Names & Values


Python’s variables are names that refer to values. Names have no type, and there are no variable declarations. Names are created by assigning a value to them:

x = "value"

The left-hand side of assignment statements can have simple names, object attributes, and elements of containers:

name = "value"
name.attribute = "value"
container[key] = "value"
container[key].attribute[index].attribute = "value"
# etc...

Because names are not typed, they can be assigned new values with a different type than their old value:

x = 1
x = "hello"     # This is fine.

This untyped nature of names is true of all of the targets of assignment statements. Generally, where Python can accept a value, it will accept any type of value.

Values & Types

All values in Python are objects (more about that later). Every value has a definite type.

Python has a rich set of built-in types:

  • Numbers, including unlimited precision integers, double-precision floats, and complex numbers.
  • Booleans, with constants True and False.
  • A special value, None, used when no other value is appropriate.
  • Strings, both byte strings and Unicode strings (see Strings).
  • Containers like lists (see Lists) and dictionaries (see Dictionaries).
  • User-defined objects (see Classes).

In addition to these conventional data types, in Python many things that you might not expect are first-class values, like functions, classes, and modules. These can be manipulated just like other values, assigning them to names, passing them to functions, and storing them in containers.


Assignment statements make names refer to values. The value itself is never copied. Two names can refer to the same value, and if the value is modified in-place, both names see the change:

>>> nums = [1, 2, 3]
>>> saved = nums        # Not really saved...
>>> nums.append(4)
>>> nums
[1, 2, 3, 4]
>>> saved
[1, 2, 3, 4]

Assignment statements inside functions make names local to the function. A name’s scope is the entire function. There is no block-level scope.

If you want to assign to a name outside of the function, you use the global statement, which indicates that the name is global even though it’s being assigned a value inside a function:

total = 0

def add_another():
    global total
    total += 1

Augmented assignment statements are available for updating the value of a name:

x += 1      # x = x + 1
y *= 2      # y = y * 2

You can chain assignments together to assign the same value to more than one name:

a = b = c = 0

You can also assign a number of values to a number of names at once. These assignment statements have the same effect:

x, y = 1, 2

x = 1
y = 2

except that the left-hand sides are fully evaluated, and then the names are assigned. You can swap variables like this:

x, y = y, x

Assignment in Python is a statement, not an expression. This means that you cannot use assignment where expressions are needed. For example, you cannot assign to a name and test a value at once as in this C code:

while (name = next_value()) {