This note aims at providing an overview of data-input methods in Python.

So far, we have indirectly discussed several methods of getting input information from the user, and several methods of outputting the result in a Python program. This note attempts to formalize all the previous discussions and introduce more general efficient methods of the code interaction with users. Let’s begin with example code, explaining the meaning of input/output (I/O) in Python,

from math import exp
a = 0.1
b = 1
x = 0.6
y = a*exp(b*x)
print(y)

0.1822118800390509


In the above code, $a,b,x$ are examples of input data to code, and $y$ is an example of code output. In such case as in the above, the input data is said to be hardcoded in the program.

In general, input data can be fed to a program in four different ways:

2. let the user provide input on the command line,
3. let the user provide input data in a file,
4. let the user write input data in a graphical interface.

## Input data from the terminal window

We have already introduced and used this method frequently in previous notes, via the Python’s builtin function input(). If we were to get the input data for the above example code via the terminal window, an example would be the following,

from math import exp
a,b,x = input('input the values for a,b,x (comma separated): ').split(",")
y = float(a)*exp(float(b)*float(x))
print(y)

input the values for a,b,x (comma separated): 0.1,1,0.6
0.1822118800390509


## Input data from the command line

This approach, which we discussed in the previous notes, is most popular in Unix-like environments, where most users are accustomed to using the Bash command line. However, it can be readily used in the Windows environment as well. For this approach, there is a Python module sys that can accomplish what we desire,

from math import exp
import sys
a,b,x = sys.argv[1],sys.argv[2],sys.argv[3]
y = float(a)*exp(float(b)*float(x))
print(y)


Now if you save this code in a file named input_via_sys.py, and run it on the Bash command line, the program expects you the enter 3 float numbers following the name of the program,

## Input data from a file

In cases where the input data is large, the command-line arguments and input from a terminal window are not efficient anymore. In such cases, the most common approach is to let the code read input data from a file, the path to which is most often given to the code from the command line or the terminal window.

### Reading a file line by line

To read a file, say this file, one first needs to open it,

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
type(myfile)

_io.TextIOWrapper

myfile.<press tab>
myfile.buffer         myfile.detach         myfile.fileno         myfile.line_buffering myfile.newlines       myfile.readline       myfile.seekable       myfile.writable
myfile.closed         myfile.errors         myfile.isatty         myfile.name           myfile.readable       myfile.seek           myfile.truncate       myfile.writelines


The function open creates a file object, stored in the variable myfile. The second input argument to open, 'r' tells the function that the purpose of this file opening is to read data (as opposed to, for example, writing data, or both reading and writing).

Now you can use a for loop to read the data in this file line by line:

for line in myfile:
print(line)

1

3

4

5

6

7

88

65


What is printed here, is actually the content of data.in file, line by line.

### Alternative method of reading a data file

Instead of reading one line at a time, as in the above, we can load all lines into a single list of strings,

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
type(lines)

list


Note that each element of line contains one line of the file.

lines

['1\n', '3\n', '4\n', '5\n', '6\n', '7\n', '88\n', '65\n']


The action of the method readlines() is equivalent to a for-loop like the following,

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
lines = []
for line in myfile:
lines.append(line)
lines

['1\n', '3\n', '4\n', '5\n', '6\n', '7\n', '88\n', '65\n']


or this list comprehension format,

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
lines = [line for line in myfile]
lines

['1\n', '3\n', '4\n', '5\n', '6\n', '7\n', '88\n', '65\n']


Now suppose you were to calculate the mean of the numbers in this file. You could simply use the following list comprehension code to do so,

mean = sum([float(line) for line in lines])/len(lines)
print(mean)

22.375


Note that once you read the file, you can close it using,

myfile.close()


### The with statement

Frequently in modern Python code, you may see the with statement for reading a file, like the following,

with open('data.in', 'r') as myfile:
for line in myfile:
print(line)

1

3

4

5

6

7

88

65


This is technically equivalent to,

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
for line in myfile:
print(line)
myfile.close()

1

3

4

5

6

7

88

65


The difference here is that with the modern with statement, there is no need to close the file in the end.

### The old while True construction

The call myfile.readline() returns a string containing the text at the current line. Adding a new myfile.readline() will read the next line. If the file reaches the end, then myfile.readline() returns an empty string, the end of the file has reached and the code must stop the further reading of the file. The traditional way of telling the code to stop at the end of the file is a while loop like the following,

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
while True:
if not line:
break
print(line)

1

3

4

5

6

7

88

65


### Reading an entire file as a single string

While the readlines() method returns a list of lines in the file, the read() method returns a string containing the entire content of the file.

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
s

'1\n3\n4\n5\n6\n7\n88\n65\n'

print(s)

1
3
4
5
6
7
88
65


The major advantage of this method of reading file content is that you can then immediately apply string methods directly on the file content.

myfile = open('data.in', 'r')
numbers = [float(x) for x in myfile.read().split()]
mean = sum(numbers)/len(numbers)
print(mean)

22.375


### Reading data from special data files

It will happen quite often in your research that you will need to read data from a spreadsheet data file, most importantly *.csv and Microsoft Excel files (e.g., *.xls data files), or also frequently, from an *.xml data file. There are many ways and Python libraries to read such files. For Excel files, the task can be a bit complex, since Excel files can contain multiple sheets. A good starting point might be this webpage, also Pandas module.

For CSV files, Python standard library has a solution. Suppose you want to read this CSV file. A Python solution would be the following,

import csv
with open('data_input.csv','r') as myfile:
print(row)
if counter>10: break

['pdb', 'pdb_id', 'chain', 'site', 'zr4s_JTT', 'r4s_JTT', 'zr4s_JC', 'r4s_JC']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '2', '-0.3133', '1.02', '0.04475', '1.188']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '3', '0.8385', '1.955', '0.2036', '1.311']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '4', '2.093', '2.973', '1.451', '2.272']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '5', '-0.8878', '0.5537', '-0.7985', '0.5382']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '6', '-1.443', '0.1028', '-1.426', '0.05416']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '7', '-0.1195', '1.177', '-0.07917', '1.093']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '8', '-0.7236', '0.6869', '-0.8997', '0.4602']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '9', '-1.107', '0.3755', '-0.8971', '0.4622']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '10', '0.7076', '1.848', '0.7369', '1.722']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '11', '0.9573', '2.051', '0.8809', '1.833']
['132L_A', '132L', 'A', '12', '-0.8315', '0.5993', '-0.9243', '0.4413']


Note how I have used Python enumerate() function to control the number of lines that is read from the file (The file contains more than 70000 lines of data!).

Similarly, if you wanted to write a CSV file, you can use csv.writer() method,

with open('data_input.csv','r') as infile, open('data_output.csv', 'w') as outfile:
csv.writer(outfile).writerow(row)
if counter>10: break


The output of the code is the file data_output.csv (If you run this code on Windows machines, you may get an extra empty line between each row in the CSV file).

For *.xml files, Python standard library has a package ElementTree, which you can use for both parsing and writing xml data files.

### Reading data from the World Wide Web

Nowadays, a lot of data repositories are available online to the public community, and you may encounter problems that need to parse data from an online repository. Such problems happen almost daily in a scientific research career, even in High-Performance Computing, and Python’s capability to easily handle such data-IO problems is indeed one of the main reasons for its popularity.

For many of the most famous repositories, such as the Protein databank, excellent python packages have been written that automate the process of fetching data from online pages or repositories (e.g., Biopython).

Nevertheless, at some point in your research or career, you may need to read data from a web address by yourself. Frequently, the online data is contained in an HTML file, like the contents of this very page that you are reading right now. Suppose you wanted to extract the contents of an HTML page, say, The Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), which has the URL: https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html. A simple solution would be the following via Python’s standard function urllib module,

import urllib.request as ur
myurl = 'https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html'
with ur.urlopen(myurl) as webfile:
webcontent = [line.decode("utf-8") for line in webfile.readlines()]


Now the variable webcontent is a list, whose elements are each row in the HTML file for this page.

webcontent[0:10]

['<!doctype html>\n',
'<html>\n',
'<title>Astronomy Picture of the Day\n',
'</title> \n',
'<!-- gsfc meta tags -->\n',
'<meta name="orgcode" content="661">\n',
'<meta name="rno" content="phillip.a.newman">\n',
'<meta name="content-owner" content="Jerry.T.Bonnell.1">\n',
'<meta name="webmaster" content="Stephen.F.Fantasia.1">\n']


Note that the content of the file is read in byte format. Therefore, to convert it to a string, one has to apply .decode("utf-8") on each line, as we did in the above. Similar to opening a file on a hard disk, one can also use .read() and .readline() methods to read the contents of the web address. Alternatively, one could also save the entire content of the web address, in a single file locally,

import urllib.request as ur
myurl = 'https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html'
ur.urlretrieve(myurl, filename='apod.html')


This will output the file named apod.html in your current working directory of Python’s Interpreter that you are using.

The file that we just imported from the web does not contain any scientific raw research data (of course, it is highly scientific content, but in the form of astronomical news, not data). Later on, we will see real-world scientific examples that show the value of Python’s ability to parse the contents of web pages.

## Converting user input to live Python objects

One of the cool features in Python I/O is that you can provide text containing valid Python code as input to a program and then turn that text into live Python objects as if the text were lines of code written directly into the program beforehand. This is a very powerful tool for letting users specify function formulas, for instance, as input to a program. The program code itself has no knowledge about the kind of function the user wants to work with, yet at run time the user’s desired formula enters the computations. To achieve the goal, one can use Python’s magic functions, a.k.a. special methods.

### The magic eval function

The eval function takes a string as argument and evaluates this string as a Python expression. The result of an expression is an object. For example,

eval('1+2')

3


This is equivalent to typing,

1+2

3


or another example,

a = 1
b = 2
c = eval('a+b')
c

3


or,

from math import sqrt
eval('sqrt(4)')

2.0


But, note that in all of the above examples, the eval function evaluates a Python expression, that is, this function can not execute a Python statement.

Now the cool thing about this function is that you can directly apply it to the user input. For example, suppose the user is asked to input a Python expression and then the code is supposed to evaluate the input just like a simple calculator,

eval(input('Input an arithmetic expression to evaluate: '))

Input an arithmetic expression to evaluate: 2 + 3.0/5 + exp(7)
1099.2331584284584


### The magic exec function

Similar to the eval function, there is also an exec magic function that executes a string containing an arbitrary Python code, not just a Python expression. This is a powerful idea since it now enables the user to write a formula as input to the program, available to the program in the form of a string object. The program can then convert this formula to a callable Python code, or function, using the magic exec function.

exec('import math')
exec('a=1; b=2; c=a+b')
a,b,c

(1, 2, 3)


One could even input a full function definition to the exec function,

myFuncString = input('Input a Python function definition of interest: ')
f = exec(myFuncString)

Input a Python function definition of interest, named func: def func(x): return 2*x + 1

func(x=1)

3


Now, since this is such a useful functionality in Python, there is already a package written scitools, that converts an input expression to a Python function,

from scitools.StringFunction import StringFunction
myfuncString = input('Input a Python expression to build your requested Python function: ')
myfunc = StringFunction(myfuncString)


The only major caveat with this module is that, at the moment, it only works with Python 2.x, and not Python 3. So, the above code will not work on your Python 3 platform.