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Designing with the Python Community
A Conversation with Guido van Rossum, Part VI
by Bill Venners with Frank Sommers
February 17, 2003

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Summary
Python creator Guido van Rossum talks with Bill Venners about the importance of "pythonic" API design, the usefulness of intuiting performance, the value of experience and community feedback in design decisions, and the process of deciding how to evolve Python's standard library.

Guido van Rossum is the author of Python, an interpreted, interactive object-oriented programming language. In the late 1980s, Van Rossum began work on Python at the National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science in the Netherlands, or Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica (CWI) as it is known in Dutch. Since then, Python has become very popular among developers, who are attracted to its clean syntax and reputation for productivity.

In this interview, which is being published in six weekly installments, Van Rossum gives insights into Python's design goals, the source of Python programmer productivity, the implications of weak typing, and more:

In this final installment, Van Rossum discusses the importance of pythonic API design, the usefulness of intuiting performance, the value of experience and community feedback in design decisions, and the process of deciding how to evolve Python's standard library.

Bill Venners: Few people design programming languages, but many people design programs. Large programs are often composed of parts that look like libraries or APIs. Many people design APIs like that. What do you think is important in design? What makes a design good? What things do you value in an API or program design?

Guido van Rossum: That's a really tough question. One example of an API design I found unsatisfactory is the DOM API for dealing with XML. That originally started in the Java world. I'm not sure if the problems with it are the same in the Java version as they are in the Python version. I have a feeling that the Python translation of the DOM API was actually done by sticking too closely to the Java version, and thereby being unpythonic, which is a completely undefined term.

Bill Venners: But you know it when you see it.

Guido van Rossum: That's exactly the problem. I can't teach anyone else what makes a pythonic interface.

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