TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mac in the Shell: Learning Python on the Mac: Classes

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 05
Column Tag: Mac in the Shell

Mac in the Shell: Learning Python on the Mac: Classes

Building a Basic Class

by Edward Marczak


Last month, we covered conceptually what classes are, why they're useful and when you may use them. This was all done with no (real) code. None of the nitty-gritty. That's where we're headed this month. So, without further ado, let's get into some Python code!

Modeling the Real World

Traditionally, defining a class is the mechanism that allows the code author to create a "factory" for churning out (instantiating) objects. Python is a little different in that everything is treated as an object whether you are aware of that fact or not. As we discussed last month, you use a class when you have a model in the real world that you'd like to follow. In his Road to Code column, Dave Dribin has been using shapes as objects. A single shape class can be used to model shapes from the real world: a square, a rectangle, etc. We're going to use a different example that's just as grounded in the real world: a bank account.

Before getting into the code, it's wise to plan out a class: what is it's structure? A class can hold instance variables and methods. An instance variable is simply a variable that is specific to a given class. Similarly, a method is a function that resides internal to a class, and can act on instance variables stored in a class.

What do we need to plan out our bank account class? Well, the account should have some method of identifying it - a name or number, perhaps. Since this is a small example, and we're not worried about name conflicts, and we don't want to treat people like a number, let's just go with name. That's one, actually two, instance variables: First Name and Last Name. The account will also have a balance, our third instance variable.

What actions do we need to take these variables? Focusing on the balance, we certainly need to deposit money. That's our first method! We'll also want to withdraw this money at some point, which will be our second method. Let's start modeling the class from here.

Bank Account Class

First things first: create a directory for this project. I'm using "Bank_Class", but you're free to call it what you wish. Inside that directory, I'm creating a file named "". Use vi, BBEdit or whichever plain text editor makes you most comfortable.

First thing is first; the magic shebang line:

#!/usr/bin/env python

As shown last month, classes always begin with the class keyword to define them:

class account:

and we said we need three instance variables: balance, first name and last name. We can define them here (but please read on as we're going to refine this!):

class account:
  balance = 0
  fname = ''
  lname = ''

From here, we can actually use this class:

acct = Account()  # Instantiate a new Account
print 'Account balance is', acct.balance
print 'Depositing $50'
acct.balance = acct.balance + 50
print 'Balance is now', acct.balance

Which yields the output:

Account balance is 0
Depositing $50
Balance is now 50

Now, just because we can doesn't mean that we should! This code will work, but it has a few holes. One large issue being that we don't have to assign a name to this account, and this is what we hoped to be our identifier. If there are actions we want to take, including assignment, every time we create an instance, we can define a constructor. A constructor is just another function (or, method). What makes it special is that it will run every time the class is instantiated. Defining a method named "__init__" creates a constructor (that's two underscores and the word 'init' followed by two underscores. Instead of the small tangled mess shown above, we can define the following:

class Account:
  def __init__(self, fn, ln):

Now when we instantiate the class, we can call it like this:

acct1 = Account('Bill', 'Smith')

This will create the account with a zero balance and assign the first name as "Bill" and the last name as "Smith". If we forget one or both parameters, the class will raise an error.

What's with the "self"?

Python requires that there be an additional first parameter to a class method. While you could technically name it anything you like, it's canonically called self. The Python runtime will automatically supply the value for this parameter at runtime. The self parameter is an object reference used to pass instance values to the method. While you can call it anything you like, all of the Python documentation uses "self," along with, well, every Python author that I know or have seen. So, stick with the convention of "self." It'll help you, or anyone that needs to look at your code in the future.

Additional Methods

Now that we can instantiate a new bank account, we'll want to act on it. We've already decided that we need at least two methods: deposit and withdraw. Add the methods to the class (remember the right indentation!):

class Account:
  def __init__(self, fn, ln):
    self.balance = 0
    self.fname = fn
    self.lname = ln
  def Deposit(self,amount):
    self.balance += amount
  def Withdraw(self, amount):
    self.balance -= amount

Now we can create a new account, deposit and withdraw money. (Note the use of the += and -= operators. This is simple shorthand for repeating the left-hand variable. x = x + 1 can become x += 1). Unlike the first version of this code shown above, we don't have to set the variables ourselves, but rather we use a method to do it for us:

acct = Account('Joan', 'Smith')    # Create new account
print "Acct1 Balance = ", acct1.balance
print "Depositing $50 to acct1"
acct1.Deposit(50)       # Note use of class method here
print "Acct1 Balance =", acct1.balance

Naturally, there are some holes with this. There are no sanity checks to see if there's any money in the account before we withdraw it, for one. That is an improvement left to the reader.

How is this better?

Well, the examples given thus far haven't done much to improve on traditional procedural programming. However, now that we have the structure in place, it's easy to go beyond that. Creating multiple accounts, for instance is as simple as an assignment:

acct1 = Account('Joan', 'Smith')
acct2 = account('Bob', 'Smith')

And we can perform discreet actions on each:

print "Acct1 Balance =", acct1.balance
print "Acct2 Balance =", acct2.balance

You should be able to visualize a dictionary structure filled with accounts. Or, the ability to find a record in a database and loading the found record(s) into an Account class.


Between last month and this month - please ensure that you also understand the material presented last month, too! - you should have a pretty good idea what classes are, how they work, and how to start building your own. Next month, we'll get into some OS X-specific functionality of Python and build some useful classes.

Media of the month: Seriously. OK, pick any social network, but Facebook seems to be the biggest. And then go say hello to someone you miss.

Hope to see everyone at WWDC next month! See you in San Francisco!

Ed Marczak is the Executive Editor of MacTech Magazine. He lives in New York with his wife, two daughters and various pets. He has been involved with technology since Atari sucked him in, and has followed Apple since the Apple I days. He spends his days on the Mac team at Google, and free time with his family and/or playing music. Ed is the author of the Apple Training Series book, "Advanced System Administration v10.5," and has written for MacTech since 2004.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Microsoft Office 2016 16.11 - Popular pr...
Microsoft Office 2016 - Unmistakably Office, designed for Mac. The new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote provide the best of both worlds for Mac users - the familiar Office... Read more
Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 19.1.2 - Profess...
Photoshop CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Photoshop customer). Adobe Photoshop CC 2018, the industry standard... Read more
Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2018 -...
Dreamweaver CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Dreamweaver customer). Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2018 allows you to... Read more
Adobe Flash Player - Plug-in...
Adobe Flash Player is a cross-platform, browser-based application runtime that provides uncompromised viewing of expressive applications, content, and videos across browsers and operating systems.... Read more
Drive Genius 5.2.0 - $79.00
Drive Genius features a comprehensive Malware Scan. Automate your malware protection. Protect your investment from any threat. The Malware Scan is part of the automated DrivePulse utility. DrivePulse... Read more
MegaSeg 6.0.6 - Professional DJ and radi...
MegaSeg is a complete solution for pro audio/video DJ mixing, radio automation, and music scheduling with rock-solid performance and an easy-to-use design. Mix with visual waveforms and Magic... Read more
ffWorks 1.0.7 - Convert multimedia files...
ffWorks (was iFFmpeg), focused on simplicity, brings a fresh approach to the use of FFmpeg, allowing you to create ultra-high-quality movies without the need to write a single line of code on the... Read more
Dash 4.1.5 - Instant search and offline...
Dash is an API documentation browser and code snippet manager. Dash helps you store snippets of code, as well as instantly search and browse documentation for almost any API you might use (for a full... Read more
Evernote 7.0.3 - Create searchable notes...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
jAlbum Pro 15.3 - Organize your digital...
jAlbum Pro has all the features you love in jAlbum, but comes with a commercial license. You can create gorgeous custom photo galleries for the Web without writing a line of code! Beginner-friendly... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Around the Empire: What have you missed...
Oh hi nice reader, and thanks for popping in to check out our weekly round-up of all the stuff that you might have missed across the Steel Media network. Yeah, that's right, it's a big ol' network. Obviously 148Apps is the best, but there are some... | Read more »
All the best games on sale for iPhone an...
It might not have been the greatest week for new releases on the App Store, but don't let that get you down, because there are some truly incredible games on sale for iPhone and iPad right now. Seriously, you could buy anything on this list and I... | Read more »
Everything You Need to Know About The Fo...
In just over a week, Epic Games has made a flurry of announcements. First, they revealed that Fortnite—their ultra-popular PUBG competitor—is coming to mobile. This was followed by brief sign-up period for interested beta testers before sending out... | Read more »
The best games that came out for iPhone...
It's not been the best week for games on the App Store. There are a few decent ones here and there, but nothing that's really going to make you throw down what you're doing and run to the nearest WiFi hotspot in order to download it. That's not to... | Read more »
Death Coming (Games)
Death Coming Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: (iTunes) Description: --- Background Story ---You Died. Pure and simple, but death was not the end. You have become an agent of Death: a... | Read more »
Hints, tips, and tricks for Empires and...
Empires and Puzzles is a slick match-stuff RPG that mixes in a bunch of city-building aspects to keep things fresh. And it's currently the Game of the Day over on the App Store. So, if you're picking it up for the first time today, we thought it'd... | Read more »
What You Need to Know About Sam Barlow’s...
Sam Barlow’s follow up to Her Story is #WarGames, an interactive video series that reimagines the 1983 film WarGames in a more present day context. It’s not exactly a game, but it’s definitely still interesting. Here are the top things you should... | Read more »
Pixel Plex Guide - How to Build Better T...
Pixel Plex is the latest city builder that has come to the App Store, and it takes a pretty different tact than the ones that came before it. Instead of being in charge of your own city by yourself, you have to work together with other players to... | Read more »
Fortnite Will Be Better Than PUBG on Mob...
Before last week, if you asked me which game I prefer between Fortnite Battle Royale and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), I’d choose the latter just about 100% of the time. Now that we know that both games are primed to hit our mobile screens... | Read more »
Siege of Dragonspear (Games)
Siege of Dragonspear 2.5.12 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $9.99, Version: 2.5.12 (iTunes) Description: Experience the Siege of Dragonspear, an epic Baldur’s Gate tale, filled with with intrigue, magic, and monsters.... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Sunday Sales: $200 off 13″ Touch Bar MacBook...
Amazon has new 2017 13″ 3.1GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale this weekend for $200 off MSRP, each including free shipping: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXV2LL/A): $1599.99 $200 off... Read more
B&H drops prices on 15″ MacBook Pros up t...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on new 2017 15″ MacBook Pros, now up to $300 off MSRP and matching Adorama’s price drop yesterday. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ... Read more
Apple restocks Certified Refurbished 2017 13″...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ 2.3GHz MacBook Pros for $200-$230 off MSRP. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, models receive new outer cases, and... Read more
13″ Space Gray Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale...
Adorama has new 2017 13″ Space Gray Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (... Read more
Best deal of the year on 15″ Apple MacBook Pr...
Adorama has New 2017 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NJ and NY only: – 15″ 2.8GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pro Space Gray (MPTR2LL/A): $... Read more
Save $100-$150+ on 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros...
B&H Photo has 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for $100-$150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro... Read more
Current deals on 27″ Apple iMacs, models up t...
B&H Photo has 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $150 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 27″ 3.8GHz iMac (MNED2LL/A): $2149 $150 off MSRP – 27″ 3... Read more
Thursday Deal: 13″ 2.3GHz MacBook Pro for $11...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook Pro on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax for NY & NJ residents only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space... Read more
How to save $100-$190 on 10″ & 12″ iPad P...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished 2017 10″ and 12″ iPad Pros for $100-$190 off MSRP, depending on the model. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: –... Read more
Silver 12″ 1.3GHz MacBook on sale at B&H...
B&H Photo has the 2017 12″ 1.3GHz Silver MacBook on sale for $1399.99 including free shipping plus sales tax for NY & NJ residents only. Their price is $200 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest... Read more

Jobs Board

Art Director, *Apple* Music + Beats1 Market...
# Art Director, Apple Music + Beats1 Marketing Design Job Number: 113258081 Culver City, California, United States Posted: 07-Mar-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
*Apple* Solution Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solution Consultant Job Number: 113569564 Williston, Vermont, United States Posted: 06-Mar-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Are you passionate about Read more
*Apple* Media Products (AMP) Engineering Man...
# Apple Media Products (AMP) Engineering Manager Job Number: 86497853 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 07-Mar-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
QA Automation Engineer, *Apple* Pay - Apple...
# QA Automation Engineer, Apple Pay Job Number: 113202642 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: 02-Mar-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** At Read more
Lead *Apple* Solution Consultant - Apple (U...
# Lead Apple Solution Consultant Long Island NY Job Number: 113486035 Long Island City, New York, United States Posted: 07-Mar-2018 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.