In object oriented programming the term client refers to a program which uses a class, or instances of a class. A class offers the client services through which the client can access the objects created based on the class. The goals here are that
- the use of a class and/or objects is as simple as possible from the client's point of view
- the integrity of any object is preserved at all times
The integrity of an object means that the state of an object always remains acceptable. In practice this means that the values of the object's attributes are always acceptable. For example, an object representing a date should never have 13 as the value of the month, an object modelling a student should never have a negative number as the value of study credits attained, and so forth.
Let's take a look at a class named Student:
class Student: def __init__(self, name: str, student_number: str): self.name = name self.student_number = student_number self.study_credits = 0 def add_credits(self, study_credits): if study_credits > 0: self.study_credits += study_credits
Student object offers its clients the method
add_credits, which allows the client to add a specified number of credits to the student's total. The method ensures the value passed as the argument is above zero. The following code adds study credits on three occasions:
sally = Student("Sally Student", "12345") sally.add_credits(5) sally.add_credits(5) sally.add_credits(10) print("Study credits:", sally.study_credits)
Study credits: 20
Despite the method definition it is still possible to access the
study_credits attribute directly. This could result in an erroneous state where the integrity of the object is lost:
sally = Student("Sally Student", "12345") sally.study_credits = -100 print("Study credits:", sally.study_credits)
Study credits: -100
A common feature in object oriented programming languages is that classes can usually hide their attributes from any prospective clients. Hidden attributes are usually called private. In Python this privacy is achieved by adding two underscores
__ to the beginning of the attribute name:
class CreditCard: # the attribute number is private, while the attribute name is accessible def __init__(self, number: str, name: str): self.__number = number self.name = name
A private attribute is not directly visible to the client. Trying to refer to it causes an error. In the above example the
name attribute can be easily accessed and changed:
card = CreditCard("123456","Randy Riches") print(card.name) card.name = "Charlie Churchmouse" print(card.name)
Randy Riches Charlie Churchmouse
Trying to print out the card number, however, causes and error:
card = CreditCard("123456","Randy Riches") print(card.__number)
AttributeError: 'CreditCard' object has no attribute '__number'
Hiding attributes from clients is called encapsulation. As the name implies, the attribute is "enclosed in a capsule". The client is then offered a suitable interface for accessing and processing the data stored in the object.
Let's add another encapsulated attribute: the balance on the credit card. This time we'll also add publicly visible methods which allow the client to access and change the balance:
class CreditCard: def __init__(self, number: str, name: str, balance: float): self.__number = number self.name = name self.__balance = balance def deposit_money(self, amount: float): if amount > 0: self.__balance += amount def withdraw_money(self, amount: float): if amount > 0 and amount <= self.__balance: self.__balance -= amount def retrieve_balance(self): return self.__balance
card = CreditCard("123456", "Randy Riches", 5000) print(card.retrieve_balance()) card.deposit_money(100) print(card.retrieve_balance()) card.withdraw_money(500) print(card.retrieve_balance()) # The following will not work because the balance is not sufficient card.withdraw_money(10000) print(card.retrieve_balance())
5000 5100 4600 4600
The balance cannot be changed directly because the attribute is private, but we've included the methods
withdraw_money for changing the value. The method
retrieve_balance returns the value stored in balance. The methods include some rudimentary checks for retaining the integrity of the object: for instance, the card cannot be overdrawn.
A brief note on private attributes, Python and object oriented programming
There are ways around the underscore
__ notation for hiding attributes, which you may come across if you search for resources online. No Python attribute is truly private, and this is intentional on the part of the creators of Python. On the other hand, a Python programmer is generally expected to respect the visibility guidelines set in classes, and it takes a special effort to get around these. In other object oriented programming languages, such as Java, private variables are often truly hidden, and it is best if you think of private Python variables as such as well.
Getters and setters
In object oriented programming, methods which are dedicated to accessing and changing attributes are usually called getters and setters. Not all Python programmers use the terms "getter" and "setter", but the concept of properties outlined below is very similar, which is why we will use the generally accepted object oriented programming terminology here.
So, above we created some public methods for accessing private attributes, but there is a more straightforward, "pythonic" way of accessing attributes. Let's have a look at a simple class named
Wallet with a single, private attribute
class Wallet: def __init__(self): self.__money = 0
We can add getter and setter methods for accessing the private attribute using the
class Wallet: def __init__(self): self.__money = 0 # A getter method @property def money(self): return self.__money # A setter method @money.setter def money(self, money): if money >= 0: self.__money = money
First, we define a getter method, which returns the amount of money currently in the wallet. Then we define a setter method, which sets a new value for the money attribute while making sure the new value is not negative.
The new methods can be used like so:
wallet = Wallet() print(wallet.money) wallet.money = 50 print(wallet.money) wallet.money = -30 print(wallet.money)
0 50 50
As far as the client is concerned, using these new methods is no different from directly accessing an attribute. Parentheses are not necessary; instead it is perfectly acceptable to state
wallet.money = 50, as if we were simply assigning a value to a variable. Indeed, the purpose was to hide (i.e. encapsulate) the internal implementation of the attribute while offering an easy way of accessing and modifying the data stored in the object.
The previous example has a small problem: the client is not notified of the failure to set a negative value for the money attribute. When a value supplied is clearly wrong, it is usually a good idea to raise an exception and thus let the client know. In this case the exception should probably be of type
ValueError to signify that the value supplied was unacceptable.
Here we have an improved version of the class, along with some code for testing it:
class Wallet: def __init__(self): self.__money = 0 # A getter method @property def money(self): return self.__money # A setter method @money.setter def money(self, money): if money >= 0: self.__money = money else: raise ValueError("The amount must not be below zero")
wallet.money = -30 print(wallet.money)
ValueError: The amount must not be below zero
NB: the getter method, i.e. the
@property decorator, must be introduced before the setter method, or there will be an error when the class is executed. This is because the
@property decorator defines the name of the "attribute" offerred to the client. The setter method, added with
.setter, simply adds a new functionality to it.
The following example has a class with two private attributes, along with getters and setters for both. Please try the program out with different values passed as arguments:
class Player: def __init__(self, name: str, player_number: int): self.__name = name self.__player_number = player_number @property def name(self): return self.__name @name.setter def name(self, name: str): if name != "": self.__name = name else: raise ValueError("The name may not be an empty string") @property def player_number(self): return self.__player_number @player_number.setter def player_number(self, player_number: int): if player_number > 0: self.__player_number = player_number else: raise ValueError("The player number must be a positive integer")
player = Player("Betty Ballmer", 10) print(player.name) print(player.player_number) player.name = "Buster Ballmer" player.player_number = 11 print(player.name) print(player.player_number)
Betty Ballmer 10 Buster Ballmer 11
To finish off this section, let's take a look at a class which models a simple diary. All attributes are private, but they are handled through differing interfaces: the owner of the diary has getter and setter methods, but the diary entries are processed with "traditional" methods. In this case it makes sense to deny the client all access to the internal data structure of the diary. Only the public methods are directly visible to the client.
Encapsulation also ensures that the internal implementation of the class can be changed at will, provided that the public interface stays intact. The client does not have to know or care whether the internal data structure is based on lists, dictionaries, or something completely different.
class Diary: def __init__(self, owner: str): self.__owner = owner self.__entries =  @property def owner(self): return self.__owner @owner.setter def owner(self, owner): if owner != "": self.__owner = owner else: raise ValueError("The owner may not be an empty string") def add_entry(self, entry: str): self.__entries.append(entry) def print_entries(self): print("A total of", len(self.__entries), "entries") for entry in self.__entries: print("- " + entry)
diary = Diary("Peter") diary.add_entry("Today I ate porridge") diary.add_entry("Today I learned object oriented programming") diary.add_entry("Today I went to bed early") diary.print_entries()
A total of 3 entries
- Today I ate porridge
- Today I learned object oriented programming
- Today I went to bed early
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