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What is inheritance in Python

Understanding Inheritance in Python

Inheritance is a fundamental concept in the world of programming, particularly within object-oriented programming (OOP). Think of it like a family tree where children inherit traits from their parents. Similarly, in Python, inheritance allows a class to inherit attributes and behaviors from another class. This means that we can create a new class based on an existing class, which helps in reusing code and creating a modular design.

The Basics of Inheritance

To understand inheritance, we need to be familiar with the term 'class'. A class is like a blueprint for creating objects (a particular data structure), providing initial values for state (member variables or attributes), and implementations of behavior (member functions or methods).

Inheritance allows us to define a class that takes all the functionality from a parent class and allows us to add more. In this context, the parent class is often referred to as the 'base class' or 'superclass', and the new class is known as the 'derived class' or 'subclass'.

Simple Inheritance Example

Let's start with a simple example. Suppose we have a base class called Animal, and we want to create a derived class called Dog that inherits from Animal.

class Animal:
    def __init__(self, name): = name

    def speak(self):
        return "I am an animal."

class Dog(Animal):
    def speak(self):
        return "Woof! My name is " +

# Creating an instance of Dog
my_dog = Dog("Buddy")
print(my_dog.speak())  # Output: Woof! My name is Buddy

In the above example, Dog inherits from Animal. We say that Dog is the subclass and Animal is the superclass. The Dog class has its own speak method, which overrides the behavior of the speak method in the Animal class.

Types of Inheritance

In Python, there are several types of inheritance:

  1. Single Inheritance: When a class inherits from one superclass.
  2. Multiple Inheritance: When a class inherits from more than one superclass.
  3. Multilevel Inheritance: When a class inherits from a superclass, and then another class inherits from that subclass.
  4. Hierarchical Inheritance: When multiple classes inherit from a single superclass.
  5. Hybrid Inheritance: A combination of multiple and multilevel inheritance.

The super() Function

In Python, we use the super() function to call methods from the superclass in the subclass. This is particularly useful when we want to extend the functionality of the inherited method.

class Animal:
    def __init__(self, name): = name

    def speak(self):
        return "I am an animal named " +

class Dog(Animal):
    def speak(self):
        # Calling the superclass method
        return super().speak() + " and I bark!"

# Creating an instance of Dog
my_dog = Dog("Buddy")
print(my_dog.speak())  # Output: I am an animal named Buddy and I bark!

Inheritance and Composition

While inheritance is a powerful feature, it's not always the best approach. Sometimes, it's better to use composition, where a class is composed of other classes rather than inheriting from them, which means it can use their functionalities without being tied to their hierarchy.

Advantages of Inheritance

  1. Code Reusability: We can reuse the code of the base class without having to rewrite it.
  2. Method Overriding: Subclasses can provide a specific implementation of a method that is already provided by one of its superclasses.
  3. Transitive Nature: If class B inherits from class A, and class C inherits from class B, then C indirectly inherits from A.

Disadvantages of Inheritance

  1. Complexity: The inheritance hierarchy can become complex and difficult to manage.
  2. Tight Coupling: Subclasses are tightly coupled to their superclasses, meaning that changes to the superclass may affect subclasses.

Practical Tips

  • Use inheritance when classes have a natural hierarchical relationship and share common logic.
  • Favor composition over inheritance when classes do not have a natural hierarchical relationship.
  • Avoid deep inheritance hierarchies as they can become hard to understand and maintain.


Inheritance in Python is like having a family tree for classes. It allows us to create new classes that are built upon existing ones, promoting code reusability and efficiency. By understanding and implementing inheritance properly, you can write cleaner, more modular code that's easier to read and maintain.

Remember, while inheritance can be incredibly useful, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's essential to weigh the benefits against the potential downsides like complexity and tight coupling. As you grow as a programmer, you'll develop an intuition for when to use inheritance and when other design patterns, like composition, might be more appropriate.

In the end, inheritance is just one tool in your toolbox, but it's a powerful one when used in the right context. Keep practicing by creating your own classes and experimenting with inheritance, and you'll soon become adept at structuring your Python programs in a logical and efficient way.