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Input and Output

Learn to interact with the user

Input and Output

There will be situations where your program has to interact with the user. For example, you would want to take input from the user and then print some results back. We can achieve this using the input() function and print function respectively.

For output, we can also use the various methods of the str (string) class. For example, you can use the rjust method to get a string which is right justified to a specified width. See help(str) for more details.

Another common type of input/output is dealing with files. The ability to create, read and write files is essential to many programs and we will explore this aspect in this chapter.

Input from user

Save this program as io_input.py:

def reverse(text):
    return text[::-1]

def is_palindrome(text):
    return text == reverse(text)

something = input("Enter text: ")
if is_palindrome(something):
    print("Yes, it is a palindrome")
    print("No, it is not a palindrome")


$ python3 io_input.py
Enter text: sir
No, it is not a palindrome

$ python3 io_input.py
Enter text: madam
Yes, it is a palindrome

$ python3 io_input.py
Enter text: racecar
Yes, it is a palindrome

How It Works

We use the slicing feature to reverse the text. We've already seen how we can make slices from sequences using the seq[a:b] code starting from position a to position b. We can also provide a third argument that determines the step by which the slicing is done. The default step is 1 because of which it returns a continuous part of the text. Giving a negative step, i.e., -1 will return the text in reverse.

The input() function takes a string as argument and displays it to the user. Then it waits for the user to type something and press the return key. Once the user has entered and pressed the return key, the input() function will then return that text the user has entered.

We take that text and reverse it. If the original text and reversed text are equal, then the text is a palindrome.

Homework exercise

Checking whether a text is a palindrome should also ignore punctuation, spaces and case. For example, "Rise to vote, sir." is also a palindrome but our current program doesn't say it is. Can you improve the above program to recognize this palindrome?

If you need a hint, the idea is that...1


You can open and use files for reading or writing by creating an object of the file class and using its read, readline or write methods appropriately to read from or write to the file. The ability to read or write to the file depends on the mode you have specified for the file opening. Then finally, when you are finished with the file, you call the close method to tell Python that we are done using the file.

Example (save as io_using_file.py):

poem = '''\
Programming is fun
When the work is done
if you wanna make your work also fun:
    use Python!

# Open for 'w'riting
f = open('poem.txt', 'w')
# Write text to file
# Close the file

# If no mode is specified,
# 'r'ead mode is assumed by default
f = open('poem.txt')
while True:
    line = f.readline()
    # Zero length indicates EOF
    if len(line) == 0:
    # The `line` already has a newline
    # at the end of each line
    # since it is reading from a file.
    print(line, end='')
# close the file


$ python3 io_using_file.py
Programming is fun
When the work is done
if you wanna make your work also fun:
    use Python!

How It Works

First, open a file by using the built-in open function and specifying the name of the file and the mode in which we want to open the file. The mode can be a read mode ('r'), write mode ('w') or append mode ('a'). We can also specify whether we are reading, writing, or appending in text mode ('t') or binary mode ('b'). There are actually many more modes available and help(open) will give you more details about them. By default, open() considers the file to be a 't'ext file and opens it in 'r'ead mode.

In our example, we first open the file in write text mode and use the write method of the file object to write to the file and then we finally close the file.

Next, we open the same file again for reading. We don't need to specify a mode because 'read text file' is the default mode. We read in each line of the file using the readline method in a loop. This method returns a complete line including the newline character at the end of the line. When an empty string is returned, it means that we have reached the end of the file and we 'break' out of the loop.

In the end, we finally close the file.

Now, check the contents of the poem.txt file to confirm that the program has indeed written to and read from that file.


Python provides a standard module called pickle using which you can store any plain Python object in a file and then get it back later. This is called storing the object persistently.

Example (save as io_pickle.py):

import pickle

# The name of the file where we will store the object
shoplistfile = 'shoplist.data'
# The list of things to buy
shoplist = ['apple', 'mango', 'carrot']

# Write to the file
f = open(shoplistfile, 'wb')
# Dump the object to a file
pickle.dump(shoplist, f)

# Destroy the shoplist variable
del shoplist

# Read back from the storage
f = open(shoplistfile, 'rb')
# Load the object from the file
storedlist = pickle.load(f)


$ python io_pickle.py
['apple', 'mango', 'carrot']

How It Works

To store an object in a file, we have to first open the file in write binary mode and then call the dump function of the pickle module. This process is called pickling.

Next, we retrieve the object using the load function of the pickle module which returns the object. This process is called unpickling.


So far, when we have been writing and using strings, or reading and writing to a file, we have used simple English characters only.

NOTE: If you are using Python 2, and we want to be able to read and write other non-English languages, we need to use the unicode type, and it all starts with the character u, e.g. u"hello world"

>>> "hello world"
'hello world'
>>> type("hello world")
<class 'str'>
>>> u"hello world"
'hello world'
>>> type(u"hello world")
<class 'str'>

When we read or write to a file or when we talk to other computers on the Internet, we need to convert our unicode strings into a format that can be sent and received, and that format is called "UTF-8". We can read and write in that format, using a simple keyword argument to our standard open function:

# encoding=utf-8
import io

f = io.open("abc.txt", "wt", encoding="utf-8")
f.write(u"Imagine non-English language here")

text = io.open("abc.txt", encoding="utf-8").read()

How It Works

You can ignore the import statement for now, we'll explore that in detail in the modules chapter.


Whenever we write a program that uses Unicode literals like we have used above, we have to make sure that Python itself is told that our program uses UTF-8, and we have to put # encoding=utf-8 comment at the top of our program.

We use io.open and provide the "encoding" and "decoding" argument to tell Python that we are using unicode.

You should learn more about this topic by reading:


We have discussed various types of input/output, about file handling, about the pickle module and about Unicode.

1. Use a tuple (you can find a list of all punctuation marks here) to hold all the forbidden characters, then use the membership test to determine whether a character should be removed or not, i.e. forbidden = (!, ?, ., ...).
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