Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies
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As you might imagine, creating a fully functional, production-grade class in Python (one that is used in a real-world application actually running on a system that is accessed by users) is time consuming because real classes perform a lot of tasks. Fortunately, Python supports a feature called inheritance. By using inheritance, you can obtain the features you want from a parent class when creating a child class.

Overriding the features that you don’t need and adding new features lets you create new classes relatively fast and with a lot less effort on your part. In addition, because the parent code is already tested, you don’t have to put quite as much effort into ensuring that your new class works as expected.

The following sections show how to build and use classes that inherit from each other.

Building the child class

Parent classes are normally supersets of something. For example, you might create a parent class named Car and then create child classes of various car types around it.

In this case, you build a parent class named Animal and use it to define a child class named Chicken. Of course, you can easily add other child classes after you have Animal in place, such as a Gorilla class. However, for this example, you build just the one parent and one child class.

class Animal:
 def __init__(self, Name=", Age=0, Type="):
  self.Name = Name
  self.Age = Age
  self.Type = Type
 def GetName(self):
  return self.Name
 def SetName(self, Name):
  self.Name = Name
 def GetAge(self):
  return self.Age
 def SetAge(self, Age):
  self.Age = Age
 def GetType(self):
  return self.Type
 def SetType(self, Type):
  self.Type = Type
 def __str__(self):
  return "{0} is a {1} aged {2}".format(self.Name,
class Chicken(Animal):
 def __init__(self, Name=", Age=0):
  self.Name = Name
  self.Age = Age
  self.Type = "Chicken"
 def SetType(self, Type):
  print("Sorry, {0} will always be a {1}"
   .format(self.Name, self.Type))
 def MakeSound(self):
  print("{0} says Cluck, Cluck, Cluck!".format(self.Name))
The Animal class tracks three characteristics: Name, Age, and Type. A production application would probably track more characteristics, but these characteristics do everything needed for this example. The code also includes the required accessors for each of the characteristics. The __str__() method completes the picture by printing a simple message stating the animal characteristics.

The Chicken class inherits from the Animal class. Notice the use of Animal in parentheses after the Chicken class name. This addition tells Python that Chicken is a kind of Animal, something that will inherit the characteristics of Animal.

Notice that the Chicken constructor accepts only Name and Age. The user doesn’t have to supply a Type value because you already know that it’s a chicken. This new constructor overrides the Animal constructor. The three attributes are still in place, but Type is supplied directly in the Chicken constructor.

Someone might try something funny, such as setting her chicken up as a gorilla. With this in mind, the Chicken class also overrides the SetType() setter. If someone tries to change the Chicken type, that user gets a message rather than the attempted change. Normally, you handle this sort of problem by using an exception, but the message works better for this example by making the coding technique clearer.

Finally, the Chicken class adds a new feature, MakeSound(). Whenever someone wants to hear the sound a chicken makes, he can call MakeSound() to at least see it printed on the screen.

Testing the class in an application

Testing the Chicken class also tests the Animal class to some extent. Some functionality is different, but some classes aren’t really meant to be used. The Animal class is simply a parent for specific kinds of animals, such as Chicken. The following steps demonstrate the Chicken class so that you can see how inheritance works.
  1. Open a Python File window.

    You see an editor in which you can type the example code.

  2. Type the following code into the window — pressing Enter after each line:

    import Animals
    MyChicken = Animals.Chicken("Sally", 2)
    MyChicken.SetAge(MyChicken.GetAge() + 1)

    The first step is to import the Animals module. Remember that you always import the filename, not the class. The file actually contains two classes in this case: Animal and Chicken.

    The example creates a chicken, MyChicken, named Sally, who is age 2. It then starts to work with MyChicken in various ways.

    For example, Sally has a birthday, so the code updates Sally’s age by 1. Notice how the code combines the use of a setter, SetAge(), with a getter, GetAge(), to perform the task. After each change, the code displays the resulting object values for you. The final step is to let Sally say a few words.

  3. Click Run Cell. You see each of the steps used to work with MyChicken, as shown in the figure below. As you can see, using inheritance can greatly simplify the task of creating new classes when enough of the classes have commonality so that you can create a parent class that contains some amount of the code.

    Extending classes to make new classes in Python

About This Article

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About the book author:

John Paul Mueller is a freelance author and technical editor with more than 107 books and 600 articles to his credit. His subjects range from networking and artificial intelligence to database management and heads-down programming. He also consults and writes certification exams. Visit his website at

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