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Indentation in Python

Python is one of the best designed programming languages. It is very easy to learn and it has very few gotchas (features which work in surprising ways).

There are so many languages younger than Python, which suffer from horrible design mistakes. For example, compared to many other scripting languages, in Python there are no undefined variables; Python does not prefer globals – you have to declare globals explicitly; when you try to read a non-existent object property in Python, you get an exception; Python does not perform type promotion, so it is easy to distinguish between values of different types; the list goes on.

Everything has pros and cons, and so does Python. One of the commonly mentioned issues with Python are indentation-based blocks. It’s a relatively minor issue and even though I’m not a fan of it myself, in my opinion some people make too much fuss about it.

A frequent argument against indentation-based blocks is that they rely on invisible characters, in particular tabs. There are three ways in which it could be solved:

  1. Set your editor to use 8-column tabs. 8-column tabs are the de facto standard, so if anyone complains about Python because their editor is buggy and defaults to any other tab size, it is essentially their own problem.
  2. Set your editor to convert tabs to spaces. Due to buggy editors being so widespread, it never makes sense to use tabs in source code, regardless of which programming language is used.
  3. Last but not least, the problem could be fixed in Python itself, by disallowing tab characters. This is a small oversight on the Python side.

As you can see, this trivial issue could be solved in several ways and there is no reason to complain about Python.

If you know a programming language, which is better designed than Python, please let me know!

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Categories: Computing
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