Python design mistakes

You asked for a link or other source, but there really isn't one. The information is spread over many different places. What really constitutes a design mistake, and do you count just syntactic and semantic issues in the language definition, or do you include pragmatic things like platform and standard library issues and specific implementation issues? You could say that Python's dynamism is a design mistake from a performance perspective, because it makes it hard to make a straightforward efficient implementation, and it makes it hard (I didn't say completely impossible) to make an IDE with code completion, refactoring, and other nice things. At the same time, you could argue for the pros of dynamic languages.

Maybe one approach to start thinking about this is to look at the language changes from Python 2.x to 3.x. Some people would of course argue that print being a function is inconvenient, while others think it's an improvement. Overall, there are not that many changes, and most of them are quite small and subtle. For example, map() and filter() return iterators instead of lists, range() behaves like xrange() used to, and dict methods like dict.keys() return views instead of lists. Then there are some changes related to integers, and one of the big changes is binary/string data handling. It's now text and data, and text is always Unicode. There are several syntactic changes, but they are more about consistency than revamping the whole language.

From this perspective, it appears that Python has been pretty well designed on the language (syntax and sematics) level since at least 2.x. You can always argue about indentation-based block syntax, but we all know that doesn't lead anywhere... ;-)

Another approach is to look at what alternative Python implementations are trying to address. Most of them address performance in some way, some address platform issues, and some add or make changes to the language itself to more efficiently solve certain kinds of tasks. Unladen swallow wants to make Python significantly faster by optimizing the runtime byte-compilation and execution stages. Stackless adds functionality for efficient, heavily threaded applications by adding constructs like microthreads and tasklets, channels to allow bidirectional tasklet communication, scheduling to run tasklets cooperatively or preemptively, and serialisation to suspend and resume tasklet execution. Jython allows using Python on the Java platform and IronPython on the .Net platform. Cython is a Python dialect which allows calling C functions and declaring C types, allowing the compiler to generate efficient C code from Cython code. Shed Skin brings implicit static typing into Python and generates C++ for standalone programs or extension modules. PyPy implements Python in a subset of Python, and changes some implementation details like adding garbage collection instead of reference counting. The purpose is to allow Python language and implementation development to become more efficient due to the higher-level language. Py V8 bridges Python and JavaScript through the V8 JavaScript engine – you could say it's solving a platform issue. Psyco is a special kind of JIT that dynamically generates special versions of the running code for the data that is currently being handled, which can give speedups for your Python code without having to write optimised C modules.

Of these, something can be said about the current state of Python by looking at PEP-3146 which outlines how Unladen Swallow would be merged into CPython. This PEP is accepted and is thus the Python developers' judgement of what is the most feasible direction to take at the moment. Note it addresses performance, not the language per se.

So really I would say that Python's main design problems are in the performance domain – but these are basically the same challenges that any dynamic language has to face, and the Python family of languages and implementations are trying to address the issues. As for outright design mistakes like the ones listed in Javascript: the good parts, I think the meaning of "mistake" needs to be more explicitly defined, but you may want to check out the following for thoughts and opinions:

  • FLOSS Weekly 11: Guido van Rossum (podcast August 4th, 2006)
  • The History of Python blog

Is there a blog entry or some book describing design mistakes for Python?


It's called the Py3K list of backwards-incompatible changes.

Start here:

Read all the Python 3.x release notes for additional details on the mistakes in Python 2.

My biggest peeve with Python - and one which was not really addressed in the move to 3.x - is the lack of proper naming conventions in the standard library.

Why, for example, does the datetime module contain a class itself called datetime? (To say nothing of why we have separate datetime and time modules, but also a datetime.time class!) Why is datetime.datetime in lower case, but decimal.Decimal is upper case? And please, tell me why we have that terrible mess under the xml namespace: xml.sax, but xml.etree.ElementTree - what is going on there?