Python: Beyond Just Web Apps
Omed Habib explains the development and popularity of Python and why, due to its versatility and relative simplicity, it will be around for some time.
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Python has long been a go-to language for developers creating cutting-edge web applications. However, Python’s advantages of power, versatility, flexibility, and ease of programming have made it a favorite language in a multitude of applications, industries, and niches.
Examples of Python being used outside the world of Web apps include:
- The development of an ERP/CRM named ERP5, developed by Nexedi for use in government agencies, the apparel industry, and other warehouse-based businesses.
- A self-contained marine navigation light from Carmanah Technologies. This is a good example of how Python is helping to power the move away from dedicated computers to the new era of the Internet of Things.
- Substantial portions of the semiconductor facility at the Phillips manufacturing plant in Fishkill, New York are run on Python.
- Python is an integral part of the IT Services Department at the well-regarded University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Python powers a significant portion of the software systems used throughout the university.
- ForecastWatch.com rates the accuracy of weather reports from a variety of services such as The Weather Channel and AccuWeather. Python is used in 100 percent of the service’s components, from the front-end to the back-end.
- AstraZeneca, one of the biggest pharmaceutical firms in the world, develops medicines to control pain, fight disease, and battle cancer. To develop a new drug can cost upwards of $800 million. Python helps disparate research groups around the world collaborate on drug identification and computer predictions.
What Makes Python so Versatile?
Python is one of the most successful computer languages of all time. It has survived and thrived over many years due to several factors: clear syntax, the immediate feedback of a scripting language, widespread use worldwide, excellent documentation and a vast and supportive community.
- One of Python’s strongest features is that it is based on pragmatism. It is less concerned with adhering to a language standard than it is with providing programmers the tools to get things done quickly and efficiently. To do that, it relies on a clear, simple syntax.
- The Python syntax is designed for easy readability. The similarity between Python and simple English, and unique traits like the absence of parentheses, make it easy to get started and program in Python. Both those learning to code for the first time and experienced developers alike appreciate this natural approach. By accommodating both camps with a high degree of functionality and flexibility, Python has grown rapidly over the years and has surpassed several popular languages in the process.
- Python can also bind natively to C. By providing native binding to C and C-compatible languages, programmers could port their code to Python relatively fast and easily. This brought many new converts to the language early on, with a concomitant growth in user base and libraries over the years.
- There are tens of thousands of users all over the globe. You can get help from a number of IRC channels, mailing lists, special interest groups, conferences and wikis hosting Python’s extensive user base. The original Python conference is called PyCon, first formed in 2003. The conference gives you a chance to review a number of panels and presentations and participate in impromptu conversations inside and outside the sessions. You can meet programmers from different countries, experience tutorials from various experts and get involved in development sprints.
Python vs. Other Languages
One of Python’s advantages over other languages is that it is purposefully built to be a general-purpose language, and it is adaptable to many different uses. Since it is easy to read and learn and is very flexible, it can be ramped up quickly and produce workable projects rapidly.
Great frameworks like flask and Django make it easy to program in Python. Projects like web2py even include everything you need to create web applications:
- Built-in editor
- Rocket web server
- SQLite database
- Python interpreter
- Google App Engine deployment tool
Java is also a general-purpose language. Its performance is faster than Python, but it takes much more code to achieve similar ends. Java is harder to learn but is very powerful for creating programs that run on multiple platforms.
A significant difference between Java and Python is that Java prefers that you define a variable’s type when first declared. After that, it will not let you change it — this is called static typing. On the other hand, Python takes an approach called dynamic typing. You can change a variable’s type, for example from string to integer or vice versa.
Another difference is that Java programs are platform independent — any mobile unit or standard computer that can run a Java Virtual Machine can launch a Java app. In contrast, Python programs must be compiled to convert your code into code that different operating systems can comprehend.
Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails handles background tasks seamlessly, is useful for building quick web app prototypes, has a good community and is relatively easy to use at first, but it can get overly complicated as a project expands. Ruby was designed initially to make developing programs fun. This philosophy is the reason there are several ways to complete a task. In comparison, Python believes in a similar philosophy of adhering to a single method to achieve a goal.
Python Competitive Threats
New computer languages seem to emerge and grow faster than rabbits in the springtime. Just in the last few years, languages like Node.js have soared because they address many of the evolving challenges of modern computing like the unprecedented rise of mobile usage.
However, will new languages or old standbys make inroads into Python’s core competencies? It seems unlikely. In fact, many universities and high schools are teaching Python as a first language. From June 2015 to June 2016, Python rose two places to become the fourth most popular computer language as reported by the Tiobe Programming Community Index, a monthly survey of computer language popularity.
No matter the rise and fall of major computing languages, it’s likely programmers will continue to utilize specific languages for specific tasks depending on their project goal. For example:
- Go. This statically typed language from Google is similar to C but has the ease-of-use that you get with a dynamic scripting language.
- Julia. Python has enjoyed great success in the world of scientific programming. One of its drawbacks is that it can be slow, a problem when you are processing massive data sets. Julia lets developers retain the clean syntax of Python while allowing it to be compiled in the background.
Poised for the Future
In short, Python has played a major role in the development of web applications since the proliferation of the Internet in the mid-1990s. Because of its ease-of-use, user-friendliness and simplicity, it has grown to become one of the most popular computer languages.
Moreover, it continues to grow in popularity to this day. In the last year alone, it has moved up two spots in the Tiobe Index. Looking further down the road, the prognosis for the continued growth of Python is good. As we move from traditional desktop computing into a mobile world where computers permeate every part of our existence, from our clothing to our automobiles, furniture, and appliances, Python is leagues ahead. It is already being utilized in a wide variety of industry verticals including aviation, business information, energy efficiency, financial services, human resources, pharmaceuticals, quality control, risk management, and post-secondary education.
Also, because Python is being taught as a primary language at many high schools and colleges, you can expect to see Python maintain its position among the world’s great languages. It’s adaptability and versatility will allow it to change and grow to meet any computing challenge in the decades ahead.
Editor's Note: AppDynamics also has a free Ebook that lays out strategies for Application Performance Management using Python. It's fairly detailed and well-written.
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