Lecture 5 — Python Functions¶
Most of this is covered late in Chapter 2 of Practical Programming and Chapter 3 of Think Python. Chapter 6 of Think Python goes into more detail, but we are not quite ready for that yet.
- The purpose of today’s class is to introduce the basics of writing and running Python functions.
- Recall Lab 1 for computing disk size. We had to repeat the same
computation three times for different input.
- It is easy to find a mistake and forget to fix it in all copies of the same code.
- It is also hard to distinguish between the same code repeated three times and three different computations.
- Programmer’s motto: DRY – don’t repeat yourself.
- Define it once and use it multiple times.
- Functions are extremely useful for writing complex programs:
- They divide complex operations into a combination of simpler steps.
- They make programs easier to read and debug by abstracting out frequently repeated code.
Often a function is a piece of program that computes one specific thing.
It should be possible to infer what the function does from the function name. Think of the names of functions in the math module:
- Takes as input one or more arguments.
- Computes a new value, a string or a number.
- Returns the value, so that it can be assigned to a variable or output.
Let’s see this with a built-in function:
>>> len('RPI Puckman') 11
Identify the input argument, the computation and the returned value.
A Function to Compute the Area of a Circle¶
In mathematics, many functions are given as formulas. You might write a function to calculate the area of a circle as
In Python, when typing directly into the interpreter, we write
>>> def area_circle(radius): ... pi = 3.14159 ... area = pi * radius**2 ... return area
Then we can run this using
>>> area_circle(1) >>> area_circle(2) >>> r = 75.1 >>> area_circle(r)
Note that by using examples with small values for the radius we can easily check that our function is correct.
Important syntax includes
- Use of the keyword
:to indicate the start of the function
- Indentation for the lines after the
- Blank line at the end of the function
...are produced by the Python interpreter, just like the
- Use of the keyword
What does Python do as we type?¶
Reads the keyword
defand notes that a function is being defined.
- The line that starts with
defis called the function header
- The line that starts with
Reads the rest of the function definition, checking its syntax
Notes the end of the definition when the blank line is reached.
Sees the function call
at what’s known as the “top level” or “main level” of execution (indicated by the presence of
- Jumps back up to the function
- Assigns 1 to the parameter
- Runs the code inside the function
- Returns the result of the calculation back to the top level and outputs the returned result
Repeats the process of running the function at the line
this time with
radiusassigned the value 2
Repeats the process again at the line
and uses the value of the variable
rwhich is 75.1.
Flow of Control¶
To re-iterate, the “flow of control” of Python here involves
- Reading the function definition without executing
- Seeing a ‘’call’’ to the function, jumping up to the start of the function and executing
- Returning back to the place in the program that called the function and continuing.
- Functions can compute many different things and return any data type Python supports.
Arguments, Parameters and Local Variables¶
- Arguments are the values 1, 2 and 75.1 in our above examples.
- These are each passed to the parameter called
radiusnamed in the function header. This parameter is used just like a variable in the function.
- The variable
areaare local variables to the function (though we should probably use the
mathmodule for pi in the future).
areaexists at the top / main level. At this level, they are ‘’undefined variables’‘. Try it out.
Write a function to convert the Celsius temperature to a Fahrenheit temperature and return it.
>>> to_celcius(90) 32.22
>>> frame_word('spam and eggs') '*****************\n* spam and eggs *\n*****************' >>> print frame_word('spam and eggs') ***************** * spam and eggs * *****************
Storing Your Function In a Python File¶
Instead of typing directly into the interpreter, we can type the function into a file, save the file, and then run it.
- This is what happens when you type into the upper pane of the Wing IDE display.
We run the program by clicking on the green triangle. The results appear in the “Python Shell” on the lower right.
The flow of control is the same as if we typed directly into the interpreter, but...
- We need
- We do not need the blank line to end the function definition. We just need to stop the indentation.
- We need
We will analyze the following program in class.
import math def area_circle(radius): area = math.pi * radius**2 return area r = 2 a = area_circle(r) print "Area of a circle with radius: %.1f is %.1f" %(r, a)
Functions with Multiple Arguments / Parameters¶
For our volume calculation, we write a function involving two parameters, called with two arguments:
import math def volume(radius, height): return math.pi * radius ** 2 * height print "volume of cylinder with radius", 1, "and height 2 is", volume(1,2) print "volume of cylinder with radius", 2, "and height 1 is", volume(2,1)
Python determines which argument goes to which parameter based on the order of the arguments, the first going to
radiusand the second going to
For the following problems, write your code as though it is being typed into a file (or, if you have your laptop, type it into a file in the upper left corner of the Wing IDE).
In all the programs below, identify the arguments, parameters, local and global variables?
- Write the conversion function from Fahrenheit to Celcius in a program. Then, use this function to read a Fahrenheit value, convert and print the result.
- Write a function that computes the area of a rectangle. Then, write a program to use this function.
- Write a function that returns the middle value among three integers. Test this function with different inputs.
More on program structure¶
- Let us revisit the program structure that will allow us to write readable programs.
- First a general comment describing the program.
- Second, all import statements.
- Third, all function definitions.
- Now, you can have the main body of your program, generally involves reading or defining variables first, computation (including calling functions) and output.
- Well structured programs are easy to read and debug. We will work hard to help you develop good habits early on.
Functions That Do Not Return Values¶
Some Python functions do not return a value — usually they print out their result. Use such functions very rarely for now, only if you need to repeat the print statements many times.
def volumep(r, h): pi = 3.14159 vol = pi * r ** 2 * h print "The volume of a cylinder with radius", r, "and height", h, "is", vol volumep(1,2) volumep(2,1)
The end of the function is indicated by the line starting at
volumep(1,2), which is at the same level of indentation as the
There is no
returnand the calling code does not attempt to use (e.g. print) a returned value.
- We could add a
returnwith no value at the end of the function.
- We could add a
Try and see what happens if you typed:
>>> print volumep(1,2)
The choice between using functions that do and do not have return values will become clear over time.
Functions That Call Functions¶
Let’s make use of our area of circle function to compute the surface area of the cylinder.
Here is the Python code, in file
import math def area_cylinder(radius,height): circle_area = area_circle(radius) height_area = 2 * radius * math.pi * height return 2*circle_area + height_area def area_circle(radius): return math.pi * radius ** 2 print 'The area of a circle of radius 1 is', area_circle(1) r = 2 height = 10 print 'The surface area of a cylinder with radius', r print 'and height', height, 'is', area_cylinder(r,height)
Now we’ve defined two functions, one of which calls the other.
Flow of control proceeds in two different ways here:
- Starting at the first
- At the second
- back to
- back to the top level.
- Starting at the first
The Python interpreter keeps track of where it is working and where to return when it is done with a function, even if it is back into another function.
Thinking About What You See¶
Why is it NOT a mistake to use the same name, for example
different functions (and sometimes at the top level)?
Let’s Make Some Mistakes¶
In order to check our understanding, we will play around with the code and make some mistakes on purpose
math.piin one definition
- Changing the name of a function
- Switching the order of the parameters in a function call
- Making an error in our calculation
- Write a function to compute the area of a rectangle.
- Write a second function that takes the length, width and height of a rectangular solid and computes its surface area. It should use the function you wrote to compute the area of the rectangle, calling it three times.
We write code that is
- Easier to think about and write
- Easier to test: we can check the correctness of
area_circlebefore we test
- Clearer for someone else to read
- Reusable in other programs
Together these define the notion of encapsulation, another important idea in computer science!
- Functions for encapsulation and reuse
- Function syntax
- Arguments, parameters and local variables
- Flow of control, including functions that call other functions
- Built-in functions
- You can find the code developed in this class under the class
modules. In particular,
What to work on before next class:¶
Concepts to review before next class:
Expressions: What type of data do they return?
Try typing simple math formula to the Python interpreter:>>> 1 + 2 * 3 / 3 * 4**2 **3 - 3 / 3*4and manually find the output. Don’t be fooled by the spaces! Operator precedence is in effect. Try writing your own expressions.
Variables: Do you know what are valid and invalid variable names?
What is the difference in the output between:>>> 3 + 4 >>> print 3 + 4 >>> x = 3 + 4 >>> print x >>> print x = 3+4
Try to guess before typing it in, but make a habit of typing simple statements like this and looking at the result.
Assignment: Can you trace the value of a variable after many different assignments? Don’t be fooled by the name of variables. Try to do it manually:>>> one = 2 >>> two = 1 >>> three = 4 >>> one += 3 * two >>> two -= 3 * one + three
By the way, make a habit of picking nice variable names. Otherwise, I will torture you with questions like this. Your variables should be meaningful whenever possible both to you and to anyone else reading your code.
Functions: Write the functions from class on your own using the Python interpreter. Try to do it without looking at notes. Can you do it?
- Write a function that returns a value.
- Write a function with no return.
- Write a function where
returnis not the last statement in the function.
- Call these functions by either printing their result or assigning their results to a value. Here, I’ll get you started.def regenerate_doctor(doctor_number): return doctor_number+1 def regenerate_tardis(doctor_number): print "Tardis is now ready for doctor number", doctor_number def eliminate_doctor(doctor_number): return 0 print "You will be eliminated doctor", doctor_number
- Write functions that use the built-in functions. Make sure you memorize what they are and how they are used.
- Finally, write some functions to a file and execute them from within the file. Now, execute the file. Make sure all of this is quite easy to do without consulting the course notes by monday.