2.11. Updating Variables

One of the most common forms of reassignment is an update where the new value of the variable depends on the old. For example,

x = x + 1

This means get the current value of x, add one, and then update x with the new value. The new value of x is the old value of x plus 1. Although this assignment statement may look a bit strange, remember that executing assignment is a two-step process. First, evaluate the right-hand side expression. Second, let the variable name on the left-hand side refer to this new resulting object. The fact that x appears on both sides does not matter. The semantics of the assignment statement makes sure that there is no confusion as to the result. The visualizer makes this very clear.

x = 6
x = x + 1

If you try to update a variable that doesn’t exist, you get an error because Python evaluates the expression on the right side of the assignment operator before it assigns the resulting value to the name on the left. Before you can update a variable, you have to initialize it, usually with a simple assignment. In the above example, x was initialized to 6.

Updating a variable by adding 1 is called an increment; subtracting 1 is called a decrement. Sometimes programmers also talk about bumping a variable, which means the same as incrementing it by 1.

Advanced Topics

  • Topic 1: Python Beyond the Browser. This is a gentle introduction to using Python from the command line. We’ll cover this later, but if you are curious about what Python looks like outside of this eBook, you can have a look here. There are also instructions for installing Python on your computer here.

  • Topic 2: Dive Into Python 3, this is an online textbook by Mark Pilgrim. If you have already had some programming experience, this book takes you off the deep end with both feet.

Check your understanding

Construct the code that will result in the value 134 being printed.


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