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Previous lesson: Python programming basics

Using code libraries

This lesson explains how to import modules from the Python Standard Library. It introduces the concept of methods associated with a class.

Learning objectives At the end of this lesson, the learner will:

Total video time: 33m 35s

Lesson Jupyter notebook at GitHub

Lesson Colab notebook

Lesson slides

The import statement

Introduction to the import statement (3m34s)

A module is reusable code stored in a separate file. Functions can be imported from a module using an import statement.

Modules in the Standard Library are included in the normal Python distribution. Functions in the Standard Libarary that aren’t built-in must be imported.

Forms of the import statement

Import a single function:

from math import sqrt
answer = sqrt(3)  # don't need to include the module name

Import the whole module:

import math
answer = math.sqrt(3)  # prefix the function name with the module name

Import the module and abbreviate:

import math as m
answer = m.sqrt(3)  # prefix the function name with the module abbreviation

Using the import statement (3m08s)

Example - Import a single function:

from math import sqrt
answer = sqrt(2)

Example - Import the entire module:

import math
pi = math.pi # modules can include constants (unchanging variable values)
answer = math.cos(pi)

Example - abbreviate the imported module name

import math as m
answer = m.log10(1000)

The time module (2m28s)


# Import the time module
import time

# Print current local time as a formatted string
# "Local time" may be ambiguous if running in the cloud!
print("I'm going to go to sleep for 3 seconds!")

# Suspend execution for 3 seconds
print("I'm awake!")

Note that some functions return a value, as in the first example where the current time is returned, then printed. But some functions do not return any value. Rather, they just do something, as in the second example, which makes the script pause for a certain number of seconds.

The os (operating system) module (3m12s)


import os

working_directory = os.getcwd()
print(os.listdir()) # no argument gets working directory
# print(os.listdir(working_directory + '/Documents'))

What if a module isn’t in the Standard Library?

In the examples we have used so far, the modules we have wanted to import have been included in the Standard Library, so we have been able to load them using an import statement. However, sometimes when you try to import a module that you’ve seen in code examples, you will receive an error message saying that the module can’t be found. In that case, the library containing that module isn’t downloaded to your computer and it must be installed. (Note: we will use “package” and “library” interchangeably and ignore their technical differences.)

The libraries that are installed automatically will depend at least partly on how you installed and are using Python. If you are using Jupyter notebooks installed as part of an Anaconda distribution, many of the commonly used modules not included in the Standard Library will be available to you without needing to install them. The same is true with Colab. If you did a stand-alone installation of Jupyter notebooks, you are more likely to need to install additional libraries.

There are two common installation methods. The standard method uses pip. If you are using Anaconda, it comes with its own package manager, conda. Both of these applications are used in the console (Command prompte on Windows or Terminal on Mac.) Here is an example of how to install a commonly used package: requests. In the console, enter the following:

pip3 install requests

If it doesn’t work on your computer, then try it again without the “3”:

pip install requests

(Depending on your installation, the “3” may be important if pip without the “3” installs Python 2 packages.) You will see lines of printout but eventually you should see a prompt again. Once the installation is complete, you should be able to use the library in your Jupyter notebook.

Note: The name of the library to be installed is often, but not always, the name of the module that you will load. For example, the commonly used BeautifulSoup library is installed using

pip install beautifulsoup4

but is typically loaded in code using

from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

where bs4 is the actual module name. Check the documentation for the library to make sure what the name is of the library before installing (for example this for BeautifulSoup).


Introduction to methods (4m20s)

Particular objects are instances of generic classes.

Methods are associated with particular classes of objects. Any instance of a class can use a method associated with that class.

A method is essentially a function that is linked to a class.

The form of a method is: object.method().

Arguments may be passed into a method. A method may produce a return value or it may carry out an action without returning anything.

String class methods (1m08s)

Some string class methods are: .upper(), .lower(), and .title().


# instantiate a string object
my_message = 'Do not yell at me, Steve!'

# apply the .upper() method to the string object
shouting = my_message.upper()

ee_cummings = my_message.lower()
my_book = my_message.title()

Imported function or method? (1m44s)

When looking at someone else’s code, you can tell whether an object like something.otherthing() is a function from the something module or a method of a something object by looking at the code. If the top of the code has a statement like:

import something

then it is a function imported from the something module. If the code has a statement somewhere like:

something = something_else

where an object is assigned to a variable named something, then it is a method of a something object.

Practice assignment

  1. Import the cos() function from the math module so that you don’t have to specify the module name when you want to use the function. Also import pi from the math module in the same way. Write a script to calculate the cosine of pi and also the circumference of a circle with a diameter of 3. If you don’t remember how to calculate circumference, Google it.
  2. Modify the previous script to allow the user to input their own diameter. Don’t forget that the input() function returns strings, not numbers.
  3. When describing angles, Python measures angles in radians, where 180 degrees = pi radian. That is, divide the angle in degrees by 180, then multiply by pi. Since most people aren’t familiar with radians, write a script that will allow a user to input an angle in degrees, convert the degrees to radians, then calculate the cosine of the input angle. Test your script with 45 degrees, whose cosine is 0.70710678118 .
  4. Write a script that lets a user enter a string. Then convert what they entered into all caps, all lower case, and title case.
  5. Case insensitivity. It is often useful to check a user’s input without concern for capitalization. The easiest way to do that is to convert what the user entered into all lower case, then check for equivalence with an all lower-case string. Write a script that lets the user input a string, then print the boolean result for comparing whether their string was equal to ‘sister’ with any kind of capitalization.
  6. Import the time.sleep() function to use without a prefix. Then make the script wait (sleep) for one second.

Optional videos

The following videos cover content that is not required, but you might find them useful.

The datetime module (9m08s)

The datetime module defines several kinds of objects. Two of them are: date and datetime.

Date objects can be instantiated by specifying their year, month, and day:,9,11). They can also be instantiated using the .today() method:


import datetime

# Instantiate two date objects, numeric arguments required.
sep_11 =,9,11)
this_day = # method sets the date value as today

# Create various string representations of the date objects
print(sep_11.isoformat()) # use ISO 8601 format
print(sep_11.weekday()) # numeric value; Monday is 0
print(sep_11.strftime('%A')) # '%A' is a string format code for the day

DateTime objects can be instantitated using the current UTC (i.e. Greenwich Mean Time) time using the .utcnow() method: datetime.datetime.utcnow().


import datetime

# Instantiate a dateTime object
# The dateTime will be expressed as Universal Coordinated Time (UTC)
# a.k.a. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
right_now = datetime.datetime.utcnow()

# Create string representations of the datetime object
# See the datetime module documentation for the string format codes
print(right_now.strftime('%B %d, %Y %I:%M %p'))

Both date and datetime objects are abstract and don’t have any particular representation. They can be represented as strings using several methods. The .isoformat() method represents them as strings according to the ISO 8601 standard. The .strftime() method represents them as strings based on user-defined string format codes.

Notice how this differs from the strftime() function from the time module. The strftime() function returns a string object. It does not create an instance of any abstract object. In contrast, abstract date and datetime objects are created by the datetime module. They are not strings, but string representations of them can be created by several methods.

Optional practice (if you want to practice using the datetime and time modules):

  1. Import the datetime module abbreviated as dt. Instantiate now as a date and as a datetime using the abbreviation, and print the value of now. You will probably need to look at the examples. If you get stuck, you can watch the video below.
  2. The time() funtion (no arguments) from the time (NOT datetime) module gives the number of seconds since the midnight before January 1, 1970. Time how long it takes the user to enter something (or just press the Enter/return key) by finding the difference in time from before the input statement and after it. You can turn this into a reaction time tester by having one person click the run button and another person press the Enter key as soon as they see or hear the first person click run. You can also see how long it takes Python to execute a line of code by just not having an input statement.

Optional practice script 1 (3m41s)

Next lesson: Lists and dictionaries

Revised 2022-03-18

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