Lists

16 minute read

In Python, when people are talking about arrays, they are generally referring to lists. However, there is a fundamental difference between them which can be explained as the items in an array need to be of the same type but there is no necessity like this in lists.

Lists are very flexible to use and they are the most versatile data structure in Python. Following are important terms to be able to understand the list concept in Python better.

  • Element: Each item stored in a list is called an element.
  • Index: Each location of an element in the list has a numerical index, which is used to identify the element.

Creating a List

In Python, creating a list is as simple as placing all items inside a square bracket [] separated by commas ,

# empty list
list_empty = []

# list of integers
list_ints = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1]

# list of strings
list_strs = ['emre', 'dot', 'me']

# list of mixed data types
list_mixed = [1, 'emre.me', 5.73, True]

# nested list
list_nested = [['emre', 'dot', 'me'], [1], 5.73, True]

# Output: []
print(list_empty)

# Output: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1]
print(list_ints)

# Output: ['emre', 'dot', 'me']
print(list_strs)

# Output: [1, 'emre.me', 5.73, True]
print(list_mixed)

# Output: [['emre', 'dot', 'me'], [1], 5.73, True]
print(list_nested)

Accessing Elements of a List

There are various ways which we can access the elements in a list. These are index, negative index and slice.

Index / Negative Index

emre.me index/negative index

Index operator [] can be used to access an item in a list. Index starts with 0 and a list having 7 elements like the string, emre.me will have an index from 0 to 6.

# list
list_emre = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# Output: e
print(list_emre[0])

# Output: r
print(list_emre[-5])

# nested list
list_nested = ['emre', [1, 2, 3, [4]], False, 7.3, ['bolat']]

# Output: emre 
print(list_nested[0])

# Output: 1
print(list_nested[1][0])

# Output: 4
print(list_nested[1][3][0])

# Output: False
print(list_nested[2])

# Output: a 
print(list_nested[-1][0][3])

Slicing Lists

emre.me slicing

Slicing in Python is very flexible and easy to understand. We are going to use Index operator again [] with : to be able to separate start and stop indexes.

[start:stop]  # items start through stop
[start:]      # items start through the rest of the list
[:stop]       # items from the beginning through stop
[:]           # a copy of the whole list

There is also the step value, which can be used with any of the above:

[start:stop:step]  # items start through stop, by step

The other feature is that start or stop may be a negative number, which means it counts from the end of the list instead of the beginning.

[-1]    # last item in the list
[-2:]   # last two items in the list
[:-2]   # everything except the last two items

Similarly, step may be a negative number:

[::-1]    # all items in the list, reversed
[1::-1]   # the first two items, reversed
[:-3:-1]  # the last two items, reversed
[-3::-1]  # everything except the last two items, reversed

So, let’s try to summarize,

list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']
print(list[:])

# Output: ['r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']
print(list[2:])

# Output: ['.']
print(list[4:5])

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e']
print(list[:-3])

# Output: ['e', 'm', '.', 'e', 'r', 'm', 'e']
print(list[::-1])

Add / Edit Elemets to a List

We can use assignment operator = to change an item or to change a range of items in a list.

# create a list of numbers
list_nums = [0, 2, 3, 3, 3, 5]

# change 4th item
list_nums[4] = 4

# Output: [0, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5]
print(list_nums)

# change 2nd to 4th item
list_nums[1:3] = [1, 2]

# Output: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
print(list_nums)

append() and extend()

Similar to assignment operator =, we can add one item to the list with using append() method or add several items to the list with using extend() method.

# create a list of numbers
list_nums = [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

# append "6" to the end of the list
list_nums.append(6)

# Output: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
print(list_nums)

# extend list with [7, 8, 9]
list_nums.extend([7, 8, 9])

# Output: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
print(list_nums)

Concatenation and Repeating

We can also use + operator to combine two lists. This is also called concatenation. The * operator repeats a list for the given number of times.

# create list
list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e']

Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']
print(list + ['.'] + ['m', 'e'])

Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', 'e', 'm', 'r', 'e']
print(list * 2)

insert()

We can insert one item at a desired location by using the method insert() or insert multiple items by squeezing it into an empty slice of a list.

# create list
list = ['e', 'm', 'e']

# insert 'r' to 2nd position
list.insert(2, 'r')

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e']
print(list)

# insert ['e', '.', 'm'] to 3rd position with using slices
list[3:3] = ['e', '.', 'm']

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']
print(list)

Delete / Remove Elements from a List

We can delete one or more items, even an entire list with the del keyword.

# create a list
list_emre = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# delete the 4th element
del list_emre[4]

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', 'm', 'e']
print(list_emre)

# delete the slice from 4th to 6th
del list_emre[4:6]

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e']
print(list_emre)

# delete entire list
del list_emre

# Output: 'list_emre' is not defined
print(list_emre)

remove(), pop() and clear()

We can use remove() method to remove the given item or pop() method to remove an item at the given index.

The pop() method removes and returns the last item if index is not provided. This helps us implement lists as stacks (first in, last out data structure).

We can also use the clear() method to empty a list.

# create list
list_emre = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# removes the given item
list_emre.remove(".")

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', 'm', 'e']
print(list_emre)

# pops the element at 4th index
list_emre.pop(4)

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', 'e']
print(list_emre)

# pops the last element when index is not provided
list_emre.pop()

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e']
print(list_emre)

# clears the list
list_emre.clear()

# Output: []
print(list_emre)

Other List Methods

In addition to append(), extend(), remove(), pop() and clear() methods that we already covered, there are other useful list methods like index(), count(), sort(), reverse() and copy().

index()

Index method searches and finds given index and returns its position.

# create list
list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# search for "r"
index_of_r = list.index('r')

# Output: 2
print(index_of_r)

if the same element is present more than once, only the first occurrence (smallest/first position) of the item returns.

# search for "m"
index_of_m = list.index('m')

# Output: 1
print(index_of_m)

count()

count() method counts how many times an item has occurred in a list.

# create list
list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# count the number of times "e" has occurred 
count_of_e = list.count('e')

# Output: 3
print(count_of_e)

sort()

sort() method sorts the elements of a list in a specific order (ascending or descending).

Optional parameters:

  • reverse: if true, sorted list is reversed (in descending order)
  • key: key function for the sort comparison

sort() method doesn’t return any value, it changes the original list.

# create list
list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# sort the list
list.sort()

# Output: ['.', 'e', 'e', 'e', 'm', 'm', 'r']
print(list)

# sort, reverse order
list.sort(reverse=True)

# Output: ['r', 'm', 'm', 'e', 'e', 'e', '.']
print(list)

If you want the original list, use sorted().

# create list
list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# sorted
sorted_list = sorted(list)

# Output: ['.', 'e', 'e', 'e', 'm', 'm', 'r']
print(sorted_list)

# Reverse sorted
reverse_sorted_list = sorted(list, reverse=True)

# Output: ['r', 'm', 'm', 'e', 'e', 'e', '.']
print(reverse_sorted_list)

It is also possible to sort a list with using your own function with the key= parameter.

For example, let’s sort a list according to string length with using built-in len() method of Python.

# create list
list = ['emre', 'lists', 'sorting', 'python', 'is', 'fun']

# sort according to string length
list.sort(key=len)

# Output: ['is', 'fun', 'emre', 'lists', 'python', 'sorting']
print(list)

Alternatively, you can use sorted(list, key=len).

reverse()

reverse() method does not take any arguments. It reverses the elements and updates the list.

# create list
list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# reversed
list.reverse()

# Output: ['e', 'm', '.', 'e', 'r', 'm', 'e']
print(list)

Alternatively, you can use reversed(list) as well.

list = ['emre', '.', 'me']

for i in reversed(list):
    print(i)

Output:

me
.
emre

copy()

copy() method does not take any arguments and returns a list without modifying the original list.

list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

new_list = list.copy()
new_list = new_list[:-3]

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']
print(list)

# Output: ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e']
print(new_list)

As you see, the original list remains unchanged.

Testing List Membership

We can test if an item exists in a list or not, using the keyword in.

list = ['e', 'm', 'r', 'e', '.', 'm', 'e']

# Output: True
print('e' in list)

# Output: True
print('.' in list)

# Output: False
print('a' in list)

References

In this article, we tried to cover everything about Python lists. For more information, please check;