Getting started with Python on Mac OS X

A friend asked me what he should install onto his Mac OS X system to most effectively learn Python. This particular person is a very experienced Objective-C and Java developer, with loads of Mac OS X specific adventures.

This post is targeted to that kind of developer.

Mac OS X ships with a perfectly usable build of Python included in the system (as long as you install the BSD package, which is enabled by default).

First, install the most recent production release of the Subversion client. That link leads to some very convenient to install packages. Alternatively, installation via Fink or DarwinPorts will also work quite nicely. Or you can build it from the source.

Next, grab a pre-compiled copy of the module. Decompress it, then copy it into the appropriate place within /Library/Python/2.3/. Interactive Python without readline is miserable.

Then grab the top-of-tree of the PyObjC repository via Subversion. The top-of-tree is almost always very stable as a result of the relatively large and high quality unit testing suite and the focus-on-quality of the developers. Once installed, the benefits are two fold. First, it will install PyObjC, including all examples, the Xcode templates, and the runtime itself. Secondly, it will install py2app which will allow one to easily package Python modules and applications, including creating Installer packages out of any standard Python module.

svn co

And build/install it:

python bdist_mpkg --open

The above will build a .mpkg that contains PyObjC, py2app, and related resources, then open it the Installer application.

From there, it is a matter of choosing your favorite editor. Xcode, SubEthaEdit and Emacs can all edit Python quite effectively. The key is to turn off tabs. Never, ever, insert tabs into Python source — always use spaces.

There are other editors available. I pretty much stick to a mix of Emacs with a custom setup (you’ll want to grab the latest python-mode, at the least) and Xcode, with the occasional bout of SubEthaEdit, depending on mood.

For learning Python, I would start with Dive Into Python and then– because this is aimed to Mac OS X developers– move on to ripping into the PyObjC examples. Also, ReSTedit is a fairly decent sized Cocoa-Python application that is under active development, tends to track the latest changes in PyObjC, and has a couple of relatively complex third-party Objective-C classes integrated into the project.

That should provide a pretty decent foundation for both generic and Mac OS X specific Python development. Certainly, there are any number of other tools that one might install, varying in size and complexity.

Recommendations, corrections, and suggestions welcome.

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