The Python language comes with a number of built-in functions which are always available as part of the language.

We have already seen some of them in passing, so let’s recap and have a look at some new ones.

Type conversions

As we’ve seen in the beginning, the type functions allows us to ask the type of an object:

>>> <type 'str'>
>>> <type 'int'>
>>> <type 'float'>

Python has several built-in functions to convert from one data type into another. These functions have the same name as the data types, so it’s easy to remember them:


The str function transforms something into a string, or creates a new string if called without any argument:

a = str(10)
print(type(a), len(a))
>>> <type 'str'> 2
b = str()
print(type(b), len(b))
>>> <type 'str'> 0


The list function transforms something into a list, or creates a new list if called without any argument:

>>> ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f', 'g', 'h', 'i', 'j', 'k', 'l', 'm', 'n']
L = list()
print(L, type(L), len(L))
>>> [] <type 'list'> 0


The dict function can create a dict out of different types of arguments, or a new dict empty if called without any argument:

# create a new dict from a list of keyword/value tuples
print(dict([('hello', 1), ('world', 2)])
>>> {'world': 2, 'hello': 1}
# create a new dict using keyword arguments
print(dict(hello=1, world=2))
>>> {'world': 2, 'hello': 1}
# create a new empty dict
d = dict()
print(type(d), len(d), d)
>>> <type 'dict'> 0 {}


The float function transforms an integer or string into a decimal (floating point) number, or creates a new float with value 0.0 if called wihout any argument:

>>> 27.0
>>> 0.0

Conversion from string to float only works if the string looks like a number:

>>> 27.0
>>> 27.0
>>> Traceback (most recent call last):
>>>   File "<untitled>", line 3, in <module>
>>> ValueError: could not convert string to float: abc


The bool function transforms any data type into a boolean value, or returns False if called without any argument:

>>> True
>>> False

See testing truthiness for examples of conversions from other data types.


The set function creates a new set object from a collection, or creates a new empty set if called without any argument:

>>> set(['a', 'r', 'b', 'c', 'd'])
print(set([1, 5, 10, 50, 10, 5, 1]))
>>> set([1, 10, 50, 5])
print(set({'a': 5, 'b': 3, 'c': 1}))
>>> set(['a', 'c', 'b'])
print(set(((10, 20), (20, 25), (10, 20))))
>>> set([(20, 25), (10, 20)])
>>> set([])


The tuple function creates a tuple from a collection, or creates a new empty tuple if called without any argument:

tuple([1, 2, 3])
>>> (1, 2, 3)
>>> ('a', 'b', 'c')
print(tuple({'a': 5, 'b': 3, 'c': 1}))
>>> ('a', 'c', 'b')

Collections and loops


The len function returns the amount of items in a collection:

L = ['A', 'B', [1, 2, 3], 'D']
>>> 4
print(len('I will not buy this record, it is scratched.'))
>>> 44

range() and xrange()

The range function returns a sequence of numbers. The function xrange does exactly the same thing, but it is optimized for speed when dealing with very large ranges:

for i in range(7):
    print(i end=" ")
>>> 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
for i in xrange(7):
    print(i end=" ")
>>> 0 1 2 3 4 5 6


The enumerate function adds a counter to a loop. It returns an iterator object which returns a tuple of (index, item) for each item in the collection:

L = ['A', 'B', 'C', 'D']
>>> <enumerate object at 0x11ac07af0>
>>> [(0, 'A'), (1, 'B'), (2, 'C'), (3, 'D')]

The enumerate function is typically used when looping over the items in a collection:

for index, item in enumerate(L):
    print(index, item)
>>> 0 A
>>> 1 B
>>> 2 C
>>> 3 D
for index, item in enumerate('abcd'):
    print(index, item)
>>> 0 a
>>> 1 b
>>> 2 c
>>> 3 d

sorted() and reversed()

The sorted function makes it easier to loop over a sorted version of a collection. It is a shorthand for creating a copy of the collection, sorting it, and looping over its items:

L = ['Mike', 'Bravo', 'Charlie', 'Tango', 'Alpha']
for item in sorted(L):
    print(item end=" ")
>>> Alpha Bravo Charlie Mike Tango
for item in sorted('abracadabra'):
    print(item end=" ")
>>> a a a a a b b c d r r

The reversed functions works in a similar way, but it returns a list with the inverse order:

for item in reversed(L):
    print(item end=" ")
>>> Alpha Tango Charlie Bravo Mike
for item in reversed('abracadabra'):
    print(item end=" ")
>>> a r b a d a c a r b a


The zip function takes two separate lists, and creates a new list with pairs of values (one from each list):

L1 = ['A', 'B', 'D', 'E', 'F', 'G', 'H', 'I']
L2 = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
print(zip(L1, L2))
>>> [('A', 1), ('B', 2), ('D', 3), ('E', 4), ('F', 5), ('G', 6)]

The resulting list has the same amount of items as the smallest of the two lists.

The zip function is often used to create a dictionary from a list of keys and a list of values:

D = dict(zip(L1, L2))
>>> {'A': 1, 'B': 2, 'E': 4, 'D': 3, 'G': 6, 'F': 5}


Some built-in functions are handy when working with numbers:


The abs function returns the absolute value of a number:

>>> 10
>>> 10


The sum functions adds all items in a list of numbers:

L = [10, 300.7, 50, 33.1]
>>> 393.8


The min function returns the smallest number in a list of numbers:

>>> 10


The max function returns the biggest number in a list of numbers:

>>> 300.7
Last edited on 06/12/2018