Another basic data type which we will introduce is the dictionary, or short, dict.

Dictionary is a data structure consisting of multiple key/value pairs, mapping keys to their corresponding values.

Its main purpose is to find quickly and efficiently a value for a given key.

Python constraints what dictionary keys can be. The keys must not repeat (one key cannot map to two different values) and must not be changeable (mutable values, such as lists and dictionaries are therefore not allowed). Strings keys are the most common, though other types such as numbers and tuples are also used.

The target values, as in the case of, e.g., lists, can by anything which can be assigned to a variable. The values can repeat and multiple keys can point to the same value.

a dictionary

There is a dictionary with 3 keys, and each one of them has a value:

>>> me = {'name': 'Marketa', 'city': 'Prague', 'numbers': [20, 8]}

Note the curly braces {} and the colons : between each key and value. The key/value pairs are separated by commas ,.

Are dictionaries ordered? As of Python 3.7 officially (effectively already from Python 3.6) dictionaries are guaranteed to preserve order in which their key/value pairs are inserted. Before, the ordering was not guaranteed, as it can be still found mentioned in older text books.

You can get values from the dictionary similar as from lists, but instead of an index, you have to use a key.

>>> me['name']

If you try to access a non-existent key, Python won't like it:

>>> me['age']
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in &lt;module&gt;
KeyError: 'age'

You can change the values of keys:

>>> me['numbers'] = [20, 8, 42]
>>> me
{'name': 'Marketa', 'city': 'Prague', 'numbers': [20, 8, 42]}

... or add keys and values:

>>> me['language'] = 'Python'
>>> me
{'name': 'Marketa', 'city': 'Prague', 'numbers': [20, 8, 42], 'language': 'Python'}

... or delete keys and values using the del command (also the same as for lists):

>>> del me['numbers']
>>> me
{'name': 'Marketa', 'city': 'Prague', 'language': 'Python'}

Dictionaries in Python have a couple of useful methods which are good to know.

One of them is the get method which allows you to get a value for a key when the key exists or return a default value when it does not exist:

>>> record.get('name') # key exits and value is returned
>>> record.get('age') # key does not exist and None is returned instead
>>> record.get('age', 'n/a') # key does not exist and 'n/a' is returned instead

Other useful method is pop, removing a key from the dictionary and returning its value. pop throws an error in case of a missing value, unless a default value is provided:

>>> record.pop('name') # 'name' is removed from dictionary

>>> record.pop('name')
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
KeyError: 'name'

>>> record.pop('name', None)  # None is returned

>>> record.pop('name', 'n/a') # 'n/a' is returned

The update method updates a dictionary from another one (rewrites existing and adds new keys):

>>> record
{'city': 'Prague', 'name': 'Lucy'}

>>> record.update({'name': 'Peggy', 'hobby': 'Python programming'})

>>> record
{'city': 'Prague', 'name': 'Peggy', 'hobby': 'Python programming'}

Lookup table

A use of dictionaries other than data clustering is the so-called lookup table. It stores values of same type.

This is useful for example with phone book. For every name there is one phone number. Other examples are dictionaries with properties of food, or word translations.

phones = {
    'Tyna': '153 85283',
    'Lubo': '237 26505',
    'Andreea': '385 11223',
    'Fabian': '491 88047',
    'Vitoria': '491 88047',
    'Oliwia': '491 88047',

colours = {
    'pear': 'green',
    'apple': 'red',
    'melon': 'green',
    'plum': 'purple',
    'radish': 'red',
    'cabbage': 'green',
    'carrot': 'orange',

Update Lubo's number to be the same as Fabian's as they now temporarily share phones.



When you loop over a dictionary using for, you will get only keys:

>>> func_descript = {'len': 'length', 'str': 'string', 'dict': 'dictionary'}
>>> for key in func_descript:
...     print(key)

If you want to access the values, you will have to use the method values:

>>> for value in func_descript.values():
...     print(value)

But in most cases, you will need both -- keys and values. For this purpose, dictionaries have the method items.

>>> for key, value func_descript.items():
...     print('{}: {}'.format(key, value))
str: string
dict: dictionary
len: length

There is also the method keys() which returns just keys.

keys(), values() and items() return special objects which can be used in for loops (we say that those objects are "iterable"), and they behave as a set. This is well described in the documentation

In a for loop, you can't add keys to a dictionary nor delete them:

>>> for key, value in func_descript.items():
...     func_descript[key.upper()] = value.upper()
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
RuntimeError: dictionary changed size during iteration

>>> for key in func_descript:
...     del func_descript[key]
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
RuntimeError: dictionary changed size during iteration

This limitation can be easily overcome by using a list copy of the iterator:

>>> for key, value in list(func_descript.items()):
...     func_descript[key.upper()] = value.upper()
>>> func_descript
{'len': 'length', 'str': 'string', 'dict': 'dictionary', 'LEN': 'LENGTH', 'STR': 'STRING', 'DICT': 'DICTIONARY'}

>>> for key in list(func_descript):
...     del func_descript[key]
>>> func_descript

However, you can change values for already existing keys.

Update the phones dictionary so that all numbers contain a '+43' prefix.


Using a for loop, ensure that following keys_to_delete are deleted from the dictionary phones.

keys_to_delete = ['Lubo', 'Tyna', 'Oliwia']


How to create a dictionary

Dictionaries can be created in two ways. The first way uses curly brackets {}. The other way is by using the keyword dict. This works similar to str, int or list, so it will convert some specific objects to a dictionary.

>>> {}  # empty dictionary
>>> dict()  # empty dictionary
colours = {
    'pear': 'green',
    'apple': 'red',
    'melon': 'green',
    'plum': 'purple',
    'radish': 'red',
    'cabbage': 'green',
    'carrot': 'orange',

You can fill a new dictionary from one or more existing ones:

new_colours = {
    **colours,          # ** unpacks dictionary into key-value pairs
    'celery': 'green',
    'squash': 'yellow',
    'plum': 'purple',

It is possible to convert a dictionary into another dictionary. This new dictionary won't be in any way connected to the old one.

colour_riped = dict(colours)
for key in colour_riped:
    colour_riped[key] = 'blackish-brownish-' + colour_riped[key]

We can also convert a sequence of pairs (e.g., list of tuples) (which work as key and value) into a dictionary:

>>> data = [(1, 'one'), (2, 'two'), (3, 'three')]
>>> dict(data)
{1: 'one', 2: 'two', 3: 'three'}

>>> data = [[1, 'one'], [2, 'two'], [3, 'three']]
>>> dict(data)
{1: 'one', 2: 'two', 3: 'three'}

Dictionaries and function keyword arguments - *args **kwargs

*args and **kwargs allow you to pass multiple arguments or keyword arguments to a function.

If you do not know how many arguments will be passed into your function, or you do not really care, add a * before the parameter name in the function definition.

**kwargs allows us to pass a variable number of keyword arguments to a Python function. In the function, we use the double-asterisk before the parameter name to denote this type of argument.

args are collected in a function always as tuples, while kwargs are collected as dictionaries.

>>> def test(*args, **kwargs):
...     print("args:", args)
...     print("kwargs:", kwargs)

>>> test(1, 2, 3, a="Hi Bob!", b=True)
args: (1, 2, 3)
kwargs: {'a': 'Hi Bob!', 'b': True}

Example of real-life usage of *args could be for example:

>>> def my_sum(*args):
...     result = 0
...     for x in args:
...         result += x
...     return result

>>> print(my_sum(1, 2, 3))


We have this dictionary of computer access information of two users and another lookup table with cities information.

users = {
  'aeinstein': {
    'first': 'albert',
    'last': 'einstein',
    'location': 'princeton',
    'email': 'albgenious1@princeton.org',
  'mcurie': {
    'first': 'marie',
    'last': 'curie',
    'location': 'paris',

cities = {
  'paris': {
    'country': 'France',
    'population': 2161,
  'london': {
    'country': 'Great Britain',
    'population': 8960,
  'princeton': {
    'country': 'United States of America',
    'population': 28,

Print out following information about each user if they have it: Their 'username', 'full name' (first and last with first letter capitalized), 'email', 'city' they live in and 'country' they live in.


And that's all for now

If you would like to know all the tricks about dictionaries you can look at the cheatsheet.

If you want to demystify the *args and **kwargs and learn more than we could fit in the lecture, have a look here.

A complete description can be found here in the Python documentation.