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What is an identifier in Python

Understanding Identifiers in Python

When you're starting to learn programming, especially in a language like Python, you will come across the term "identifier" quite often. Think of identifiers as the names we give to things so that we can refer to them easily. Just like you have a name to distinguish you from others, in programming, variables, functions, classes, and other objects need names too. These names are called identifiers.

What Exactly is an Identifier?

In Python, an identifier is simply a name given to entities like variables, functions, classes, modules, and other objects. It's a way for us to label these elements so we can reference and use them in our code. For instance, when you create a variable to store a number, you give it a name (an identifier) so that you can "call" it when you need it.

# Here 'age' is an identifier
age = 25

In the example above, age is an identifier that represents the value 25. Whenever we use age in our code, Python knows we're referring to 25.

Rules for Naming Identifiers

Python has a few rules that we need to follow when naming our identifiers:

  1. Identifiers can include letters, numbers, and underscores (_).
  2. They must start with a letter or an underscore, not a number.
  3. Python is case-sensitive, which means age, Age, and AGE are all different identifiers.
  4. You cannot use reserved words (also known as keywords) like if, else, while, etc., as identifiers.

Here are some examples of valid identifiers:

# Valid identifiers
my_variable = 10
counter1 = 0
_user_name = "Alice"

And here are examples of invalid identifiers:

# Invalid identifiers
2things = "nope"  # Starts with a number
my-variable = 10  # Contains a hyphen
else = "reserved" # 'else' is a reserved word

Choosing Meaningful Identifiers

While you have a lot of freedom in naming identifiers, it's important to choose names that are meaningful and descriptive. This makes your code easier to read and understand, both for you and for others who might read your code in the future.

Consider the following example:

# Less descriptive
a = 3.14159
b = 10

# More descriptive
pi_approximation = 3.14159
circle_diameter = 10

In the second set of code, the identifiers pi_approximation and circle_diameter clearly describe what the values represent. This is much better than just a and b, which don't provide any context.

Identifiers and Memory Locations

When you assign a value to an identifier, you can think of it as putting a sticky note on a box that holds the value. The identifier is the sticky note, and the box is a location in your computer's memory where the value is stored.

# Assigning a value to an identifier
number_of_apples = 5

In this case, number_of_apples is the sticky note with "5" written on it, stuck on a box in memory that holds the number 5.

Functions and Classes as Identifiers

Identifiers aren't just for variables; they're also used for naming functions and classes, which are more complex structures in Python.

A function is a block of code that performs a specific task. Here's an example of a function with an identifier:

# A simple function
def greet(name):
    return f"Hello, {name}!"

# 'greet' is the identifier for this function

Similarly, classes are blueprints for creating objects, and they also have identifiers:

# A simple class
class Dog:
    def __init__(self, name): = name

    def bark(self):
        return f"{} says woof!"

# 'Dog' is the identifier for this class

Common Conventions

In Python, there are conventions or guidelines that programmers follow when naming their identifiers. For example, variables and functions are typically written in lowercase with underscores between words, a style known as snake_case. Classes, on the other hand, are often written in CamelCase, where each word starts with a capital letter.

# Snake_case for variables and functions
user_age = 30
def calculate_area(width, height):
    return width * height

# CamelCase for classes
class ElectricCar:

These conventions aren't enforced by Python, but they're widely adopted in the Python community because they help keep code consistent and readable.

Identifiers in Python Modules

Modules in Python are files containing Python code that you can import into your programs. The name of the file (minus the .py extension) is also an identifier. For example, if you have a file named, you can import it using its identifier:

import math_helpers

result = math_helpers.add(5, 3)

In this case, math_helpers is the identifier for the module.


Identifiers are the names we give to the various parts of our code, and they play a crucial role in making our programs clear and manageable. By following Python's rules and conventions for naming identifiers, we can write code that's not only functional but also intuitive and easier for others to understand.

Remember, a well-chosen identifier is like a well-labeled map—it doesn't just tell you where things are; it makes the journey of programming much more navigable and enjoyable. As you continue your adventure in the world of Python, take care with the names you create. They're the signposts that guide you and others through the code you write, turning a jumble of logic into a coherent, readable story.