Class Notes Week 4


Week 4 Topics

Monday Wednesday Friday

Academic Integrity

Here is a page on Academic Integrity In particular, note that Discussing ideas and approaches to problems with others on a general level is fine (in fact, we encourage you to discuss general strategies with each other), but you should never read anyone else's code or let anyone else read your code.

Please get in the habit of not reading anyone else's code or letting anyone else read your code.

String Formatting

The print statement is nice for outputting, but it is difficult to format the output in a way we prefer. For example, every time we put out a dollar amount, we can't guarantee two digits after the decimal point for the cents and we also have to always leave a space between the dollar sign and the amount. String formatting allows us to define string templates:

as well as optional width and precision values

An example, if we print out the float variable pi from the math library:

>>> from math import pi
>>> print(pi)
>>> print("Pi is %f|" % (pi))
Pi is 3.141593|
>>> print("Pi is %.2f|" % (pi))
Pi is 3.14|
>>> print("Pi is %20.2f|" % (pi))
Pi is                 3.14|
>>> print("Pi is %-20.2f" % (pi))
Pi is 3.14                |

You can combine multiple templates in a single string format:

item = "dozen Pierogies"
qty = 4
price = 2.79
print("%d %s cost $%.2f" % (qty, item, qty*price) )


  1. Look at the examples in for the examples above and a few extras.

  2. Rewrite your currency program from Lab 01 to use 2 digits after the decimal place. A partial solution is in your inclass/w04-functions folder if you run update21


Today we'll introduce another big, key computer science topic: functions. A function is a named sequence of statements that perform a particular operation. Some functions are built in (int,str,float,input,print), but you can also define your own functions. Defining your own functions has many benefits:

In fact, you've been defining and using your own functions for a couple of weeks now, with the main() function. This week, we'll see many more examples of functions. You'll see that functions can take input and return input, and even do other "side effects" in between.

Function Syntax

Here is the syntax for how to define a function:


The <NAME> is the name of the function you define. The <BODY> is a series of statements that you want to execute each time you use your function. <PARAMETERS> is a list of zero or more inputs to the function. These parameters can be used inside the function just like any other variable.

Let's look at some examples in We have defined four functions so far: printIntro, printStarRow(n), starBox(n), and main(). We will describe a few of these and then have you practice some.

Once a function is defined, you can call the function, by giving the name of the function and specific values for each parameter.

Exercise: practice function definition and calls

Practice defining and calling functions by modifying your program in to implement starBox(n). Call starBox in main with different values of n. Try getting a value from the user with input in main and sending this value to starBox

The return statement.

Often when you define a function, you want the function to return some value back to whatever program called the function. You can do this with the return command. for example, the built-in function input grabs a string of text from the user and returns it as a string. When a return statement is reached, the function stops and immediately returns the value indicated by the return statement.

For example, if you defined a function def add(a,b) to add the values a and b integers, you'll probably want to define and return a variable result=a+b. Then, once you've added the numbers, the return result statement sends this value back to the calling function.

def add(a,b):
  Computes the sum of values a and b
  Returns result   

  sample usage:
    ans = add(3,4)
    print(ans) #7
  result = a+b
  return result

What happens when a function gets called?

Python does a lot of behind-the-scenes work when a function gets called. Here is an outline of what happens:

Steps that occur when a function is called:

  1. Suspend current function.
  2. Evaluate arguments, copy them to parameters of the called function in order.
  3. Execute called function using set values of parameters.
  4. Return back to the calling function.

When calling a function, arguments are sometimes but not always plain values. Other times, they are complex expressions. These expressions get evaluated in Step 2 of the process above.


Stack Diagrams

A stack diagram is a way to visualize what happens as Python executes your program. Consider the following program:

def square(number):
  toReturn = number*number
  return toReturn

def main():
  x = -9
  squarex = square(x)

  print("%d squared equals %d" % (x,squarex))


Now, on the whiteboard we'll see how this computation happens in memory. The computer's memory is where the program stores the state of a running program including the values of all variables and the stack of all functions currently waiting to finish. Here is the general procedure for how a function is run when it is called:

  1. Pause the execution of the current function.
  2. Create a stack frame for the called function
  3. The value of each argument is copied to the corresponding parameter in order.
  4. Execute called function step-by-step until the return
  5. Send back the return value to calling function
  6. Remove or pop the called function off stack
  7. Continue executing calling function that is now back on top of stack

Some things to keep in mind as you draw your own stack diagrams:

Stack Example 2

def addNumbers(num1,num2):
  total = num1 + num2
  print("In addNumbers:")

  #Show the stack diagram as it exists at this point
  return total

def main():

  x = 5
  y = 9

  ans = addNumbers(x,y)
  print("In main:")
  print(total) #Gives an error. Why?

Answer the following questions:

Stack Example 3

Try another example of stack drawing.

def absval(x,y):
  if x > y:
    aval = x-y
    aval = y-x

  # draw stack to this point!
  # as it would look just before return...

  return aval

def main():
  a = 10
  b = 35
  result = absval(a,b)
  print("abs(%d-%d) = %d" % (a,b,result))


Exercise: total

In, define a function total(n), which takes a positive integer as input and returns the sum of the first n positive integers. Then, call your function on several different inputs.

While loops

Taking a break from functions for a bit we will introduce yet another syntactic tool for designing programs in python: the while loop. You have previously seen the for loop, Boolean types, and the if statement. The while loop is a mix of these three concepts. A typically for loop executes for a definite number of times, but what if we are expecting a user to type in a positive integer, a valid date, or a string with no punctuation? We can trust the user not to make a mistake, but this is not very robust. If we detect that a user made a mistake in typing input, we could ask the user again. But how many times should we ask? Once? Twice? 100 times? The while loop can solve these types of computational problems by repeatedly looping until some type of condition is met. The general syntax is

while <CONDITION>:

The <CONDITION> is a Boolean expression. When the condition is true, the body of the loop will execute and then re-evaluate the condition. When the condition finally evaluates to false, the python skips the body of the loop and executes the next line after the body.

A for loop can often be written as an equivalent while loop.

Look at some examples in