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Book Review: The Python Standard Library By Example 33

thatpythonguy writes "Addison-Wesley publishers has released The Python Standard Library By Example, another Python book that strategically fits in between programming cookbooks and library reference manuals. It brings the Python standard library that much closer to Python programmers and helps make them more proficient in their trade." Read below for Ahmed's first Slashdot review.
The Python Standard Library by Example
author Doug Hellmann
pages 1344
publisher Addison-Wesley Professional
rating 8 of 10
reviewer Ahmed Al-Saadi
ISBN 978-0-321-76734-9
summary A unique guide to the Python standard library that is between a cookbook and a reference manual
There has been an explosion in the availability of published titles for the Python programming language in the past few years. This has been driven by the rising popularity of this multi-paradigm language that has proven useful in domains spanning web, games, graphics, financial, science, automation and others. Many large and small corporations, universities and governmental organizations are using Python in their respective fields with seeming success.

One of the main reasons for the success of Python is the quality, breadth, and depth of its standard library. Unfortunately, this library is not documented sufficiently in titles that serve as introductory or reference material due to the nature of introductory texts that deal with the basics; on the other hand, reference texts are often too concise and lack sufficient examples. The title at hand is a library-centric tutorial/reference that can be a great tool when you need to learn how to solve certain problems using Python.

The book addresses itself to intermediate Python programmers and covers versions 2.7 and 3.x of the language. Although an experienced programmer coming from another language can learn a lot about Python by reading this book, I personally favor the traditional top-down, gradual method of learning a new language which involves an introductory, tutorial-style, and verbose introductory book. However, realizing that others might not like my cup of tea, I can envision, for example, someone familiar with socket programming picking up this book and writing a network application without prior Python experience. He or she might still need to look up language features on the way, but that should not be too hard as the language is easy to understand and there is a rich library of on-line (and printed) content for basic language constructs.

This title comes in a hefty 1300-plus-page, soft-cover book (or eBook) that is organized around thematic grouping of library modules. The groups are: text, data structures, algorithms, dates and times, mathematics, file system, data persistence and exchange, data compression and archiving, cryptography, processes and threads, networking, the Internet, email, application building blocks, internationalization and localization, developer tools, runtime features, language tools, modules and packages.

Each group contains the relevant modules from the standard library. For example, the text group contains the string, textwrap, re and difflib modules. Each of these modules is briefly described first and then its use is demonstrated in various ways under an appropriate heading. For example, the socket module (networking group) has sections covering addressing, TCP/IP client/Server, UDP clients/servers, UNIX domain sockets and multicast, among others. The code is written in such a way as to focus on the topic being discussed while not overlooking good practices such as wrapping a socket connection call with a try/finally block to ensure that the connection is closed in case of error.

A more advanced module, that is also described in the networking group, is SocketServer. This is a higher-level (on top of the socket layer) facility that enables the creation of network servers (e.g., HTTP or AMQP). It is nice to see that the book demonstrates the creation of an echo server using this module while incorporating more advanced topics such as threading and asynchronous I/O which are necessities in real-life, production code.

Although the content covers quite a bit of ground that surpasses many other sources in terms of coverage, the Python standard library is so vast that any one-volume book attempting to provide comprehensive coverage will necessarily fail! Nonetheless, you will find at the end of each section pointers to other material such as on-line resources, RFCs, and related books that can be used for a deeper study of the relevant topics.

I think that the text could use some typographical features to enhance the clarity of the content. These include highlighting the code using indents or an alternative font to set it apart from the text that surrounds it as I found it hard to visually distinguish the two. The code should also have the name of the file at the top of the listing so that when that name is used subsequently to invoke the code, it would be easy to reference the file contents. Also,I find the general typesetting not as pleasing nor as easy to read as titles from certain other publishers. This latter point is somewhat subjective and, in any case, does not detract from the utility of the content.

Despite the caveat above, I have to say that I like this class of documentation that is between a cookbook and a reference manual. I find it useful that the examples are not so terse nor overly verbose. I also appreciate the quality of the code and the references for further readings. I think that this book fills a void that will make many Python programmers more proficient.

Ahmed Al-Saadi is the Principal Software Consultant for Solea Research, a software consultancy and development company based in Montreal, Canada. He spends his free time writing, contemplating software architecture and playing his Flamenco guitar."

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Book Review: The Python Standard Library By Example

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  • by c0l0 ( 826165 ) * on Friday August 19, 2011 @03:02PM (#37146606) Homepage

    ... is that it's there (and I think it's actually great and indeed vast), but it's of seemingly little use in "production" code. The aforementioned SocketServer, for instance - try asking in #python on freenode how to do this-and-that with it. Answer: ditch it, noone uses it because it's crap, use twisted instead. It seems like a solid chunk of the provided functionality is being dragged along for (mostly) historical reasons, as you're supposed to use some third-party library that doesn't come bundled with the Python runtime by default anyway if you want to do actual stuff with the language that's ready for "the real world".

    I still like programming in Python a lot though, and I do make extensive use of the "batteries" it includes. Will probably pick up the book; thanks for reviewing!

    • In other words, the third-party library playground is larger and moving faster than the standard library. I'd expect that in any code base, because the standard library out of necessity has to be more concerned with backwards compatibility so that the next language upgrade doesn't break existing code. For instance, strcpy is still supported in C, even though it's widely regarded as very unsafe.

      But you'll notice that the Python standard library slowly adds in third-party modules that are widely used and are

      • For instance, strcpy is still supported in C, even though it's widely regarded as very unsafe.

        There is a difference between a function imposing a precondition and one that is broken.

    • I do like twisted a lot, but with regards to SocketServer, I can tell you that the company I work for uses it in production applications and it works quite well for us. I supposed twisted is easier to work with, less that you have to do by yourself, etc. But if you're limited to the standard library, it works just fine.
    • by ThorGod ( 456163 )

      Until you realize that 1 problem solved is worth (at least) 200 good and 1000 decent ideas.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday August 19, 2011 @03:05PM (#37146634) Homepage

    Yet another unneeded thousand page book of examples. The Python library documentation isn't bad, as such things go. Nor is the library that complex. Most of the library modules are independent of other modules, and have APIs of modest size. Another giant cookbook is unnecessary.

    There are too many of these morbidly obese programming books out there. Little pamphlet-sized books would be more useful. Printing long code examples on paper is just silly; programmers who want to cut and paste need an online version.Those plastic cards which cram what you really need to know on one sheet would be even more useful for many programs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The Python library documentation isn't bad, as such things go.

      True, the documentation isn't bad. However, example code is almost entirely missing in most cases, which is where this book comes in. It's not a documentation replacement, it's a supplement.

    • by mvdwege ( 243851 ) <> on Friday August 19, 2011 @04:02PM (#37147364) Homepage Journal

      I must disagree. The python documentation is by and large awful. It is often not more than a summation of available objects and methods, with very little explanation and few examples.

      And I suspect it's a cultural thing, as the documentation of third-party modules is often not any better than this mere boilerplate style.

      For shits and giggles, try to compare the docs of the DB API 2.0 (a single short PEP) to Perl's DBI (extensive and with examples).

      I really like Python, but for daily work I've given up on the constant struggle to find just how the heck to use a certain module.


  • I realize at 1300 pages that it's already swollen and that they're not part of The Standard Library, but -some- mention of often used, substantial, and useful packages like Twisted or BeautifulSoup, and their relation to The Standard Library would've been nice to see.
  • by jnik ( 1733 ) on Friday August 19, 2011 @04:58PM (#37148030)
    This is the book of the blog Python Module of the Week [], so you can get a look at the content there.
    • The PMotW is a great resource for novice Python programmers. I use it quite a bit. I'm sure this book is every bit as good.

      Sadly (for authors and publishers) using the Oracle of Google is faster than flipping pages.

  • The Slashdot reviewer writes:

    "The book addresses itself to intermediate Python programmers and covers versions 2.7 and 3.x of the language."

    Umm... no it doesn't. As anyone who has an amazon account can verify, the author does *not* cover Python 3.x. This is what Doug Hellmann says at the bottom of p.1 and the beginning of p.2 in his book:

    "Although the current transition to Python 3 is well underway, Python 2 is still likely to be the primary version of Python used in production environments for years to com

    • Granted, the choice of words is vague and the concept of coverage needs elaboration. Despite the distinction that is often made between the 2.x and 3.x branches, some features appear in minor versions belonging to each of them. Specifically, many of the features that were originally intended for 3.0 were back-ported to 2.6 as described in What's New in Python 3.0 []. In fact, there are library components in 3.0 that were later deprecated in 3.1!

      I suppose I was paraphrasing the author's statement about his atte

  • The review is spot on about the typesetting in the book; it is terrible and is a deterrent to enjoyment and utilization of the contents. I've never had this reaction to a book before; I'm not really a font-obsessive kind of guy. They would have been better off just sending the humongous PyMOTW PDF to the printer.

    My favorite Python reference is Python Essential Reference (4th ed) by Beazley; it pretty much lives up to its title. Among other things it is good at identifying points where Python2 and Python3

  • This is a very good review, Ahmed. Thanks for sharing!

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