Use an index to get a single character from a string.

  • The characters (individual letters, numbers, and so on) in a string are ordered. For example, the string 'AB' is not the same as 'BA'. Because of this ordering, we can treat the string as a list of characters.

  • Each position in the string (first, second, etc.) is given a number. This number is called an index or sometimes a subscript.

  • Indices are numbered from 0.

  • Use the position’s index in square brackets to get the character at that position.

an illustration of indexing

atom_name = 'helium'

{: .language-python}


{: .output}

Use a slice to get a substring.

  • A part of a string is called a substring. A substring can be as short as a single character.

  • An item in a list is called an element. Whenever we treat a string as if it were a list, the string’s elements are its individual characters.

  • A slice is a part of a string (or, more generally, any list-like thing).

  • We take a slice by using [start:stop], where start is replaced with the index of the first element we want and stop is replaced with the index of the element just after the last element we want.

  • Mathematically, you might say that a slice selects [start:stop).

  • The difference between stop and start is the slice’s length.

  • Taking a slice does not change the contents of the original string. Instead, the slice is a copy of part of the original string.

atom_name = 'sodium'

{: .language-python}


{: .output}

Use the built-in function len to find the length of a string.


{: .language-python}


{: .output}

  • Nested functions are evaluated from the inside out, like in mathematics.

Python is case-sensitive.

  • Python thinks that upper- and lower-case letters are different, so Name and name are different variables.

  • There are conventions for using upper-case letters at the start of variable names so we will use lower-case letters for now.

Use meaningful variable names.

  • Python doesn’t care what you call variables as long as they obey the rules (alphanumeric characters and the underscore).

flabadab = 42
ewr_422_yY = 'Ahmed'
print(ewr_422_yY, 'is', flabadab, 'years old')

{: .language-python}

  • Use meaningful variable names to help other people understand what the program does.

  • The most important “other person” is your future self.

Swapping Values

Fill the table showing the values of the variables in this program after each statement is executed.

# Command  # Value of x   # Value of y   # Value of swap #
x = 1.0    #              #              #               #
y = 3.0    #              #              #               #
swap = x   #              #              #               #
x = y      #              #              #               #
y = swap   #              #              #               #

{: .language-python}


# Command  # Value of x   # Value of y   # Value of swap #
x = 1.0    # 1.0          # not defined  # not defined   #
y = 3.0    # 1.0          # 3.0          # not defined   #
swap = x   # 1.0          # 3.0          # 1.0           #
x = y      # 3.0          # 3.0          # 1.0           #
y = swap   # 3.0          # 1.0          # 1.0           #

{: .output}

These three lines exchange the values in x and y using the swap variable for temporary storage. This is a fairly common programming idiom. {: .solution} {: .challenge}

Predicting Values

What is the final value of position in the program below? (Try to predict the value without running the program, then check your prediction.)

initial = 'left'
position = initial
initial = 'right'

{: .language-python}



{: .output}

The initial variable is assigned the value 'left'. In the second line, the position variable also receives the string value 'left'. In third line, the initial variable is given the value 'right', but the position variable retains its string value of 'left'. {: .solution} {: .challenge}


If you assign a = 123, what happens if you try to get the second digit of a via a[1]?


Numbers are not strings or sequences and Python will raise an error if you try to perform an index operation on a number. In the [next lesson on types and type conversion](/03-types-conversion/#convert-numbers-and-strings) we will learn more about types and how to convert between different types. If you want the Nth digit of a number you can convert it into a string using the str built-in function and then perform an index operation on that string.

a = 123

{: .language-python}

TypeError: 'int' object is not subscriptable

{: .error}

a = str(123)

{: .language-python}


{: .output} {: .solution} {: .challenge}

Choosing a Name

Which is a better variable name, m, min, or minutes? Why? Hint: think about which code you would rather inherit from someone who is leaving the lab:

  1. ts = m * 60 + s

  2. tot_sec = min * 60 + sec

  3. total_seconds = minutes * 60 + seconds


minutes is better because min might mean something like “minimum” (and actually is an existing built-in function in Python that we will cover later). {: .solution} {: .challenge}

Slicing practice

What does the following program print?

atom_name = 'carbon'
print('atom_name[1:3] is:', atom_name[1:3])

{: .language-python}


atom_name[1:3] is: ar

{: .output} {: .solution} {: .challenge}

Slicing concepts

  1. What does thing[low:high] do?

  2. What does thing[low:] (without a value after the colon) do?

  3. What does thing[:high] (without a value before the colon) do?

  4. What does thing[:] (just a colon) do?

  5. What does thing[number:some-negative-number] do?

  6. What happens when you choose a high value which is out of range? (i.e., try atom_name[0:15])


  1. thing[low:high] returns a slice from low to the value before high

  2. thing[low:] returns a slice from low all the way to the end of thing

  3. thing[:high] returns a slice from the beginning of thing to the value before high

  4. thing[:] returns all of thing

  5. thing[number:some-negative-number] returns a slice from number to some-negative-number values from the end of thing

  6. If a part of the slice is out of range, the operation does not fail. atom_name[0:15] gives the same result as atom_name[0:]. {: .solution} {: .challenge}