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Dealing with syntax errors


Python 3 Essential Training

with Bill Weinman

Video: Dealing with syntax errors

As you are building code in Python, you may occasionally make a typo, or misplace a punctuation mark or forget a comma or something like that. The Python interpreter will do its best to try to guide you to where the errors are and sometimes it's helpful and sometimes it's not. Let's take a look at some examples here. There is a file in your debugging folder called We will go ahead and make a working copy of this and we will call this
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  1. 5m 14s
    1. Welcome
      1m 32s
    2. Understanding prerequisites for Python
      2m 4s
    3. Using the exercise files
      1m 38s
  2. 33m 29s
    1. Getting started with "Hello World"
      4m 43s
    2. Selecting code with conditionals
      4m 45s
    3. Repeating code with a loop
      4m 13s
    4. Reusing code with a function
      2m 43s
    5. Creating sequences with generator functions
      2m 46s
    6. Reusing code and data with a class
      4m 39s
    7. Greater reusability with inheritance and polymorphism
      7m 17s
    8. Handling errors with exceptions
      2m 23s
  3. 22m 32s
    1. Installing Python 3 and Eclipse for Windows
      11m 24s
    2. Installing Python 3 and Eclipse for Mac
      11m 8s
  4. 28m 0s
    1. Creating a main script
      3m 27s
    2. Understanding whitespace in Python
      4m 8s
    3. Commenting code
      3m 28s
    4. Assigning values
      3m 37s
    5. Selecting code and values with conditionals
      4m 46s
    6. Creating and using functions
      3m 54s
    7. Creating and using objects
      4m 40s
  5. 31m 23s
    1. Understanding variables and objects in Python
      2m 46s
    2. Distinguishing mutable and immutable objects
      2m 41s
    3. Using numbers
      3m 34s
    4. Using strings
      6m 38s
    5. Aggregating values with lists and tuples
      4m 55s
    6. Creating associative lists with dictionaries
      4m 24s
    7. Finding the type and identity of a variable
      4m 45s
    8. Specifying logical values with True and False
      1m 40s
  6. 9m 42s
    1. Selecting code with if and else conditional statements
      2m 22s
    2. Setting multiple choices with elif
      2m 14s
    3. Understanding other strategies for multiple choices
      2m 38s
    4. Using the conditional expression
      2m 28s
  7. 11m 26s
    1. Creating loops with while
      1m 27s
    2. Iterating with for
      3m 54s
    3. Enumerating iterators
      3m 22s
    4. Controlling loop flow with break, continue, and else
      2m 43s
  8. 23m 28s
    1. Performing simple arithmetic
      2m 14s
    2. Operating on bitwise values
      3m 30s
    3. Comparing values
      3m 32s
    4. Operating on Boolean values
      2m 59s
    5. Operating on parts of a container with the slice operator
      6m 52s
    6. Understanding operator precedence
      4m 21s
  9. 11m 34s
    1. Using the re module
      1m 4s
    2. Searching with regular expressions
      3m 12s
    3. Replacing with regular expressions
      3m 29s
    4. Reusing regular expressions with re.compile
      3m 49s
  10. 9m 10s
    1. Learning how exceptions work
      1m 18s
    2. Handling exceptions
      4m 15s
    3. Raising exceptions
      3m 37s
  11. 23m 1s
    1. Defining functions
      6m 23s
    2. Using lists of arguments
      2m 26s
    3. Using named function arguments
      4m 32s
    4. Returning values from functions
      1m 55s
    5. Creating a sequence with a generator function
      7m 45s
  12. 47m 29s
    1. Understanding classes and objects
      5m 12s
    2. Using methods
      6m 12s
    3. Using object data
      10m 4s
    4. Understanding inheritance
      5m 11s
    5. Applying polymorphism to classes
      7m 13s
    6. Using generators
      9m 48s
    7. Using decorators
      3m 49s
  13. 18m 54s
    1. Understanding strings as objects
      3m 25s
    2. Working with common string methods
      5m 24s
    3. Formatting strings with str.format
      5m 31s
    4. Splitting and joining strings
      2m 49s
    5. Finding and using standard string methods
      1m 45s
  14. 25m 27s
    1. Creating sequences with tuples and lists
      4m 6s
    2. Operating on sequences with built-in methods
      5m 50s
    3. Organizing data with dictionaries
      4m 56s
    4. Operating on character data with bytes and byte arrays
      10m 35s
  15. 11m 46s
    1. Opening files
      2m 4s
    2. Reading and writing text files
      4m 33s
    3. Reading and writing binary files
      5m 9s
  16. 21m 27s
    1. Creating a database with SQLite 3
      6m 56s
    2. Creating, retrieving, updating, and deleting records
      7m 31s
    3. Creating a database object
      7m 0s
  17. 18m 27s
    1. Using standard library modules
      8m 0s
    2. Finding third-party modules
      5m 47s
    3. Creating a module
      4m 40s
  18. 23m 11s
    1. Dealing with syntax errors
      8m 19s
    2. Dealing with runtime errors
      4m 0s
    3. Dealing with logical errors
      4m 22s
    4. Using unit tests
      6m 30s
  19. 19m 56s
    1. Normalizing a database interface
      6m 39s
    2. Deconstructing a database application
      8m 9s
    3. Displaying random entries from a database
      5m 8s
  20. 29s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Python 3 Essential Training
6h 36m Beginner Jul 29, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Due to its power, simplicity, and complete object model, Python has become the scripting language of choice for many large organizations, including Google, Yahoo, and IBM. In Python 3 Essential Training, Bill Weinman demonstrates how to use Python 3 to create well-designed scripts and maintain existing projects. This course covers the basics of the language syntax and usage, as well as advanced features such as objects, generators, and exceptions. Example projects include a normalized database interface and a complete working CRUD application. Exercise files accompany the course.

Topics include:
  • A Python 3 quick start for experienced developers
  • Creating functions and objects
  • Using Python’s built-in objects and classes
  • Repeating code with loops and iterators
  • Understanding and using conditional expressions
  • Creating sequences with generators
  • Reusing code with objects and libraries
  • Handling errors with exceptions
Developer Web
Bill Weinman

Dealing with syntax errors

As you are building code in Python, you may occasionally make a typo, or misplace a punctuation mark or forget a comma or something like that. The Python interpreter will do its best to try to guide you to where the errors are and sometimes it's helpful and sometimes it's not. Let's take a look at some examples here. There is a file in your debugging folder called We will go ahead and make a working copy of this and we will call this

I will go ahead and open that working copy and this is the saytime module and it has some errors in it. So we will go ahead and we will run it and see what happens, and it's flagged a syntax error here. It says Syntaxerror: invalid syntax and you see that little caret is pointing at the second quote mark on line 26. So, we will scroll down here to line 26 and you see a little red x there and if I hold my cursor over the red x, we are getting a different error message and this is because Eclipse is doing its best to help too.

So Eclipse is looking at it from the perspective of syntax highlighting and Python is actually trying to run the code. So, looking at it from two different perspectives they are going to give you two different perspectives. You know they both might be helpful and they might not. We are going to focus on the Python error messages here, because you are not always going to be coding inside of Eclipse, and the syntax highlighting parser is not always going to be as helpful as the parser that's trying to run the code. So, in this case, it's pointing at this character here.

So, let's see if we can get the entire statement here on the screen and it starts here with _words = and it's got the opening curly brace and that ends down here with this closing curly brace. So the curly braces mean that this is a dictionary definition and you see there is our first key and a colon and there is a tuple object as the value and a comma. So, what we have here is a dictionary definition and we looked down here at this line with the error on it and we see there is colon there and there is the quote and there is the opening quote.

It's not really obvious that there is anything wrong with it. That quote does not look like a problem. Even though the syntax error is pointing at that quote, that quote does not look like a problem. So let's look at it in order. Let's go through the process of looking at this whole definition and see if we can figure out what's wrong. So this is the first key and then there is colon. The value is that whole tuple object and then there is a comma and then there is another key and a colon and then the value, which is another tuple object, and a comma.

So, we are seeing a pattern here. Key, value, comma, key, value, comma, we are getting closer, and here is a key and here is a value and there ought to be a comma there, because this looks like another key. So, we will put that comma in and we will save the file. We notice that the red x goes away. That's a good sign and we run it, and we get another error message. But this one is on line 70. So it looks like we have fixed this syntax error.

You see the little red mark over here that's probably line 70, sure is, and we have a different error message. This one says, IndentationError: unindent does not match any outer indentation level. So it says it's an indentation error and we see we have another dictionary definition and all of that looks okay. You see a little red squiggly mark from the syntax highlighter.

It's trying to help us there, but it's actually covering up the problem. You will notice that under those little red squiggly marks, there is an underscore and that underscore is indented farther out than the code above it, and so if we push that in one character and then save the file, see the red x goes away. Now we can see that underscore and we can see that indentation level. So that was an indentation error. You will notice that it's pointing at the wrong character here.

If it was pointing back here, it might have been more obvious. That's typical of parsers everywhere. They will do their best to show you where the error is and more often than not, they are off by a few characters and sometimes even a few lines of code. So go ahead and run in it again and now we have another error, and this one says it's on line 118 or line 129. We have two errors being printed out here and what this is doing actually, we fill the screen with this, this is what's called a traceback in Python.

It's telling where it encountered the error and it's tracing back its execution. So this is actually a runtime error. This is not syntax error. It says AttributeError, 'built_in_ function_or_method', object has no attribute 'tm_hour'. Here it is trying to assign this t.tm_ hour to a variable, self.hour, and that's at line 118. So, let's take a look at 118 and there is the line of code, and so what's happening is t here is an object that's getting passed into this constructor and saytime_t.

So what's the line above this? Scroll back down here and a line above this is print saytime_t and this is at line 129. So let's go down to 129 and there it is. And so it's passing this time.local time and I happen to know that local time there is a function. It is not an attribute. So it's correct here, object has no attribute, ?_hour, and that's because we didn't call it with the function. The function has the attribute.

So if we save this and run it again, now we get something else. This is not printed in red which means it's not being sent to standard error, which means it's not really a runtime error. This looks more like another kind of an error. It says bound method saytime. This is actually the output of this print statement here. It's printing a bound method, rather than running the bound method. So you see here .words. .words is supposed to be a method.

It's actually a method in one of our classes here, there it is. See it's a method here, def words, and so what we need to do, see just like the one up here. It needs to have parenthesis. So we will save that and we will run it and our script works as we expected. So that's pretty much the process that you have to go through. If you type a whole bunch of code and it's not working the way that you expect it to work, you need to have some patience. You need to look at carefully and objectively and sometimes from myself, if I am not seeing and I will go and do something else, clear my head and come back and look at it.

Usually at some point after I have cleared my head enough and I look at it enough, the errors will jump out and at me. These are the common type of syntax errors that you will run into in Python, things like forgetting parenthesis, indentation errors, forgetting commas, things like that. So you can start with looking for those sorts of things. Just have the patience, try and follow the code in your head, and eventually you ought to be able to find the errors and correct them.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Python 3 Essential Training .

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Q: The installation process for the PyDev Eclipse plug-in doesn’t work as described in the videos. What should I do?
A: The version of Eclipse used in the recording of Python 3 Essential Training was Eclipse 3.5.2 (Galileo SR2) and the version of PyDev was 1.5.7. Soon after recording, the Eclipse project was updated to version 3.6, called Helios. As of this writing, the current version of Eclipse is 3.6.1 (Helios SR1).
Around the same time as these updates were being released, the PyDev project was updated as well. As of this writing, the current version of PyDev is 1.6.2. If you are using these most recent versions, the procedure for installing Eclipse itself has not changed, but the process documented in the videos for installing PyDev may not work.

We will be releasing new versions of the videos soon, but the author has posted a document describing the new installation procedure at:
Q: How do you install the pydev-interpreter in Eclipse Indigo on Mac OS X Lion? It's significantly different than what's shown in the video "Installing Python 3 and Eclipse for Mac."
A: Since this course was publishing, there have been upgrades to Mac OS X and Eclipse. In this scenario, after installing Python and Eclipse and the Pydev interpreter, there is a different directory to go to when modifying the preferences. As instructed in the movie (at around 6:40) restart Eclipse and then go to Eclipse > Preferences and drill down to Pydev > Interpreter - Python in the sidebar. Click New and in the Select interpreter dialog that opens, click Browse.

The Open dialog box will open, but does not appear to display your hard drive. You must press and hold the Command+Shift+Period keys. This will display all hidden files on your system. Navigate to the new path ~/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/versions/3.2/bin/python 3.2 and click Open.

You should be able to proceed normally from there.
Q: When I try to install PyDev, it's not showing up in the Available Software window.
A:  This can happen if the site is down.
    You can manually download PyDev from the web site, or from my site here:

    Installation is simple. I've included instructions on my web site above.
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