This notebook contains an excerpt from the Whirlwind Tour of Python by Jake VanderPlas; the content is available on GitHub.

The text and code are released under the CC0 license; see also the companion project, the Python Data Science Handbook.

05: Built-In Types: Simple Values#

When discussing Python variables and objects, we mentioned the fact that all Python objects have type information attached. Here we’ll briefly walk through the built-in simple types offered by Python. We say “simple types” to contrast with several compound types, which will be discussed in the following section.

Klein 2021: Python 3

4.3 Datentypen

Python’s simple types are summarized in the following table:

Python Scalar Types





x = 1

integers (i.e., whole numbers)


x = 1.0

floating-point numbers (i.e., real numbers)


x = 1 + 2j

Complex numbers (i.e., numbers with real and imaginary part)


x = True

Boolean: True/False values


x = 'abc'

String: characters or text


x = None

Special object indicating nulls

We’ll take a quick look at each of these in turn.


The most basic numerical type is the integer. Any number without a decimal point is an integer:

x = 1

Python integers are actually quite a bit more sophisticated than integers in languages like C. C integers are fixed-precision, and usually overflow at some value (often near \(2^{31}\) or \(2^{63}\), depending on your system). Python integers are variable-precision, so you can do computations that would overflow in other languages:

2 ** 200

Another convenient feature of Python integers is that by default, division up-casts to floating-point type:

5 / 2

Note that this upcasting is a feature of Python 3; in Python 2, like in many statically-typed languages such as C, integer division truncates any decimal and always returns an integer:

# Python 2 behavior
>>> 5 / 2

To recover this behavior in Python 3, you can use the floor-division operator:

5 // 2

Finally, note that although Python 2.x had both an int and long type, Python 3 combines the behavior of these two into a single int type.

Floating-Point Numbers#

The floating-point type can store fractional numbers. They can be defined either in standard decimal notation, or in exponential notation:

x = 0.000005
y = 5e-6
print(x == y)
x = 1400000.00
y = 1.4e6
print(x == y)

In the exponential notation, the e or E can be read “…times ten to the…”, so that 1.4e6 is interpreted as \(~1.4 \times 10^6\).

An integer can be explicitly converted to a float with the float constructor:


Aside: Floating-point precision#

One thing to be aware of with floating point arithmetic is that its precision is limited, which can cause equality tests to be unstable. For example:

0.1 + 0.2 == 0.3

Why is this the case? It turns out that it is not a behavior unique to Python, but is due to the fixed-precision format of the binary floating-point storage used by most, if not all, scientific computing platforms. All programming languages using floating-point numbers store them in a fixed number of bits, and this leads some numbers to be represented only approximately. We can see this by printing the three values to high precision:

print("0.1 = {0:.17f}".format(0.1))
print("0.2 = {0:.17f}".format(0.2))
print("0.3 = {0:.17f}".format(0.3))
0.1 = 0.10000000000000001
0.2 = 0.20000000000000001
0.3 = 0.29999999999999999

We’re accustomed to thinking of numbers in decimal (base-10) notation, so that each fraction must be expressed as a sum of powers of 10:

\[ 1 /8 = 1\cdot 10^{-1} + 2\cdot 10^{-2} + 5\cdot 10^{-3} \]

In the familiar base-10 representation, we represent this in the familiar decimal expression: \(0.125\).

Computers usually store values in binary notation, so that each number is expressed as a sum of powers of 2:

\[ 1/8 = 0\cdot 2^{-1} + 0\cdot 2^{-2} + 1\cdot 2^{-3} \]

In a base-2 representation, we can write this \(0.001_2\), where the subscript 2 indicates binary notation. The value \(0.125 = 0.001_2\) happens to be one number which both binary and decimal notation can represent in a finite number of digits.

In the familiar base-10 representation of numbers, you are probably familiar with numbers that can’t be expressed in a finite number of digits. For example, dividing \(1\) by \(3\) gives, in standard decimal notation:

\[ 1 / 3 = 0.333333333\cdots \]

The 3s go on forever: that is, to truly represent this quotient, the number of required digits is infinite!

Similarly, there are numbers for which binary representations require an infinite number of digits. For example:

\[ 1 / 10 = 0.00011001100110011\cdots_2 \]

Just as decimal notation requires an infinite number of digits to perfectly represent \(1/3\), binary notation requires an infinite number of digits to represent \(1/10\). Python internally truncates these representations at 52 bits beyond the first nonzero bit on most systems.

This rounding error for floating-point values is a necessary evil of working with floating-point numbers. The best way to deal with it is to always keep in mind that floating-point arithmetic is approximate, and never rely on exact equality tests with floating-point values.

Complex Numbers#

Complex numbers are numbers with real and imaginary (floating-point) parts. We’ve seen integers and real numbers before; we can use these to construct a complex number:

complex(1, 2)

Alternatively, we can use the “j” suffix in expressions to indicate the imaginary part:

1 + 2j

Complex numbers have a variety of interesting attributes and methods, which we’ll briefly demonstrate here:

c = 3 + 4j
c.real  # real part
c.imag  # imaginary part
c.conjugate()  # complex conjugate
abs(c)  # magnitude, i.e. sqrt(c.real ** 2 + c.imag ** 2)

String Type#

Strings in Python are created with single or double quotes:

message = "what do you like?"
response = 'spam'

Python has many extremely useful string functions and methods; here are a few of them:

# length of string
# Make upper-case. See also str.lower()
# Capitalize. See also str.title()
'What do you like?'
# concatenation with +
message + response
'what do you like?spam'
# multiplication is multiple concatenation
5 * response
# Access individual characters (zero-based indexing)

For more discussion of indexing in Python, see “Lists”.

None Type#

Python includes a special type, the NoneType, which has only a single possible value: None. For example:


You’ll see None used in many places, but perhaps most commonly it is used as the default return value of a function. For example, the print() function in Python 3 does not return anything, but we can still catch its value:

return_value = print('abc')

Likewise, any function in Python with no return value is, in reality, returning None.

Boolean Type#

The Boolean type is a simple type with two possible values: True and False, and is returned by comparison operators discussed previously:

result = (4 < 5)

Keep in mind that the Boolean values are case-sensitive: unlike some other languages, True and False must be capitalized!

print(True, False)
True False

Booleans can also be constructed using the bool() object constructor: values of any other type can be converted to Boolean via predictable rules. For example, any numeric type is False if equal to zero, and True otherwise:


The Boolean conversion of None is always False:


For strings, bool(s) is False for empty strings and True otherwise:


For sequences, which we’ll see in the next section, the Boolean representation is False for empty sequences and True for any other sequences

bool([1, 2, 3])