One Day of MacPython IDE Toying

This document gives a very basic introduction to the MacPython Integrated Development Environment (IDE) on Mac OS. It was written specifically for MacPython 2.3 on Mac OS X, but most of it is applicable to MacPython-OS9 too. It is based on "One Day of IDLE Toying" by Danny Yoo, which you should read if you want to use the cross-platform IDLE Python development environment.

Ok, let's assume that we've already installed Python. (If not, we can visit: or and download the most recent Python interpreter. Get the Mac OSX binary installer.) The first thing we'd like to do is actually start running it! We can do this by opening up the IDE, which should be in Applications under the newly-created MacPython program folder:

image of IDE icon

The IDE starts up and shows an interactive window:

image of new window

If the window does not show up (because you have run the IDE before and closed it: it remembers that between runs) open it with the Windows->Python Interactive menu entry.

This is the interactive window to the IDE, it allows us to enter commands directly into Python, and as soon as we enter a command, Python will execute it and spit its result back to us. We'll be using this interactive window a lot when we're exploring Python: it's very nice because we get back our results immediately. If it helps, we can think of it as a very powerful calculator.

Let's try something now! As per tradition, let's get Python to say the immortal words, "Hello World". image of hello world program

Those '>>>' signs act as a prompt for us: Python is ready to read in a new command by giving us that visual cue. Also, we notice that as we enter commands, Python will give us its output immediately.

Ok, this seems pretty simple enough. Let's try a few more commands. If we look below:

image of command window

we'll see the result of running a few more commands. Don't worry too much about knowing the exact rules for making programs yet: the idea is that we can experiment with Python by typing in commands. If things don't work, then we can correct the mistake, and try it again.

If you got to this point, you now know enough to start playing around with Python! Crack open one of the tutorials from the Python For Beginners web page, and start exploring with the interpreter. No time limit here. *grin*

Now that we've paddled long enough, we might be asking: ok, this is neat, but if we close down Python and start it up again, how do we get the computer to remember what we typed?

The solution is a little subtle: we can't directly save what's in the interpreter window, because it will include both our commands and the system's responses. What we'd like is to make a prepared file, with just our own commands, and to be able to save that file as a document. When we're in the mood, we can later open that file and "run" Python over it, saving us the time of retyping the whole thing over again.

Let's try this. First, let's start with a clean slate by opening up a new window.

image of making new window

Here's the result of that menu command:

image of new window

We notice that there's nothing in this new window. What this means is that this file is purely for our commands: Python won't interject with its own responses as we enter the program, that is, not until we tell it to. This is called an edit window, and it is very similar to edit windows in other editors such as TextEdit or BBEdit.

What we wanted to do before was save some of the stuff we had tried out on the interpreter window. Let's do that by typing (or copy/pasting) those commands into our edit window.

image of entering commands

Ok, we're done with copying and pasting. One big thing to notice is that we're careful to get rid of the ">>>" prompts because they're not really part of our program. The interpreter uses them just to tell us that we're in the interpreter, but now that we're editing in a separate file, we can remove the artifacts that the interpreter introduces. I have added an extra empty print statement so our output ends with a newline.

Let's save the file now. The Save command is located under the File menu:

image of saving file

Now that we've saved the program, how do we run the program? Use the Run All button at the top of the editing window, or the equivalent menu command Python->Run Window. The output will appear in a new window called Output Window.

By the way, one thing to notice is that I made a typo: I didn't quite copy exactly what I had entered in the interpreter window before. Does this affect things?

image of syntax error

Ooops. Here is an example of what Python calls a "syntax error". Python sees that we made a typo, and warns us to take a much closer look at our program. The designers of Python feel that having the system point out the error is better than trying to guess at what the programmer meant. Press the Edit button and you will be brought to the trouble spot.

Python is often perceptive enough to direct us toward the problem, and in this case, it's telling us that we forgot to put something at the end of this line. In this case, we need to add a quotation mark at the end. Let's add that in now.

Other errors, which usually occur later, when your program has already done something, result in a different dialog that allows you to look at variables and such in addition to showing you where the error occurred.

Ok, let's say that we fixed that silly typo. Let's try to run the program again. This gives us a new window, the Output window, showing the output of our program:

image of output window

As we play with Python, we'll find ourselves "switching modes" between the Interpreter window and the edit window. However, if we try anything more complicated than two or three lines it is often a good idea to work in an edit window. Align your edit and output window such that you can see them at the same time.

This is pretty much all we need to know about the MacPython IDE to actually do interesting things. There is a lot more to the IDE, here is a quick breakdown of things to see and explore: