Lists are ordered and mutable collections in which the same item can appear multiple times. In other programming languages, lists are sometimes called arrays.

Besides lists, Python has a few other data types to represent collections, with slightly different properties. If you need an ordered but immutable collection, use a tuple instead of a list. If the items need to be unique, use set objects. Etc.

List basics

A list is delimited by square brackets. It can contain different kinds of objects:

alist = [1, -2, "asdsd", 4.347, 50]

Accessing list items

List items can be accessed by their index. In Python, the first item has index zero:

print alist[0] # first item
print alist[1] # second item
print alist[2] # third item

Negative numbers can be used to access items backwards:

print alist[-1] # last item
print alist[-2] # penultimate etc.

Nested lists

Lists can contain other lists, which can contain other lists, and so on. This is known as ‘nested’ lists:

list_2 = [1, 2, 3, ["a", "b", "c"]]
list_3 = [1, 2, 3, ["a", ["A", "B"], "b", "c"]]

Operations with lists

Lists can be added using the + operator, just like we would do with numbers:

>>> print alist + ['b', 100]
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, 'b', 100]

Lists can also be multiplied by integers:

>>> print alist * 3
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, 1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, 1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50]

Subtraction and division operations are not supported with lists.

Creating copies of a list

Assigning another name to a list doesn’t create a copy, just a new reference to the same object:

>>> anotherlist = alist
>>> anotherlist.append(-9999) # add elements to the new list
>>> print anotherlist
>>> print alist
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, -9999]
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, -9999]


It is a common beginner’s mistake to think that assigning a list to a new variable creates another list. It doesn’t! Try to remember this and save yourself a lot of debugging time in the future.

There are different ways to create a real copy of a list. One of them is to use the built-in function list() to create a new list:

>>> acopy = list(alist)
>>> acopy.append(9999)
>>> print acopy
>>> print alist
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, -9999, 9999]
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, -9999]

List slicing

A slice is a continuous range of items in a list. Here’s how to get a slice from a list:

>>> print alist
>>> # get from second to fourth items in a list
>>> print alist[2:4]
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50]
['asdsd', 4.347]

The slicing notation uses list indexes, so use 0 to start from the first item, or simply leave the first index out:

>>> # get from first to fourth items
>>> print alist[0:4]
>>> # this is the same as
>>> print alist[:4]
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347]
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347]

To finish a slice at the last item, simply leave out the second index:

>>> # get from third to last items
>>> print alist[2:]
['asdsd', 4.347, 50]

The slicing notation can also be used to create a copy of a list:

>>> newlist = alist[:]
>>> newlist.append('hello')
>>> print alist
>>> print newlist
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50]
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, 'hello']

String indexes and slices

Indexes and slices also work with strings, after all they are ordered sequences as well.

Characters in a string can be accessed by their index:

>>> astring = "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog"
>>> print astring[2]  # third character
>>> print astring[-1] # last character

Strings can also be sliced, using the same syntax as lists:

>>> print astring[4:20]
quick brown fox

Adding items to a list

New items can be added to a list with the append method:

>>> alist.append(1234)
>>> print alist
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, 1234]

Similarly, the extend method can be used to append a list of items to a another list:

>>> alist.extend(['one', 'two', 'three'])
>>> print alist
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 4.347, 50, 'one', 'two', 'three']

The insert method allows you to insert an item in a specific position, using a list index:

>>> alist.insert(3, 'hello!')
>>> print alist
[1, -2, 'asdsd', 'hello!', 4.347, 50]

Finally, the slice notation can be used to replace a section of a list with another list:

>>> alist[2:4] = ['one', 'two', 'three']
>>> print alist
[1, -2, 'one', 'two', 'three', 50]

Removing list items

List items can be removed using the del command and the item’s index:

>>> L = ['Doc', 'Grumpy', 'Happy', 'Sleepy', 'Bashful', 'Sneezy', 'Dopey']
>>> del L[0]
>>> print L
['Grumpy', 'Happy', 'Sleepy', 'Bashful', 'Sneezy', 'Dopey']

To delete several continuous items, the slice notation can be used:

>>> del L[1:4]
>>> print L
['Grumpy', 'Sneezy', 'Dopey']

If you don’t know the index of item, you can use the remove command and refer to the item itself:

>>> L.remove('Grumpy')
>>> print L
['Sneezy', 'Dopey']

‘Popping’ list items

The pop method removes an item from a list, and at the same time returns it. This is used to make lists behave like stacks:

>>> fruits = ['apple', 'banana', 'grapefruit', 'kiwi', 'melon', 'papaya', 'mango']
>>> print fruits.pop()
>>> print fruits
['apple', 'banana', 'grapefruit', 'kiwi', 'melon', 'papaya']
>>> print fruits.pop()
>>> print fruits
['apple', 'banana', 'grapefruit', 'kiwi', 'melon']

The pop method can also take a index, to take out an item which is not the last one:

>>> print fruits.pop(0)
>>> print fruits
['banana', 'grapefruit', 'kiwi', 'melon']

Ordering lists

Lists items can easily be sorted using the sort method:

>>> L = ['z', 'a', 'asdas', 100, 2.4, True, [], None]
>>> L.sort()
>>> print L
[None, True, 2.4, 100, [], 'Asdas', 'a', 'z']

Notice the order in which the different types of Python objects are sorted: None, bool, float, int, list, string.

Here is a list of strings with different kinds of characteres at the starting position, and the sorted output:

>>> L2 = ['A', 'abc', ':', '#', '0123', '1', '20', ' ' ]
>>> L2.sort()
>>> print L2
[' ', '#', '0123', '1', '20', ':', 'A', 'abc']

Lists also have a reverse method, to sort items in the inverse order:

>>> L3 = ['Barcelona', 'Vienna', 'Rio de Janeiro', 'Sao Paulo', 'Berlin']
>>> L3.reverse()
>>> print L3
['Berlin', u'Sao Paulo', 'Rio de Janeiro', 'Vienna', 'Barcelona']

Both sort and reverse modify the list in-place – this means that the list is modified, but no value is returned:

>>> print L3.sort()
>>> print L3
['Barcelona', 'Berlin', 'Rio de Janeiro', 'Sao Paulo', 'Vienna']


This is another common beginner’s mistake: sort() and reverse() don’t return a value, they modify the lists in place.

In newer Pythons we can use the built-in method sorted(), which returns a sorted copy of the given collection, as an alternative to sort():

>>> for L in sorted(L3):
...     print L,
Barcelona Berlin Rio de Janeiro Sao Paulo Vienna

A reversed() iterator is available as well:

>>> for L in reversed(L3):
...     print L,
Vienna Sao Paulo Rio de Janeiro Berlin Barcelona

Creating number sequences

Sequential lists of numbers can be created dynamically using the range function.

The following command creates a list of numbers, starting from 0 and ending before 10:

>>> print range(10)
[0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

Sometimes we need to start a sequence with a number different than zero. In this case, we need to use range with two arguments:

>>> # from 5 to 10 (doesn't include 10!)
>>> print range(5, 10)
[5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

Finally, we can use a third argument to specify the interval between the numbers in the sequence:

>>> # from 1 to 19 (doesn't include 19!)
>>> # in intervals of 3
>>> print range(1, 19, 3)
[1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16]

Splitting and joining lists