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Python Reference: Finding Help

For the beginner, official Python documentation is difficult to grasp, so here we offer tips to minimize the frustration.
  1. The Challenge - See what roadblocks all programmers face.
  2. Command line - Access help at the command line.
  3. Interpreter - Scope out built-in help.
  4. Python.org - Jump to version-specific docs.
  5. Resources - Review other avenues for gaining knowledge.
Paul Alan Davis, CFA, November 27, 2018
Updated: November 27, 2018
This page is about helping you help yourself with freely accessible local and web-based help. Our other reference material will supplement what's missing.

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A Guide to Finding Help with Python

Beginner

Python Reference

The goal is to provide a high level overview of Python 3 help, offering programmers a quick reference for reminders. As a working document, look for this page and others in the reference to grow and adapt.

The version documented here is Python 3.5.3. Most of this documentation is suitable for other versions of Python 3.

1. The Challenge

It only takes a few minutes exploring the official Python.org documentation to realize it was written with the seasoned (C, Java, C++) programmer in mind.

Additionally, much of the documentation scraped from the code with automated help was written by programmers for programmers.

That's where this Python Reference fills the gap, to show you how to help yourself and where that isn't sufficient we supplement it.

2. Python Help Found from the Command Line

Accessing Python documentation locally can be a huge timesaver. Here we start with what can be found from the command line.

Command Line Help
Resource Description
$ python3 -h The help screen for the Python executable shows options that can be run when launching Python. Choices include setting environment variables, running executable programs directly, accessing the Python version number and passing arguments to programs.
$ man python3 A Python man page like those found on Linux and macOS systems, offering explanations of command line syntax, options, directory locations, Internet links and licensing.
$ pydoc3 Provides syntax for 1) performing a broad document search, 2) searching the synopsis lines of modules using keywords, 3) selecting an HTTP port, and 4) writing out HTML documents.

3. Python Help found in the Interpreter

After running python3 and when presented with the signature >>> Python command prompt, the following resources offer more granularity.

Python Interpreter-based Help
Resource Description
>>> help() When launching Interactive help from the Python Interpreter the command prompt changes to help> and furter instructions are provided. A short list of available choices includes:
  • modules
  • keywords
  • symbols
  • topics
Additionally, one-line summaries of modules can be found by typing modules re for the Regular Expressions module, for example. Type quit to return to the Python Interpreter.
>>> help(object) When launching Object help from the Python Interpreter with a string like help('keywords') it returns the Python reserved words called keywords. Built-in functions located in the builtins module can be accessed with help('builtins'). Typing help('list') details methods associated with the the list object type. Type q to leave the pager and return to the Interpreter.
>>> help('inspect') The inspect module module offers a more intermediate view of information on objects like its source code, documentation, module locations, class hierarchy, method and function arguments, frames and tracebacks. Try help('inspect') for a succinct summary.

4. Python Help at Python.org

As mentioned, documentation at python.org is written at the intermediate level and above. That said, it is more comprehensive and up to date than local documentation.

Command Line Help
Resource Description
python.org/doc/versions/ First off, find your specific version of Python because functionality changes from release to release. From there explore the following:
  • What's new
  • Tutorial
  • Library Reference
  • Language Reference
  • Python Setup and Usage
  • Python HOWTOs
  • Installing Python Modules
  • Distribtuing Python Modules
  • Extending and Embedding
  • Python/C API
  • FAQs
Additional lookup resources include:
  • Global Module Index
  • General Index
  • Glossary
  • Search page
  • Complete Table of Contents
And finally:
  • Reporting bugs
  • About the documentation
  • History and License of Python
  • Copyright
You are encouraged to evaluate the official documentation for yourself as it is the most authoritative resource available.

5. Other Resources

For beginners especially, accessing local and official online documentation can feel like stepping into a big library without any help, so other resources fill the need.

Whether it be through standard lecture courses, videos, books or web pages, budding Python programmers waste a lot of time researching instead of coding. On top of that, due to the pace of change in Technology, information degrades rapidly.

Look for this page to expand over time as additional modules and third-party educational resources are explored.

If you find this Reference useful and support the goal of helping each other learn the fantastic programming language Python, please bookmark this page and point a friend or colleage here.


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