Monday, February 6, 2012

Python Classes

This post demonstrates how to write a class in Python

Python supports object orientation but does not impose it. Programmer can choose to write programs entirely as a set of functions and function calls (procedural approach), entirely as classes with not a single user defined function outside a class (object oriented approach) or a mix of the two with both classes and user defined functions outside class definitions. Python supports object orientation features such as inheritance.

In this post, I intend to reimplement the line length calculation as a class. See the previous post where I wrote a simple function to calculate the length of a line in 2D or 3D space.

from numpy import array, sum, sqrt

class Line(object):
    def __init__(self, p1, p2):
        self.p1 = p1
        self.p2 = p2

    def Length(self):
        prj = self.p2 - self.p1
        L = sqrt(sum(prj**2))
        return L

    def dc(self):
        L = self.Length()
        prj = self.p2 - self.p1
        return prj / L

def main():
    p1 = array([0.0, 0.0])
    p2 = array([3.0, 4.0])
    L1 = Line(p1, p2)
    print "Length of line = %10.4f", % L1.Length()

if __name__ == '__main__':

Assuming the program is saved in a file named and the python interpreter is on your PATH variable, you can run this program from the command line as follows:


The output from the program should look as shown below:

Length of line =     5.0000

Here are some points worth noting (for anyone new to Python):

  1. Name of the class is Line. It is a subclass of object, the base class for all Python classes. You need not subclass Line from object. If you don't, the type of class is <type 'instance'>, if you do the type of the class is <type '__main__.Line'>. To see this, just add a line print type(L1) at the end of the main() function. But, for a beginner programmer, it is not necessary to delve into this at this point of time.
  2. The Line class has a constructor (__init__()) and two methods (Length() and dc())
  3. The self is the representation of an instance of the class at runtime, required to distinguish between different instances of the class that may be created at runtime. Every method of the class must begin with  self  in order to access its own member data.
  4. All member data must be accessed using  self . Note that in the constructor  __init__()p1 is the input parameter and  self.p1 is the member data. When you call a method in another method of the same class, you must refer to it usinf  self. For example, to call the method Length() in the method dc(), the statement is  self.Line().
  5. In the main() function (which is not a method of the class Line), we first create an instance of the Line class (L1 = Line(p1, p2)). We can access its data and methods by first writing the name of the instance (L1), then a dot (.) followed by the member data or method. For example, you can print the point p1 with the statement print L1.p1. You can call the method Length() with the statement L = L1,Length(). Object orientation requires that data be private and methods public. Following that convention, we don't normally access member data in functions that are not methods of the class, but Python does not explicitly make member data private, unless the name (of either member data or method) begins with __ (two underscores). In such case, they are treated as private, and cannot be accessed by non-member methods.
  6. Note that when calling methods, there is no argument corresponding to the parameter  self . It is the instance behind the dot ( .) operator.
Here are some things you could try:
  1. Create another line, this time in 3D space (3 coordinates for each end point) and calculate its length.
  2. Calculate the direction cosines of the line using the method dc().
  3. Add more methods that you think are essential. Can you transform the coordinates of the endpoints of the line if it were to be scaled by a specified factor?
  4. Write the special method def __str__(self) that lets you print information about a Line. This function must return a string. If such a function is defined, then you could write a statement such as print L1. Then whatever is the string returned by the method __str__(), it will be printed out. This way you can avoid accessing member data in non-member functions. If you want the __str__() method to work irrespective of the dimension of the end points (2D, 3D or any D!), you may have to inquire the length of the array representing the point and go into a loop.

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