One of the challenges of getting started with Python is that you might have to install Python and related software on your computer. If you are familiar with your operating system, and especially if you are comfortable with the command-line interface, you will have no trouble installing Python. But for beginners, it can be painful to learn about system administration and programming at the same time.
To avoid that problem, I recommend that you start out running Python in a browser. Later, when you are comfortable with Python, I’ll make suggestions for installing Python on your computer.
There are a number of web pages you can use to run Python. If you already have a favorite, go ahead and use it. Otherwise I recommend PythonAnywhere. I provide detailed instructions for getting started at http://tinyurl.com/thinkpython2e.
There are two versions of Python, called Python 2 and Python 3. They are very similar, so if you learn one, it is easy to switch to the other. In fact, there are only a few differences you will encounter as a beginner. This book is written for Python 3, but I include some notes about Python 2.
The Python interpreter is a program that reads and executes Python code. Depending on your environment, you might start the interpreter by clicking on an icon, or by typing
python on a command line. When it starts, you should see output like this:
Python 3.4.0 (default, Jun 19 2015, 14:20:21) [GCC 4.8.2] on linux Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information. >>>
The first three lines contain information about the interpreter and the operating system it’s running on, so it might be different for you. But you should check that the version number, which is 3.4.0 in this example, begins with 3, which indicates that you are running Python 3. If it begins with 2, you are running (you guessed it) Python 2.
The last line is a prompt that indicates that the interpreter is ready for you to enter code. If you type a line of code and hit Enter, the interpreter displays the result:
>>> 1 + 1 2
Now you’re ready to get started. From here on, I assume that you know how to start the Python interpreter and run code.