In Think Python 2e "class" is defined as "A programmer-defined type. A class definition creates a new class object."

But isn't a built-in type considered a class too?

Using Python 3.4.0, the following code:

class File:
    """Represents a computer file."""


has the following output:

<class 'type'>
<class 'type'>
<class 'str'>
<class '__main__.File'>

. So here we can notice that the instances of both the built-in type str and the programmer-defined type File belong to <class 'str'> and <class '__main__.File'>, respectively, so both str and File are considered classes, as I understand. So, is the definition right? If so, how is it right and what do I misunderstand or don't know?


But isn't a built-in type considered a class too?

Yes, it is. The author of the article you linked to is somewhat correct, but his definition is lacking. A more complete definition of a class in Python is: any type that is defined whether user-created or built-in. A class is essentially a blueprint for creating an object, regardless of whether the "blueprint" is defined at the C level - such as with builtins - or at the Python level such as with user defined types.

However, normally when you think of a class in Python, you are thinking specifically about user-defined classes. But as I made clear above, that's not necessarily the correct way to think of classes. So while the definition may not be completely wrong, it is not correct either.

  • Thank you. What do you mean by "technically correct"? How can he be so, when his definition is lacking? – Mahmud Muhammad Naguib Jul 6 '17 at 21:01
  • 1
    @MahmudMuhammadNaguib What I meant to convey is what amon said as well. The author's definition of a class is correct, but would probably mislead one to think that is exclusive what classes are. – Christian Dean Jul 6 '17 at 21:08
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    @MahmudMuhammadNaguib But I in hindsight, I think "technically" is the wrong word, as the docs do mention list, int and the other builtin types as classes. "somewhat" would probably fit better. – Christian Dean Jul 6 '17 at 21:14

In Python 2, you'll notice that built-in types are sometimes distinct from user-defined types (classes):

>>> type(str)
<type 'type'>
>>> type("Mahmud")
<type 'str'>
>>> str
<type 'str'>

>>> class OldStyleClass:
...    pass
>>> type(OldStyleClass)
<type 'classobj'>
>>> type(OldStyleClass())
<type 'instance'>
>>> OldStyleClass
<class ...OldStyleClass at 0x...>

>>> class NewStyleClass(object):
...    pass
>>> type(NewStyleClass)
<type 'type'>
>>> type(NewStyleClass())
<class 'NewStyleClass'>
>>> NewStyleClass
<class 'NewStyleClass'>

So we have three distinct cases:

  • builtin types like str
  • old style classes
  • new style classes which inherit from object.

           type(X)            X                   type(X())
           -----------------  ------------------  -----------------
builtin    <type 'type'>      <type 'X'>          <type 'X'>
old style  <type 'classobj'>  <class X at 0x...>  <type 'instance'>
new style  <type 'type'>      <class 'X'>         <class 'X'>

The differences between these cases are subtle and have become less important over time. In earlier Python versions, the internal representation affected the reflection capabilities. A remnant of these issues in Python 2.7 is that type(X()) == X is false when X is an old-style class!

So for Python 2.x there are some differences between builtin-types and user-defined classes, even though all of them can be used as classes (instantiated, inherited from, …). I consider the author's statement correct, though slightly misleading. It would be more correct to say:

The class keyword allows programmers to define additional classes.


Each value has a class or type which contains available methods. You can add your own classes with the class keyword.

(Of course, a class definition is not the only way to define a new class. The type(…) constructor comes to mind, as would C extensions.)

In Python 3, these three cases have been combined and there is no visible difference between built-in and user-defined classes.

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