[Tutor] Why difference between printing string & typing its object reference at the prompt?

boB Stepp robertvstepp at gmail.com
Thu Oct 4 05:39:01 CEST 2012

On Wed, Oct 3, 2012 at 1:38 AM, Steven D'Aprano <steve at pearwood.info> wrote:


> The long answer is a bit more subtle, and rather long.

I had initial suspicions this would be the case Thanks for yours and
Dave's detailed exposition!

> Python is no different: words, text if you will, that are part of the
> code are written as normal:
> # source code
> class Test:
>     pass
> x = Test  # Test here refers to the variable Test, a class
> But to create a string object, you use quotation marks to tell Python
> that this is data, not code, please create a string object:
> x = "Test"  # Test here refers to a string, which is data
> Notice that the quotation marks are *delimiters*, they mark the start
> and end of the string, but aren't part of the string in any way. Python
> knows that the object is a string because you put it in string
> delimiters, but the delimiters are not part of the string.

I was not sure if the quotes were considered part of the string or
not. Thanks for the clarification.

> Now, take a step back and consider objects in general. There are two
> things we might like to do to an arbitrary object:
> * display the object, which implicitly means turning it into a
>   string, or at least getting some representation of that object
>   as a string;
> * convert the object into a string.
> Python has two built-in functions for that:
> * repr, which takes any object and returns a string that represents
>   that object;
> * str, which tries to convert an object into a string, if that makes
>   sense.
> Often those will do the same thing. For example:
> py> str(42) == repr(42) == "42"
> True
> But not always. For example:
> py> from decimal import Decimal as D
> py> x = D("1.23")
> py> print(str(x))
> 1.23
> py> print(repr(x))
> Decimal('1.23')

These contrasting examples are very illuminating. So in print(str(x))
the object, D("1.23"), is being converted into a readable string,
which makes the most sense as 1.23. But print(repr(x)) is giving a
string representation of the object as code, which is more than just
1.23, the Decimal('1.23'). Am I understanding this correctly?

> Unfortunately, the difference between str() and repr() is kind of
> arbitrary and depends on the object. str() is supposed to return a
> "human-readable" version of the object, for display, while repr() is
> supposed to return a string which would work as code, but those are more
> guidelines than hard rules.

Will these fine distinctions be easy for me to pick up on as I
progress in my Python studies? I suspect that I am going to have to
experiment with str() and repr() in each new situation to see what

> So we have two different ways of converting an object to a string. But
> strings themselves are objects too. What happens there?
> py> s = "Hello world"  # remember the quotes are delimiters, not part of the string
> py> print(str(s))
> Hello world
> py> print(repr(s))
> 'Hello world'
> str() of a string is unchanged (and why shouldn't it be? it's already a
> string, there's nothing to convert).
> But repr() of a string creates a new string showing the representation
> of the original string, that is, what you would need to type in source
> code to make that string. That means:
> 1) wrap the whole thing in delimiters (quotation marks)
> 2) escaping special characters like tabs, newlines, and binary
>    characters.

As to point 2), will repr() insert "\" (I am assuming Python uses a
backslash like other languages to escape. I have not read about this
in Python yet.) for these special characters? Will str() do the same?

> Notice that the string returned by repr() includes quote marks as part
> of the new string. Given the s above:
> py> t = repr(s)
> py> print(t)
> 'Hello world'
> py> t
> "'Hello world'"
> This tells us that the new string t includes single quote marks as the
> first and last character, so when you print it, the single quote marks
> are included in the output. But when you just display t interactively
> (see below), the delimiters are shown.

Another great example. I probably would have overlooked this.

> Now, at the interactive interpreter, evaluating an object on its own
> without saving the result anywhere displays the repr() to the screen.
> Why repr()? Well, why not? The decision was somewhat arbitrary.

So the designers of Python made this decision. I guess it had to be
one way or the other.

> print, on the other hand, displays the str() of the object directly to
> the screen. For strings, that means the delimiters are not shown,
> because they are not part of the string itself. Why str() rather than
> repr()? Because that's what people mostly want, and if you want the
> other, you can just say print(repr(obj)).

So in the end it is a simple choice to give the users what they want
and are already used to.

> Does this help, or are you more confused than ever?
This has been incredibly useful! Many thanks!!


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