$$ \newcommand{\tp}{\thinspace .} $$




Much of the material in this document is taken from Appendix F in the book A Primer on Scientific Programming with Python, 4th edition, by the same author, published by Springer, 2014.

Getting help from a code analyzer

The tools PyLint and Flake8 can analyze your code and point out errors and undesired coding styles. Before point 7 in the lists above, Run the program, it can be wise to run PyLint or Flake8 to be informed about problems with the code.

Consider the first version of the integrate code, integrate_v1.py. Running Flake8 gives

Terminal> flake8 integrate_v1.py
integrate_v1.py:7:1: E302 expected 2 blank lines, found 1
integrate_v1.py:8:1: E112 expected an indented block
integrate_v1.py:8:7: E901 IndentationError: expected an indented block
integrate_v1.py:10:1: E302 expected 2 blank lines, found 1
integrate_v1.py:11:1: E112 expected an indented block

Flake8 checks if the program obeys the official Style Guide for Python Code (known as PEP8). One of the rules in this guide is to have two blank lines before functions and classes (a habit that is often dropped in this document to reduce the length of code snippets), and our program breaks the rule before the f and g functions. More serious and useful is the expected an indented block at lines 8 and 11. This error is quickly found anyway by running the programming.

PyLint does not a complete job before the program is free of syntax errors. We must therefore apply it to the integrate_v2.py code:

Terminal> pylint integrate_v2.py
C: 20, 0: Exactly one space required after comma
I = integrate(f, 0, 1,  n)
                     ^ (bad-whitespace)
W: 19, 0: Redefining built-in 'pow' (redefined-builtin)
C:  1, 0: Missing module docstring (missing-docstring)
W:  1,14: Redefining name 'f' from outer scope (line 8)
W:  1,23: Redefining name 'n' from outer scope (line 16)
C:  1, 0: Invalid argument name "f" (invalid-name)
C:  1, 0: Invalid argument name "a" (invalid-name)

There is much more output, but let us summarize what PyLint does not like about the code:

  1. Extra whitespace (after comma in a call to integrate)
  2. Missing doc string at the beginning of the file
  3. Missing doc strings in the functions
  4. Same name f used as local variable in integrate and global function name in the f(x) function
  5. Too short variable names: a, b, n, etc.
  6. "Star import" of the form from math import *
In short programs where the one-to-one mapping between mathematical notation and the variable names is very important to make the code self-explanatory, this author thinks that only points 1-3 qualify for attention. Nevertheless, for larger non-mathematical programs all the style violations pointed out are serious and lead to code that is easier to read, debug, maintain, and use.

Running Flak8 on integrate_v2.py leads to only three problems: missing two blank lines before functions (not reported by PyLint) and doing from math import *. Flake8 complains in general a lot less than PyLint, but both are very useful during program development to readability of the code and remove errors.


  1. D. E. Knuth. Theory and Practice, EATCS Bull., 27, pp. 14-21, 1985.
  2. P. S. Foundation. The Python Standard Library, http://docs.python.org/2/library/.
  3. G. J. E. Rawlins. Slaves of the Machine: The Quickening of Computer Technology, MIT Press, 1998.