Is Python overhyped (just like Java)?

Anand B Pillai abpillai at
Mon Mar 31 13:40:32 CEST 2003

Truly wonderful post from Alex ...

Why would anyone use Python ? Well, first of all it is a true
object-oriented language in the spirit of Smalltalk/Java whereas C++
is not one. It has a clean syntax and comes with many pre-built
libraries, most of them written in C(CPython) or Java(Jython). It is a
higher-level programming language when compared to C++, as Alex
pointed out.

 First of all I dont agree that there is any 'hype' associated with
python. Java hype was true and real, because it was a language
promoted by a single company, a monolith as a panacea for all the
problems caused by programming on M$ tools. Its single idea was to
offer stiff competition to M$ coffers and to put Sun's grip on the
developer's desktops. Alas, it realized far less than the expectations
it raised, as we all know.

 Python on the other hand is a free language developed by a group of
programmers based on the idea of software freedom. It is not promoted
by any company AFAIK and it does not have any grand designs like
Java. Also, python has been around for some time, far more than Java
has been. There is no hype and no need for one as a matter of fact.

 I learned python quite accidentally. I need to write many small
scripts for my day-to-day routine programming tasks. I found shell too
awkward for the task and too time-consuming. I tried my hands at batch
programming but it's capabilities are limited as anyone who has ever
fired up a "command" shell with a "cmd /C" and attempted those nifty
shell tricks that M$ has integrated with their Windoze knows
...;-). The next natural step was 'awk' but to me it felt like Shell
served with "C" fries !  I had heard about python quite some time
back, but never actually got swallowed by it. I went to the python
website and read guido's amazing tutorial on python. That got me hook,
line and sinker and I was a prey to the python language ever
since. Now I find scripting child's play what with the excellent
capabilities that python offers. Try a few scripts using "sys" and
'"os" and you will know ... (wink).

  The single biggest advantage of python is SPEED. You can map your
problem space to solution space with 10% of the time you need to
prototype in C++, in python(Probably lesser, but this question is
better answered by professional python programmers). C++ burdens the
programmer with mundane tasks like freeing memory, declaring headers,
writing macros to feed the preprocessor, the list is endless. 80% of
the time to program a C++ project is taken in deciding on the code
modules, preparing the header files and the directory structure,
deciding which symbols to be exposed(exported).  The actual
productivity time declines because of this. For example, the last
three projects I did for my company was for fixing performance bottle-
necks in their application written in C++. The programmer sometimes
gets bogged down in umpteen fine details like I mentioned, that he
doesnt actually profile the code. This causes performance bottlenecks,
the customer complains and once again the task goes to another
programmer to find and fix the time-consuming code portions. The
actual cost goes up in fact, rather, for the company, as well as the

    Python works well for tasks like text processing, XML
parsing. There is excellent support for regular expressions in the
form of the 're' module.  The list is extensive, and most of them are
avaialable on all platforms that python is available.

    Python makes programming fun. If programming in C++ is fun then
doing it in python will be more so. If programming in C++ makes you
weary as it does me :-(, all the more reason to jump onto the python
bandwagon :-)

  Learn python today and you will agree that it was time well spent.


Anand Pillai

Alex Martelli <aleax at> wrote in message
news:<omqha.31133$Jg1.677484 at>...  > Ajay na wrote: > > >
Can some-one please explain why one would want to use Python?  > > One
word: *PRODUCTIVITY*.  > > > What is wrong with C++?  > > One word:
*COMPLEXITY*.  > > > > In my opinion, the problem with C++ has nothing
to with the language > > semantics.  The problem is that when people
are confronted with a powerful > > language like C++, they tend to
want to optimize everything to death.  > > That's when they get
themselves in trouble.  > > You're over-generalizing.  Not all users
of C++ are so naive as to > have failed to read Knuth -- "Premature
optimization is the root of > all evil in programming".  But the point
is -- by choosing a lower > level language, like C++, at the start of
your project, rather than > a higher level one, like Python, you ARE
optimizing WAY prematurely.  > > > > Those who use Python know they
are sacrificing a lot in terms of memory > > and > > speed.  But if
they took the same attitude toward C++, they can actually > > get a
lot of flexibility, code reuse, simplicity, and all the other > >
benefits of > > OO programming at over half the cost of using Python!
The problem is that > > Whaddya mean "over half the cost"?  > > I'm
putting the final touches on a talk I'll give to PythonUK next > week
(it's held together with the ACCU conference) on "Python for > C++ and
Java programmers".  One example I give is a task for which > C++ is
quite suited, with its standard library -- reading a text file, >
breaking it into whitespace-separated 'words', building an index from
> each word to the line numbers on which it appears, and showing the >
index with words in alphabetical order, one per line, each followed >
by the line numbers on which it appears.  > > Thanks to the excellent
support given for these tasks by the standard > library, the C++
source is ONLY twice as big as the Python source for > the same job (a
more usual ratio is around 5:1).  This holds for both > the simplest
versions, and the slightly more complicated ones with > somewhat
better optimization.  The runtimes on my box (Linux Mandrake > 9.0,
gcc 3.1, Python 2.3) are, when the programs are run on the 4.4 MB > of
the "King James Bible" in plain ASCII text: 17.4 seconds for the >
simplest C++, going down to 15 with optimizations; 11.2 seconds for
the > simplest Python, going down to 8.1 with optimizations (CPU times
are > in very similar ratios).  Of course, this basically reflects the
> excellence of Python's intrinsics (dictionaries, lists, strings) >
versus the lesser quality of C++'s library implementation (maps, >
vectors, strings) -- with different implementations, you may see >
different ratios.  > > But what won't change is, the Python program IS
smaller, because > Python it's a higher-level language -- AND each
statement is > intrinsically cleaner and simpler, so the development
time ratio, > for programmers who have perfectly mastered both
languages and > the respective standard libraries, is even more
extreme than the > ratio in program sizes.  The simplest and most
flexible C++ you > can write is still way bigger, more complicated,
and less flexible > than the most refined and optimized Python code it
may make sense > to write -- it's as simple as this.  For tasks to
which Python is > extremely well suited (text processing of all kinds,
including XML > parsing, for example), you may ALSO get better running
time than > C++ with the standard library would give you -- in
general, C++ > lets you develop faster code, but oh what a price in
terms of > productivity you pay for that!  > > And the funniest thing
is, there IS no need to pay that price -- > 90% of your program's
runtime is likely to be taken up by 10% > of your program's source
code, or some such ratio.  By writing > Python first, you'll often get
an application with acceptable > performance; if not, you profile it,
find out the hot-spots, > optimize those in Python terms, and if
that's still not enough, > it's EASY to recode the hot-spots in faster
ways while still > leaving MOST of your application in Python.  There
are many > ways to do such recoding (even without counting the still >
experimental 'psyco' selective just-in-time optimizer), and > among
them are ways to integrate C++, such as SciPy's "weave" > and the
Boost Python Library (if you don't know Boost, DO > give it a look --
it WILL increase your C++ productivity, and > not just by easing
integration of C++ to Python, either).  > > > people who don't
understand C++, are afraid to use the 'virtual' features > > of > >
that language because it's 'too expensive'.  But that's
stupid...because > > Python's 'virtualness' is even more expensive!  >
> It's quite inconsiderate of you to imply that Python users are >
"people who don't understand C++", when among those users are > people
like Andrew Koenig (author of "Ruminations on C++" and > other great
C++ books, as well as a towering figure of C++ > development -- the
algorithm for name lookup in the C++ language > is called "Koenig
lookup" because HE developed it...!), Bruce > Eckel (author of
best-sellers "Thinking in C++" and "Thinking > in Java"), and so many
others whose C++ competence is in all > likelihood AT LEAST as good as
yours.  > > > > Nope...I'm not trolling...I want someone to give a
solid and intelligent > > argument about why I should switch from C++
to Python!  > > You shouldn't *SWITCH*!  If you hadn't already made
the huge > investment to master all the complexity of C++, it might be
> best to avoid it -- but, if you HAVE made it, count it as a > "sunk
cost", as I do, and see how best to leverage it.  Learn > Python (a
trivial investment compared to learning C++), and > use BOTH Python
and C++ in your development.  You'll find that > Python gives you
extremely high productivity and flexibility, > letting you prototype,
experiment, refactor whole architectures > from the inside out and
back again -- even if you knew the > final product MUST be delivered
in C++ due to contractual > requirements, you'd STILL be better off
doing the early phases > in Python ANYWAY.  Once the program is
working, benchmark it; > most often, you'll find you're done -- in a
FRACTION of the > time.  If the performance isn't satisfactory,
profile it, and > start optimizing -- including recoding parts in C++,
e.g.  > with weave or the Boost Python Library.  In the end, you'll
use > both Python and C++ in the same program, *each for what it does
> best*: Python for most of the code, C++ for the bottlenecks.  > It's
as simple as this, really!  > > And your programming productivity will
soar...  > > > Alex

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