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What is linting in Python

Understanding Linting

Imagine you've just started learning the guitar. At first, you're focused on getting the basic chords right, but as you improve, you start paying attention to the finer details, like the smoothness of transitions and the precision of your strumming. In programming, especially in Python, "linting" is somewhat similar to this process of refining your skills and your code.

Linting is the process of running a program that will check your code for potential errors and enforce a consistent coding style. Think of it like having a helpful teacher who looks over your work and points out where you could improve, not just to make it correct, but also to make it clean and easy to read.

Why Linting Matters

When you're just starting to code, it's easy to make mistakes, such as typos or forgetting to follow certain best practices. These errors can sometimes lead to bugs, which are mistakes in code that can cause your program to crash or behave unexpectedly. Linting helps catch these issues early on, which can save you a lot of time and frustration.

Moreover, when you're working with others, it's important that everyone writes code in a similar style. This makes it easier for everyone to read and understand the code, just like how following grammar rules makes written language clear and easy to understand. Linting enforces these consistent styles, helping teams to work more efficiently together.

How Linting Works in Python

In Python, one of the most popular tools for linting is called pylint. It's a program that analyzes Python code without actually running it. Instead, it looks at the structure and composition of the code to find problems.

Let's say you've written the following Python function:

def greet(name):
print("Hello, " + name + "!")

At first glance, this might seem fine. But there's a subtle issue here: the indentation is not consistent. Python relies on indentation to define the scope of code blocks, and the standard practice is to use four spaces per indentation level. pylint would catch this and tell you that there's an indentation problem, along with how to fix it.

Here's the corrected version:

def greet(name):
    print("Hello, " + name + "!")

Common Issues Linting Can Detect

Linting tools like pylint can detect a wide range of issues in your code. Some common ones include:

  • Syntax errors: These are like grammatical mistakes in your code. For example, missing a colon at the end of a def statement.
  • Style issues: These are related to the appearance of your code, such as inconsistent indentation or lines that are too long.
  • Complex or confusing code: If a piece of code is too complex, it might be hard to understand. Linting can suggest ways to simplify it.
  • Unused variables or imports: Sometimes, you might declare a variable or import a module that you never use. Linting helps you clean up these loose ends.

Setting Up a Linter in Your Python Environment

To start using pylint, you first need to install it. You can do this using pip, which is the package installer for Python. Open up your terminal or command prompt and type the following command:

pip install pylint

Once pylint is installed, you can run it on a Python file by typing:


Replace with the name of the Python file you want to check. pylint will analyze the file and print out any warnings or suggestions it has.

Linting in Action: A Practical Example

Let's look at a more detailed example. Here's a simple Python script:

import math

def calculate_area(radius):
    area = math.pi*(radius**2)
    return area


This script calculates the area of a circle given its radius. If we run pylint on this script, it might give us the following feedback:

************* Module my_script
C:  3, 0: Exactly one space required around assignment
    area = math.pi*(radius**2)
         ^ (bad-whitespace)
C:  5, 0: Final newline missing (missing-final-newline)
C:  1, 0: Missing module docstring (missing-docstring)
C:  3, 0: Missing function docstring (missing-docstring)

pylint is telling us that we should have exactly one space around the equals sign when we assign the value to area. It's also reminding us to add a final newline at the end of the file, and to write docstrings (which are like comments that explain what the module and the function do).

Here's an improved version of the script after addressing pylint's feedback:

This module contains a function to calculate the area of a circle.

import math

def calculate_area(radius):
    Calculate the area of a circle given its radius.

    :param radius: The radius of the circle.
    :return: The area of the circle.
    area = math.pi * (radius ** 2)
    return area


Now, our code is cleaner, better documented, and easier for others to understand.

Linting as Part of the Development Process

As you develop more in Python, linting should become a regular part of your workflow. Just like how proofreading is essential in writing, linting is crucial in coding. It's a good practice to lint your code frequently, so you can catch issues early and often. Some developers even configure their text editors or development environments to automatically lint their code as they write it.


Linting is like the seasoning that enhances the flavor of a dish. It doesn't just help you write code that works; it helps you write code that shines. By using a linter like pylint, you ensure that your Python code is not only functional but also clean, consistent, and maintainable. It's a tool that supports your journey from a beginner to a seasoned coder, much like how a metronome helps a musician keep time. Embrace linting as a part of your coding practice, and watch as it transforms your code from good to great.