Classes and Objects

Object -- an encapsulation of data along with functions that act upon that data. (Attempts to mirror the real world, where objects have attributes and are associated with activities).

An object consists of:

Class -- a blueprint for objects. A class is a user-defined type that describes and defines objects of the same type. A class contains a collection of data and method definitions.

An object is a single instance of a class. You can create many objects from the same class type.

Small example:

Creating Objects

Objects are created from a class by using the name of the class and are then attached to a reference variable. Two steps:
def main():
    my_circle = Circle()        # Create a class instance: object
    area = my_circle.findArea() # Using the object
Caution: Since the name used to refer to an object is a reference variable, and not the object itself, it is important to note that any assignments done on such a variable are just on the reference. For example, if we create two objects, and then assign their variables together:
c1 = Circle()  
c2 = Circle()

c1 = c2;
... the last statement (c1 = c2) does not copy circle c2 into c1. Instead, it copies the reference varaible c2 to c1, which means that both reference variables are now referring to the same object (the second one, c2).

Using Objects

Once an object is created, access the object's internal methods and data with the dot-operator. Format:
objectReference.method(arguments)   # a call to a method
c1 = Circle()
c1.radius = 10	# access radius instance variable

# compute and print the area with the findArea method
print "Area = " + c1.findArea()

Protection levels in a class (Visibility Modifiers)

We can declare members of a class to be public or private.

The public members of a class make up the interface for an object (i.e. what the outside builder of the object can use). The user of an object is some other portion of code (other classes, functions, main program).

Although there is no set rule on what is made public and what is made private, the standard practice is to protect the data of a class by making it private. Provide access to the data through public methods, which can maintain control over the state of the object.

Reasons for data hiding:

Class methods

Class methods are created in the same way regular functions are created except the indentation of the function ensures it is in the class block. Method functions are designed to operate on a specific objects data. To known which object data to operate each class method declared with the self argument. The self argument is always the first argument and the Python interpreter automatically assigns the calling abject to this argument for you.

class Circle:
  def __init__(self):
      self.radius = 1.0 # The initializer method
  # methods
  def findArea(self):  
     return (self.radius * self.radius * math.pi)

  def findCircumference(self):
     return (self.radius * 2 * math.pi)

Special class method

Python classes has a special method called the initializer method. This method runs every time an instance of a class is created. The initializer method can have parameters. Example:

class Circle:
   def __init__(self):   # The initializer method
      self.radius = 1.0


A initializer method is automatically invoked when an object is created.

  c1 = new Circle()    # invokes initializer method constructor

Often programmers want to display a message that indicates the state of an object. This usually entails the value's of the objects attributes. We could simply use the accessors and mutator methods (explained below) to print out this content. However, it is a common enough occurance where Python provides a dedicated method __str__():

class Circle:
   def __init__(self, radius, center_x, center_y):
      # Radius of the circle 
      self.__radius = radius   
      self.__center_x = center_x
      self.__center_y = center_y
   def __str__(self):
      return "Radius: %.2f Coordinates (x, y): (%.2f, %.2f)" \
         % (self.__radius, self.__center_x, self.__center_y)
def main():
   circle1 = Circle(2, 4, 5)
   print circle1

Radius: 2.00 Coordinates (x, y): (4.00, 5.00)

The method is automatically invoked for you when the class is required to return a string.

Accessors and Mutators

Since it's a good idea to keep internal data of an object private, we often need methods in the class interface to allow the user of objects to modify or access the internally stored data, in a controlled way.

An accessor method is a function that returns a copy of an internal variable or computed value. A common practice is to name these with the word get .

A mutator method is a function that modifies the value of an internal data variable in some way. The simplest form of mutator function is one that sets a variable directly to a new value -- a common practice is to name these with the word set .


Here is a different version of the Circle class, called Circle2 :

Note that this example contains two constructors, accessor functions, and mutator functions.