprint or model from which objects can be created. A minimal class definition looks like this:

class Point(object):
    """represents a point in 2-D space"""

This header indicates that the new class is a Point, which is a kind of object, which is a built-in type.

The body is a docstring that explains the purpose of the class. Normally, you will also define functions and variables inside a class definition; we will get to that shortly.

Defining a class named Point creates a class object.

>>> print Point
<class '__main__.Point'>

Because Point is defined at the top level, its “full name” is __main__.Point.

Besides being like a blueprint, the class object is also like a factory for creating objects. To create a Point, you call Point as if it were a function.

>>> blank = Point()
>>> print blank
<__main__.Point instance at 0xb7e9d3ac>

The return value is a reference to a Point object, which we assign to blank. Creating a new object is called instantiation, and the object is an instance of the class.

When you print an instance, Python tells you what class it belongs to and where it is stored in memory (the string starting 0x is a memory location in hexadecimal format—base 16).

Even though it might feel a little strange using the class name as a function, you can construct any built-in Python type using the same syntax:

>>> mylist = list()
>>> print list

Using the class/type name as a function works for any type in Python: int, str, list, dict, tuple, etc. And although printing the list object looks a little prettier than our Point object, we’ll make the Point look better soon.

15.2. Attributes and Methods

We’ve just made a Point class from which we can construct Point instances, or Point objects. Objects, in the peculiar programming language sense, can have attributes and methods associated with them.

  • You can think of the attributes as data, or information, stored inside an object. In object-oriented programming languages, attributes are also referred to as instance variables.

  • We’ve already used methods on objects. These are functions that are, in a sense, attached to an object. In Python, a method is invoked by using the dot notation syntax:

    >>> # object.method(parameters)
    >>> s = "aabbcc"
    >>> s.count('b')

In the above example with the string object s, we invoke the count method on the object, passing the string b as a parameter. You can think of the attributes for the string object as being the sequence of characters that make up the string.

15.2.1. Adding attributes

You can assign new attributes to an instance using dot notation and the assignment operator:

>>> blank = Point()
>>> blank.x = 3.0
>>> blank.y = 4.0

The following diagram shows the result of these assignments. A state diagram that shows an object and its attributes is called an object diagram:

Class diagram of a ``point`` object.

Class diagram of a point object.

The variable blank refers to a Point object, which contains two attributes. Each attribute refers to a floating-point number.

You can read the value of an attribute using the same syntax:

>>> print blank.y
>>> x = blank.x
>>> print x

The expression blank.x means, “Go to the object blank refers to and get the value of x.” In this case, we assign that value to a variable named x. There is no conflict between the variable x and the attribute x.

Interestingly (and usefully), objects are mutable — we can change the values of attributes:

>>> blank.x = 5.5
>>> blank.y = blank.x * 2

15.2.2. Adding methods

Methods are semantically the same as functions, but there are two syntactic differences:

  • Methods are defined inside a class definition in order to make the relationship between the class and the method explicit. As with functions, we use the def keyword to define methods, but the method def header needs to be indented inside the class definition.
  • The syntax for invoking a method is different from the syntax for calling a function.

Let’s get started writing a method to set the x and y attributes in the object to new values:

class Point(object):
    '''represents a point in 2-D space'''

    def setXY(point, x, y):
        '''Set values for x and y attributes.
              point is the object we're invoking this method on.
              x is the new value for the x attribute.
              y is the new value for the y attribute.
           There's no return value.'''
        point.x = x
        point.y = y

We might use our Point class to create an object and set its x and y attributes using the setXY method as follows:

>>> p = Point()
>>> p.setXY(8.0, 7.5)
>>> print p.x
>>> print p.y

On line 2 of the above code, setXY is the name of the method, and p is the object on which the method is invoked, which is also called the subject. Just as the subject of a sentence is what the sentence is about, the subject of a method invocation is what the method is about.

Inside the setXY method, the subject is assigned to the first parameter, so in this case p is assigned to point.

By convention in Python, the first parameter of a method is called self, so the Pythonically correct way to write setXY would be:

class Point(object):
    '''represents a point in 2-D space'''

    def setXY(self, x, y):
        '''Set values for x and y attributes.'''
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

15.2.3. The init method

Instead of making a setXY method to initialize the attributes of our Point class, a more conventional way to set initial attribute values is to create a special method called the constructor, c’tor, or initializer. The method name for the constructor is always __init__ in Python, and it is automatically invoked when an object is instantiated. Constructors are used for initializing attributes in an object, and to perform any other initialization that might be required when a new instance is created.

Let’s modify our Point class to include an __init__ method that accepts two parameters for initializing our x and y coordinates. We’ll still retain the setXY method, too.

class Point(object):
    '''represents a point in 2-D space'''

    def __init__(self, x, y):
        '''Point constructor: takes initial x,y values'''
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    def setXY(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

To create a new Point object, we have to change our call to Point to pass in initial values for x and y:

>>> p = Point(3.2, 8.9)
>>> print p.x
>>> print p.y

Since __init__ and setXY are nearly identical, we could even refine our code a bit to reduce redundancy:

class Point(object):
    '''represents a point in 2-D space'''

    def __init__(self, x, y):
        '''Point constructor: sets initial x,y values'''
        self.setXY(x, y)

    def setXY(self, x, y):
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

The optimization isn’t particularly large in this example, but it is still a good idea to avoid repeating the same code. Also, if we add any new attributes, we only have to specify their initialization in one place.

15.2.4. Additional Point methods

Let’s add to our Point class by writing two more methods:

  • A getXY method that doesn’t take any parameters and returns a tuple consisting of the x and y coordinates, and
  • a distance method that takes another Point object as a parameter and computes and returns the Euclidean distance between the subject Point (the Point object on which the distance method is called) and the Point object passed as the parameter.

First, the getXY method:

class Point(object):

    # ... other methods defined in Point

    def getXY(self):
        ''' return the x,y coordinates
            as a tuple.'''
        return (self.x, self.y)

Although we said about that the getXY method doesn’t take any parameters, all methods must always take at least one parameter: the subject, or self object. Inside the method, we simply return a tuple consisting of the x and y components.

In a program, we might use the getXY method as follows:

>>> p = Point(5,2)
>>> coord_tuple = p.getXY()
>>> print coord_tuple

Now, for the distance method:

import math

class Point(object):

    # ... other methods defined in Point

    def distance(self, other):
        ''' compute and return the Euclidean
            distance between this point and another.'''
        d = (self.x - other.x)**2 + (self.y - other.y)**2
        return math.sqrt(d)

In a program, we might use the distance method as follows:

>>> p1 = Point(5,1)
>>> p2 = Point(3,7)
>>> d = p1.distance(p2)
>>> print d

15.2.5. Printing objects

__str__ is a special method, like __init__, that is supposed to return a string representation of an object. For the Point class, we might write the __str__ method as follows:

class Point(object):

    # ... other methods defined in Point

    def __str__(self):
        return "Point ({:.1f},{:.1f})".format(self.x, self.y)

When you print an object, Python automatically and implicitly invokes the __str__ method:

>>> print p1
'Point (5.0,1.0)'
>>> print p2
Point (3.0,7.0)

When you write a new class, a good idea is to start by writing __init__, which makes it easier to instantiate objects, and __str__, which is useful for debugging.

Note that any method names that are prefixed and suffixed with __ are called magic methods in Python. They’re “magic” because they’re invoked automatically and implicitly by Python: a programmer generally never explicitly invokes these methods.

15.2.6. The full Point class

Putting all our work together, here is the full definition of the Point class that we created:

import math

class Point(object):
    '''represents a point in 2-D space'''

    def __init__(self, x, y):
        '''Point constructor: takes initial x,y values'''
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    def setXY(self, x, y):
        '''Set x and y coordinates to new values.'''
        self.x = x
        self.y = y

    def getXY(self):
        ''' return the x,y coordinates as a tuple.'''
        return (self.x, self.y)

    def distance(self, other):
        ''' compute and return the Euclidean
            distance between this point and another.'''
        d = (self.x - other.x)**2 + (self.y - other.y)**2
        return math.sqrt(d)

    def __str__(self):
        return "Point ({:.1f},{:.1f})".format(self.x, self.y)

15.3. Object-oriented program design

Python is an object-oriented programming language, which means that it provides features that support object-oriented programming.

It is not easy to define object-oriented programming, but we have already seen some of its characteristics:

  • Programs are made up of object definitions and function definitions, and most of the computation is expressed in terms of operations on objects.
  • Each object definition corresponds to some object or concept in the real world, and the functions that operate on that object correspond to the ways real-world objects interact.

For example, the Point class defined above corresponds to the mathematical concept of a point.

For solving problems in an object-oriented programming style, the main idea is to model the entities or concepts in the problem domain, including attributes that are stored by the entity, and actions, or methods that can be performed by the entities. Our goal in this course is for you to get your feet wet with OOP ideas; later courses go into more depth on OOP design.

15.4. A Rectangle class

Let’s try to test our knowledge so far by designing a class that models a rectangle.

Sometimes it is obvious what the attributes of an object should be, but other times you have to make decisions. For the rectangle class we’re designing, what attributes would you use to specify the location and size of a rectangle? You can ignore angle; to keep things simple, assume that the rectangle is either vertical or horizontal.

There are at least two possibilities:

  • You could specify one corner of the rectangle (or the center), the width, and the height.
  • You could specify two opposing corners.

At this point it is hard to say whether either is better than the other, so we’ll implement the first one, just as an example.

Here is the class definition, starting with __init__ and __str__:

class Rectangle(object):
    """represent a rectangle.
       attributes: width, height, corner.

    def __init__(self, width, height, corner):
        self.width = width
        self.height = height
        self.corner = corner

    def __str__(self):
        return "Rectangle lower-left: ({:.1f},{:.1f}) "
               "upper-right: ({:.1f},{:.1f})".format(self.corner.x,
               self.corner.y, self.corner.x + self.width,

Once we create the Rectangle class, we might use the two methods we’ve written to construct and print a rectangle object:

>>> r = Rectangle(100.0, 200.0, Point(0, 0))
>>> print r
Rectangle lower-left: (0.0, 0.0) upper-right: (100.0, 200.0)

The figure shows the state of this object:

Diagram of a ``rectangle`` object that refers to a ``point`` object.

Diagram of a rectangle object that refers to a point object.

An object that is an attribute of another object is embedded: the Point object that represents the lower-left corner of the rectangle is embedded in the Rectangle object. This sort of relationship is also referred to as a HAS-A relationship in object-oriented programming. In this case, a Rectangle HAS-A Point.


  1. Write a method named move_rectangle that takes two numbers named dx and dy. It should change the location of the rectangle by adding dx to the x coordinate of corner and adding dy to the y coordinate of corner.
  2. Write a method named perimeter that computes and returns the perimeter length of the rectangle.
  3. Write a method named area that computes and returns the area of the rectangle.

15.5. A Circle class

Since we’ve started on shapes, how about making a class to model a circle. Our choices for attributes are little simpler than with the rectangle. It probably makes sense to have a Point attribute that represents the center of the circle, and a number that holds either the radius or diameter of the circle. Before you look carefully at the code below, see if you can write out the class definition for Circle, including the constructor and __str__ magic method.

class Circle(object):
    def __init__(self, center, radius):
        self.center = center
        self.radius = radius

    def __str__(self):
        return "Circle ({:.1f},{:.1f}) with radius {:.1f}".format(
            self.center.x, self.center.y, self.radius)


1. Write a method named ``move_circle`` that takes two numbers named
   ``dx`` and ``dy``. It should change the center position of the
   center by adding ``dx`` to the ``x`` coordinate of ``center`` and
   adding ``dy`` to the ``y`` coordinate of ``center``.

2. Write a method named ``perimeter`` that computes and returns the
   circumference of the circle.

3. Write a method named ``area`` that computes and returns the area
   of the circle.

15.6. Inheritance

If you’ve faithfully done the examples above (do them now if you haven’t already!), you may have noticed some similarities in how they are implemented. For one, the move_... methods are remarkably similar. Also, even though the perimeter and area methods for the Rectangle and Circle are implemented differently, they have the same name, and (at least in an abstract way) are doing the same things. This should not be surprising, since circles and rectangles are both shapes.

Besides HAS-A relationships in object-oriented programming, there are also IS-A relationships that are often directly supported through programming language features. In our Shape example, a circle IS-A shape, and a rectangle IS-A shape. In object-oriented programming languages, IS-A relationships are directly supported through a featured called inheritance. Inheritance is the ability to define a new class that is a modified version of an existing class. It is called “inheritance” because the new class inherits the methods of the existing class. Extending this metaphor, the existing class is called the parent and the new class is called the child.

In the examples below, we’ll design a parent Shape class, and refactor (revise) our Rectangle and Circle classes so that they inherit from Shape.

15.6.1. A Shape class

Let’s first make our amorphous shape class. Just to make things somewhat interesting, let’s give shapes a name and color. We’ll also define area and perimeter methods; they can just return 0.

def Shape(object):
    '''A generic shape class.'''
    def __init__(self, name, color):
        self.name = name
        self.color = color

    def __str__(self):
        return "I am a {} {}.".format(self.color, self.name)

    def area(self):
        return 0.0

    def perimeter(self):
        return 0.0

15.6.2. Refactoring Rectangle

Now, let’s modify the Rectangle class so that it inherit from Shape. We’ll start with the __init__ method:

class Rectangle(Shape):
    def __init__(self, corner, width, height, color):
        Shape.__init__(self, "rectangle", color)
        self.corner = corner
        self.width = width
        self.height = height

We can first see that instead of object in the class definition, we use Shape. The class name in parenthesis defines the IS-A relationship between our new class and some other class. In this case, a Rectangle IS-A Shape.

The __init__ method is a little hairier now. First, we’ve added a color parameter so that we can set the color of the shape. The first line within the constructor looks messy, but all we’re doing is invoking the constructor of the Rectangle‘s parent class, which is Shape. We have to explicitly say Shape.__init__ to identify the method to call, and we also have to explicitly pass in self as the first parameter. This is one of the (very) few situations in which you ever have to invoke a magic method directly.

When we invoke the Shape constructor, our object gets outfitted with a name and color. When we return, we add the corner, width, and height attributes.

Now the fun begins. Let’s create a Rectangle and manipulate it:

>>> r = Rectangle(Point(3,5), 5, 10, "blue")
>>> print r
I am blue rectangle.

How did we get such output when we didn’t define a __str__ method in Rectangle? Because our Rectangle class inherited all the methods of its parent class, Shape!

What if we try to get the perimeter and area for the Rectangle?

>>> print r.perimeter()
>>> print r.area()

Since we inherited the methods from Shape, we got zeroes. To make our Rectangle more useful, what we can do is override and redefine how area and perimeter should work for a rectangle:

# inside the Rectangle class definition

    def perimeter(self):
        return self.width * 2 + self.height * 2

    def area(self):
        return self.width * self.height

Now, when we ask a rectangle to give us its perimeter and area, it responds appropriately:

>>> r = Rectangle(Point(3,5), 5, 10, "blue")
>>> print r.perimeter()
>>> print r.area()


1. Refactor the ``Circle`` class so that it inherits from ``Shape``.

15.7. Copying objects

Aliasing can make a program difficult to read because changes in one place might have unexpected effects in another place. It is hard to keep track of all the variables that might refer to a given object.

Copying an object is often an alternative to aliasing. The copy module contains a function called copy that can duplicate any object:

>>> p1 = Point(3.0, 4.0)
>>> import copy
>>> p2 = copy.copy(p1)

p1 and p2 contain the same data, but they are not the same Point.

>>> print p1
Point (3.0, 4.0)
>>> print p2
Point (3.0, 4.0)
>>> p1 is p2
>>> p1 == p2

The is operator indicates that p1 and p2 are not the same object, which is what we expected. But you might have expected == to yield True because these points contain the same data. In that case, you will be disappointed to learn that for instances, the default behavior of the == operator is the same as the is operator; it checks object identity, not object equivalence. This behavior can be changed—we’ll see how later.

If you use copy.copy to duplicate a Rectangle, you will find that it copies the Rectangle object but not the embedded Point.

>>> import copy
>>> box = Rectangle(Point(3, 2), 5, 10)
>>> box2 = copy.copy(box)
>>> box2 is box
>>> box2.corner is box.corner

Here is what the object diagram looks like:

Two ``rectangle`` objects that refer to the same ``point`` object in memory.

Two rectangle objects that refer to the same point object in memory.

This operation is called a shallow copy because it copies the object and any references it contains, but not the embedded objects.

For most applications, this is not what you want. In this example, invoking grow_rectangle on one of the Rectangles would not affect the other, but invoking move_rectangle on either would affect both! This behavior is confusing and error-prone.

Fortunately, the copy module contains a method named deepcopy that copies not only the object but also the objects it refers to, and the objects they refer to, and so on. You will not be surprised to learn that this operation is called a deep copy.

>>> box3 = copy.deepcopy(box)
>>> box3 is box
>>> box3.corner is box.corner

box3 and box are completely separate objects.


  1. Write a version of move_rectangle that creates and returns a new Rectangle instead of modifying the old one.

15.8. An in-depth example: card games

In this section we will develop classes to represent playing cards, decks of cards, and poker hands. If you don’t play poker, you can read about it at http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Poker, but you don’t have to; I’ll tell you what you need to know for the exercises.

If you are not familiar with Anglo-American playing cards, you can read about them at http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Playing_cards.

There are fifty-two cards in a deck, each of which belongs to one of four suits and one of thirteen ranks. The suits are Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs (in descending order in bridge). The ranks are Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, and King. Depending on the game that you are playing, an Ace may be higher than King or lower than 2.

If we want to define a new object to represent a playing card, it is obvious what the attributes should be: rank and suit. It is not as obvious what type the attributes should be. One possibility is to use strings containing words like 'Spade' for suits and 'Queen' for ranks. One problem with this implementation is that it would not be easy to compare cards to see which had a higher rank or suit.

An alternative is to use integers to encode the ranks and suits. In this context, “encode” means that we are going to define a mapping between numbers and suits, or between numbers and ranks. This kind of encoding is not meant to be a secret (that would be “encryption”).

For example, this table shows the suits and the corresponding integer codes:

Spades \mapsto 3 Hearts \mapsto 2 Diamonds \mapsto 1 Clubs \mapsto 0

This code makes it easy to compare cards; because higher suits map to higher numbers, we can compare suits by comparing their codes.

The mapping for ranks is fairly obvious; each of the numerical ranks maps to the corresponding integer, and for face cards:

Jack \mapsto 11 Queen \mapsto 12 King \mapsto 13

I am using the \mapsto symbol to make it clear that these mappings are not part of the Python program. They are part of the program design, but they don’t appear explicitly in the code.

15.8.1. Card class

The class definition for Card looks like this:

class Card(object):
    """represents a standard playing card."""

    def __init__(self, suit=0, rank=2):
        self.suit = suit
        self.rank = rank

As usual, the init method takes an optional parameter for each attribute. The default card is the 2 of Clubs.

To create a Card, you call Card with the suit and rank of the card you want.

queen_of_diamonds = Card(1, 12)

15.8.2. Class attributes

In order to print Card objects in a way that people can easily read, we need a mapping from the integer codes to the corresponding ranks and suits. A natural way to do that is with lists of strings. We assign these lists to class attributes:

# inside class Card:

    suit_names = ['Clubs', 'Diamonds', 'Hearts', 'Spades']
    rank_names = [None, 'Ace', '2', '3', '4', '5', '6', '7',
              '8', '9', '10', 'Jack', 'Queen', 'King']

    def __str__(self):
        return '%s of %s' % (Card.rank_names[self.rank],

Variables like suit_names and rank_names, which are defined inside a class but outside of any method, are called class attributes because they are associated with the class object Card.

This term distinguishes them from variables like suit and rank, which are called instance variables because they are associated with a particular instance.

Both kinds of attribute are accessed using dot notation. For example, in __str__, self is a Card object, and self.rank is its rank. Similarly, Card is a class object, and Card.rank_names is a list of strings associated with the class.

Every card has its own suit and rank, but there is only one copy of suit_names and rank_names.

Putting it all together, the expression Card.rank_names[self.rank] means “use the attribute rank from the object self as an index into the list rank_names from the class Card, and select the appropriate string.”

The first element of rank_names is None because there is no card with rank zero. By including None as a place-keeper, we get a mapping with the nice property that the index 2 maps to the string '2', and so on. To avoid this tweak, we could have used a dictionary instead of a list.

With the methods we have so far, we can create and print cards:

>>> card1 = Card(2, 11)
>>> print card1
Jack of Hearts
Diagram that shows the ``Card`` class object and one Card instance.

Diagram that shows the Card class object and one Card instance.

Card is a class object, so it has type type. card1 has type Card. (To save space, I didn’t draw the contents of suit_names and rank_names).

15.8.3. Comparing cards

For built-in types, there are relational operators (<, >, ==, etc.) that compare values and determine when one is greater than, less than, or equal to another. For user-defined types, we can override the behavior of the built-in operators by providing a method named __cmp__.

__cmp__ takes two parameters, self and other, and returns a positive number if the first object is greater, a negative number if the second object is greater, and 0 if they are equal to each other.

The correct ordering for cards is not obvious. For example, which is better, the 3 of Clubs or the 2 of Diamonds? One has a higher rank, but the other has a higher suit. In order to compare cards, you have to decide whether rank or suit is more important.

The answer might depend on what game you are playing, but to keep things simple, we’ll make the arbitrary choice that suit is more important, so all of the Spades outrank all of the Diamonds, and so on.

With that decided, we can write __cmp__:

# inside class Card:

    def __cmp__(self, other):
        # check the suits
        if self.suit > other.suit: return 1
        if self.suit < other.suit: return -1

        # suits are the same... check ranks
        if self.rank > other.rank: return 1
        if self.rank < other.rank: return -1

        # ranks are the same... it's a tie
        return 0

You can write this more concisely using tuple comparison:

# inside class Card:

    def __cmp__(self, other):
        t1 = self.suit, self.rank
        t2 = other.suit, other.rank
        return cmp(t1, t2)

The built-in function cmp has the same interface as the method __cmp__: it takes two values and returns a positive number if the first is larger, a negative number if the second is larger, and 0 if they are equal.

15.8.4. Decks

Now that we have Cards, the next step is to define Decks. Since a deck is made up of cards, it is natural for each Deck to contain a list of cards as an attribute.

The following is a class definition for Deck. The init method creates the attribute cards and generates the standard set of fifty-two cards:

class Deck(object):

    def __init__(self):
        self.cards = []
        for suit in range(4):
            for rank in range(1, 14):
                card = Card(suit, rank)

The easiest way to populate the deck is with a nested loop. The outer loop enumerates the suits from 0 to 3. The inner loop enumerates the ranks from 1 to 13. Each iteration creates a new Card with the current suit and rank, and appends it to self.cards.

15.8.5. Printing the deck

Here is a __str__ method for Deck:

#inside class Deck:

    def __str__(self):
        res = []
        for card in self.cards:
        return '\n'.join(res)

This method demonstrates an efficient way to accumulate a large string: building a list of strings and then using join. The built-in function str invokes the __str__ method on each card and returns the string representation.

Since we invoke join on a newline character, the cards are separated by newlines. Here’s what the result looks like:

>>> deck = Deck()
>>> print deck
Ace of Clubs
2 of Clubs
3 of Clubs
10 of Spades
Jack of Spades
Queen of Spades
King of Spades

Even though the result appears on 52 lines, it is one long string that contains newlines.

15.8.6. Add, remove, shuffle and sort

To deal cards, we would like a method that removes a card from the deck and returns it. The list method pop provides a convenient way to do that:

#inside class Deck:

    def pop_card(self):
        return self.cards.pop()

Since pop removes the last card in the list, we are dealing from the bottom of the deck. In real life bottom dealing is frowned upon [1], but in this context it’s ok.

To add a card, we can use the list method append:

#inside class Deck:

    def add_card(self, card):

A method like this that uses another function without doing much real work is sometimes called a veneer. The metaphor comes from woodworking, where it is common to glue a thin layer of good quality wood to the surface of a cheaper piece of wood.

In this case we are defining a “thin” method that expresses a list operation in terms that are appropriate for decks.

As another example, we can write a Deck method named shuffle using the function shuffle from the random module:

# inside class Deck:

    def shuffle(self):

Don’t forget to import random.


  1. Write a Deck method named sort that uses the list method sort to sort the cards in a Deck. sort uses the __cmp__ method we defined to determine sort order.

15.9. Hand class

Let’s that we now want a class to represent a “hand,” that is, the set of cards held by one player. A hand is similar to a deck: both are made up of a set of cards, and both require operations like adding and removing cards.

A hand is also different from a deck; there are operations we want for hands that don’t make sense for a deck. For example, in poker we might compare two hands to see which one wins. In bridge, we might compute a score for a hand in order to make a bid.

This relationship between classes—similar, but different—lends itself to inheritance.

The definition of a child class is like other class definitions, but the name of the parent class appears in parentheses:

class Hand(Deck):
    """represents a hand of playing cards"""

This definition indicates that Hand inherits from Deck; that means we can use methods like pop_card and add_card for Hands as well as Decks.

Hand also inherits __init__ from Deck, but it doesn’t really do what we want: instead of populating the hand with 52 new cards, the init method for Hands should initialize cards with an empty list.

If we provide an init method in the Hand class, it overrides the one in the Deck class:

# inside class Hand:

    def __init__(self, label=''):
        self.cards = []
        self.label = label

So when you create a Hand, Python invokes this init method:

>>> hand = Hand('new hand')
>>> print hand.cards
>>> print hand.label
new hand

But the other methods are inherited from Deck, so we can use pop_card and add_card to deal a card:

>>> deck = Deck()
>>> card = deck.pop_card()
>>> hand.add_card(card)
>>> print hand
King of Spades

A natural next step is to encapsulate this code in a method called move_cards:

#inside class Deck:

    def move_cards(self, hand, num):
        for i in range(num):

move_cards takes two arguments, a Hand object and the number of cards to deal. It modifies both self and hand, and returns None.

In some games, cards are moved from one hand to another, or from a hand back to the deck. You can use move_cards for any of these operations: self can be either a Deck or a Hand, and hand, despite the name, can also be a Deck.


  1. Write a Deck method called deal_hands that takes two parameters, the number of hands and the number of cards per hand, and that creates new Hand objects, deals the appropriate number of cards per hand, and returns a list of Hand objects.

Inheritance is a useful feature. Some programs that would be repetitive without inheritance can be written more elegantly with it. Inheritance can facilitate code reuse, since you can customize the behavior of parent classes without having to modify them. In some cases, the inheritance structure reflects the natural structure of the problem, which makes the program easier to understand.

On the other hand, inheritance can make programs difficult to read. When a method is invoked, it is sometimes not clear where to find its definition. The relevant code may be scattered among several modules. Also, many of the things that can be done using inheritance can be done as well or better without it.

15.10. Class diagrams

So far we have seen stack diagrams, which show the state of a program, and object diagrams, which show the attributes of an object and their values. These diagrams represent a snapshot in the execution of a program, so they change as the program runs.

They are also highly detailed; for some purposes, too detailed. A class diagram is a more abstract representation of the structure of a program. Instead of showing individual objects, it shows classes and the relationships between them.

There are several kinds of relationship between classes:

  • Objects in one class might contain references to objects in another class. For example, each Rectangle contains a reference to a Point. This kind of relationship is called HAS-A, as in, “a Rectangle has a Point.”
  • One class might inherit from another. This relationship is called IS-A, as in, “A Rectangle is a kind of Shape.”
  • One class might depend on another in the sense that changes in one class would require changes in the other.

A class diagram is a graphical representation of these relationships [2]. For example, this diagram shows the relationships between Card, Deck and Hand.

Inheritance diagram for ``Point``, ``Shape``, and ``Rectangle``.

Inheritance diagram for Point, Shape, and Rectangle.

The arrow with a hollow triangle head represents an IS-A relationship; in this case it indicates that Rectangle inherits from Shape.

The standard arrow head represents a HAS-A relationship; in this case a Deck has references to Card objects.

A more detailed diagram might show that a Deck actually contains a list of Cards, but built-in types like list and dict are usually not included in class diagrams.

15.11. Debugging

When you start working with objects, you are likely to encounter some new exceptions. If you try to access an attribute that doesn’t exist, you get an AttributeError:

>>> p = Point()
>>> print p.z
AttributeError: Point instance has no attribute 'z'

If you are not sure what type an object is, you can ask:

>>> type(p)
<type '__main__.Point'>

If you are not sure whether an object has a particular attribute, you can use the built-in function hasattr:

>>> hasattr(p, 'x')
>>> hasattr(p, 'z')

The first argument can be any object; the second argument is a string that contains the name of the attribute.

It is legal to add attributes to objects at any point in the execution of a program, but if you are a stickler for type theory, it is a dubious practice to have objects of the same type with different attribute sets. It is usually a good idea to initialize all of an objects attributes in the __init__ method.

If you are not sure whether an object has a particular attribute, you can use the built-in function hasattr (see above ).

Another way to access the attributes of an object is through the special attribute __dict__, which is a dictionary that maps attribute names (as strings) and values:

>>> p = Point(3, 4)
>>> print p.__dict__
{'y': 4, 'x': 3}

For purposes of debugging, you might find it useful to keep this function handy:

def print_attributes(obj):
    for attr in obj.__dict__:
        print attr, getattr(obj, attr)

print_attributes traverses the items in the object’s dictionary and prints each attribute name and its corresponding value.

The built-in function getattr takes an object and an attribute name (as a string) and returns the attribute’s value.

Inheritance can make debugging a challenge because when you invoke a method on an object, you might not know which method will be invoked.

Suppose you are writing a function that works with Hand objects. You would like it to work with all kinds of Hands, like PokerHands, BridgeHands, etc. If you invoke a method like shuffle, you might get the one defined in Deck, but if any of the subclasses override this method, you’ll get that version instead.

Any time you are unsure about the flow of execution through your program, the simplest solution is to add print statements at the beginning of the relevant methods. If Deck.shuffle prints a message that says something like Running Deck.shuffle, then as the program runs it traces the flow of execution.

As an alternative, you could use this function, which takes an object and a method name (as a string) and returns the class that provides the definition of the method:

def find_defining_class(obj, meth_name):
    for ty in type(obj).mro():
        if meth_name in ty.__dict__:
            return ty

Here’s an example:

>>> hand = Hand()
>>> print find_defining_class(hand, 'shuffle')
<class 'Card.Deck'>

So the shuffle method for this Hand is the one in Deck.

find_defining_class uses the mro method to get the list of class objects (types) that will be searched for methods. “MRO” stands for “method resolution order.”

Here’s a program design suggestion: whenever you override a method, the interface of the new method should be the same as the old. It should take the same parameters, return the same type, and obey the same preconditions and postconditions. If you obey this rule, you will find that any function designed to work with an instance of a superclass, like a Deck, will also work with instances of subclasses like a Hand or PokerHand.

If you violate this rule, your code will collapse like (sorry) a house of cards.

15.12. Glossary

A user-defined type. A class definition creates a new class object.
class object:
An object that contains information about a user-defined type. The class object can be used to create instances of the type.
An object that belongs to a class.
One of the named values associated with an object. Also referred to as instance variables.
A function that is defined inside a class definition and is invoked on instances of that class.
object diagram:
A diagram that shows objects, their attributes, and the values of the attributes.
The object a method is invoked on.
A special method always named __init__ that handles initializing the values of attributes in an object, and any other setup required when a new instance is created.
magic methods:
Method names that begin and end with __; they are implicitly and automatically invoked by the Python interpreter.
object-oriented language:
A language that provides features, such as user-defined classes and method syntax, that facilitate object-oriented programming.
object-oriented programming:
A style of programming in which data and the operations that manipulate it are organized into classes and methods. Also referred to as OOP.
embedded (object):
An object that is stored as an attribute of another object.
HAS-A relationship:
The relationship between two classes where instances of one class contain references to instances of the other.
IS-A relationship:
The relationship between a child class and its parent class.
The ability to define a new class that is a modified version of a previously defined class.
parent class:
The class from which a child class inherits.
child class:
A new class created by inheriting from an existing class; also called a “subclass.”
shallow copy:
To copy the contents of an object, including any references to embedded objects; implemented by the copy function in the copy module.
deep copy:
To copy the contents of an object as well as any embedded objects, and any objects embedded in them, and so on; implemented by the deepcopy function in the copy module.
class attribute:
An attribute associated with a class object. Class attributes are defined inside a class definition but outside any method.
A method or function that provides a different interface to another function without doing much computation.
class diagram:
A diagram that shows the classes in a program and the relationships between them.

15.13. Exercises

  1. Write a class definition for a Date object that has attributes day, month and year. Write a function called increment_date that takes a Date object, date and an integer, n, and returns a new Date object that represents the day n days after date. Hint: “Thirty days hath September...” Challenge: does your function deal with leap years correctly? See http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_year.

  2. The built in datetime module provides date and time objects, each with a rich set of methods and operators. Read the documentation at http://docs.python.org/lib/datetime-date.html.

    1. Use the datetime module to write a program that gets the current date and prints the day of the week.
    2. Write a program that takes a birthday as input and prints the user’s age and the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until their next birthday.
  3. Write a definition for a class named Kangaroo with the following methods:

    1. An __init__ method that initializes an attribute named pouch_contents to an empty list.
    2. A method named put_in_pouch that takes an object of any type and adds it to pouch_contents.
    3. A __str__ method that returns a string representation of the Kangaroo object and the contents of the pouch.

    Test your code by creating two Kangaroo objects, assigning them to variables named kanga and roo, and then adding roo to the contents of kanga’s pouch.

  4. The following code is a solution to the previous problem, except that it contains a nasty bug. Find, describe, and fix the problem.

    class Kangaroo(object):
        """a Kangaroo is a marsupial"""
        def __init__(self, contents=[]):
            """initialize the pouch contents; the default value is
            an empty list"""
            self.pouch_contents = contents
        def __str__(self):
            """return a string representaion of this Kangaroo and
            the contents of the pouch, with one item per line"""
            t = [ object.__str__(self) + ' with pouch contents:' ]
            for obj in self.pouch_contents:
                s = '    ' + object.__str__(obj)
            return '\n'.join(t)
        def put_in_pouch(self, item):
            """add a new item to the pouch contents"""
    kanga = Kangaroo()
    roo = Kangaroo()
    kanga.put_in_pouch('car keys')
    print kanga
    # If you run this program as is, it seems to work.
    # To see the problem, trying printing roo.
  5. The table below shows possible hands in poker, in increasing order of value (and decreasing order of probability):


    two cards with the same rank

    two pair

    two pairs of cards with the same rank

    three of a kind

    three cards with the same rank


    five cards with ranks in sequence (aces can be high or low, so Ace-2-3-4-5 is a straight and so is 10-Jack-Queen-King-Ace, but Queen-King-Ace-2-3 is not.)


    five cards with the same suit

    full house

    three cards with one rank, two cards with another

    four of a kind

    four cards with the same rank

    straight flush

    five cards in sequence (as defined above) and with the same suit

    The goal of these exercises is to estimate the probability of drawing these various hands.

    1. Using the Card, Hand, and Deck classes created in this chapter, create a PokerHand class that can hold up to 7 cards at once.
    2. Write a main function that deals cards from a Deck object and adds them to a PokerHand object.
    3. Write a isStraightFlush method for the PokerHand class that tests whether the hand contains a straight flush.
    4. Add methods to PokerHand named has_pair, has_twopair, etc. that return True or False according to whether or not the hand meets the relevant criteria. Your code should work correctly for “hands” that contain any number of cards (although 5 and 7 are the most common sizes).
    5. Write a method named classify that figures out the highest-value classification for a hand and sets the label attribute accordingly. For example, a 7-card hand might contain a flush and a pair; it should be labeled “flush”.
    6. When you are convinced that your classification methods are working, the next step is to estimate the probabilities of the various hands. Write a function that shuffles a deck of cards, divides it into hands, classifies the hands, and counts the number of times various classifications appear.
    7. Print a table of the classifications and their probabilities. Run your program with larger and larger numbers of hands until the output values converge to a reasonable degree of accuracy. Compare your results to the values at http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_rankings.
  6. This exercise uses the turtle module. You will write code that makes Turtles play tag. If you are not familiar with the rules of tag, see http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_(game).

    1. Type in the following code and run it. You should see a turtle screen with three turtles that start wandering around the screen at random.

      Wobbler class originally written by Allen Downey.
      Modified by J. Sommers for use with vanilla turtle rather
      than TurtleWorld.
      import turtle
      import random
      class Wobbler(turtle.Turtle):
          """a Wobbler is a kind of turtle with attributes for speed and
          def __init__(self, speed=1, clumsiness=60, color='red'):
              self.delay = 0
              self.speed = speed
              self.clumsiness = clumsiness
              # move to the starting position
          def step(self):
              """step is invoked by the timer function on every Wobbler, once
              per time step."""
          def move(self):
              """move forward in proportion to self.speed"""
          def wobble(self):
              """make a random turn in proportion to self.clumsiness"""
              dir = random.randint(0,self.clumsiness) - random.randint(0,self.clumsiness)
          def steer(self):
              """steer the Wobbler in the general direction it should go.
              Postcondition: the Wobbler's heading may be changed, but
              its position may not."""
      def timerfunction():
          for t in turtle.turtles():
          turtle.ontimer(timerfunction, 100)
      if __name__ == '__main__':
          # make 3 turtles
          turtle_colors = ['red','blue','yellow']
          i = 1.0
          for i in range(3):
              w = Wobbler(i, i*30, turtle_colors[i])
              i += 0.5
    2. Read the code and make sure you understand how it works. The Wobbler class inherits from Turtle, which means that the Turtle methods left, right, forward and backward work on Wobblers.

      The step method gets invoked by the timerfunction. It invokes steer, which turns the Turtle in the desired direction, wobble, which makes a random turn in proportion to the Turtle’s clumsiness, and move, which moves forward a few pixels, depending on the Turtle’s speed.

    3. Create a class named Tagger that inherits from Wobbler. Change the call in main to invoke Tagger instead of Wobbler when creating the turtles.

    4. Add a steer method to Tagger to override the one in Wobbler. As a starting place, write a version that always points the Turtle toward the origin. Hint: use the math function atan2 and the Turtle attributes x, y and heading.

    5. Modify steer so that the Turtles stay on the screen.

    6. Modify steer so that each Turtle points toward its nearest neighbor. Hint: Turtles have an attribute, screen, that is a reference to the Screen they live in, and Screen has a method turtles that returns a list of all the Turtle objects on the screen.

    7. Modify steer so the Turtles play tag. You can add methods to Tagger and you can override steer and __init__, but you may not modify or override step, wobble or move. Also, steer is allowed to change the heading of the Turtle but not the position.

    Adjust the rules and your steer method for good quality play; for example, it should be possible for the slow Turtle to tag the faster Turtles eventually.

[1]See http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottom_dealing
[2]The diagrams I am using here are similar to UML (see http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_Modeling_Language), with a few simplifications.