An Introduction to Python

Python is an extensible, high-level, interpreted, object-oriented programming language. Ready for use in the real world, it's also free.
Where Do We Go from Here?

Python is currently available in source or as a Linux binary from ftp.python.org. Various modules have already been developed and become part of the standard Python Library. To mention just a few: support for strings, regular expressions, posix, sockets, threads, multimedia, cryptography, STDWIN, Internet/WWW, Expect, and a large number of other contributions, are submitted periodically.

Python is extensible. If you can program in C, you can add a new low-level module to the interpreter. We are currently doing this at our company for a distributed database system. The Python interpreter will be the high-level command language for many of the applications.

In addition to Linux, Python runs on several other platforms: OS/2, Windows, Macintosh, and many flavors of Unix. And like Linux, all of these versions are freely available and distributable.

The documentation for Python is of a very high quality, written by Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python. Four separate user manuals in postscript format are available at the Python ftp site (see sidebar “Python Information”). These documents have also been converted to HTML and Microsoft help file formats. A Python FAQ, quick reference guide, and testimonials are also available. O'Reilly and Associates also intends to publish Programming Python early next year.

Python has its own active newsgroup (comp.lang.python) as well as a mailing list which receives the same messages as the newsgroup. To subscribe to the mailing list, send mail to python-list-request@cwi.nl. Various Python special interest groups have been formed: Matrix-SIG, GUI-SIG, and Locator-SIG.

Finally, The Python Software Activity (“PSA”) has been established to foster the common interests of the Python development community. The PSA, unlike the GNU Project, does not do the actual development of software (although many of its members probably do), but rather acts as a clearinghouse for Python software modules developed by others. It also hosts workshops and related activities to help promote the use of the Python language. Additional information about the PSA may be obtained by visiting the Python home page: www.python.org.

Special thanks to Mark Lutz, Aaron Watters, the PSA, and, of course, Guido van Rossum.

Jeff Bauer has spent the past 16 years developing health care software. His current project involves interfacing pen-based computers with Unix systems to track clinical information.

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