MIT 6.00SC |Lecture 11 | OOP and Inheritance


Object oriented programming started with the development of these 2 programming language.

These languages were not able to propel the OOP concepts till the advent of Java , followed by C++ and Python.

Abstract Data Type

The core of all Object Oriented programming is Abstract Data Type. The fundamental use of Abstract data type is that we can add user defined data type which behave just like a Built in Data type.

The question arises that why do we call it Abstract Data Type? and not just data type.

The reason for this is, because we define

  • Interface: Explains what the methods do. What they do at the level of the user and not how do they do it.
  • Specification : The idea of interface is dependent on Specification, Which is a set of rules which lets what a method does.

Let See an example for this:-

class intSet(object):
"""An intSet is a set of integer."""
def __init__(self):
"""Create an empty set of integer"""
self.numBuckets = 47
self.vals = []
for i in range(self.numBuckets):
def hashE(self,e):
#Private Function, should not be used outside the class.
return abs(e)%len(self.vals)
def insert(self,e):
"""Assumes e is an integer, and insert e into self"""
for i in self.vals[self.hashE(e)]:
if i == e:
def member(self,e):
"""Assumes e is an integer,
Returns True, if e is in self, else False"""
return e in self.vals[self.hashE(e)]
def __str__(self):
"""Returns a string representation of self"""
elem = []
for buckets in self.vals:
for e in buckets:
result = ''
for e in elem:
result = result + str(e) +','
return '{' +result[:-1]+"}"

Lets dissect the code written above.

  • class intSet(object)
  • The first thing which we find is, we are defining a new data type called intSet. Which is done by using the keyword class.
  • The parameter is a object. We will discuss this object when we discuss about inheritance.
  • def __init__(self):
  • when we see, anything with __ in the name like __init__, it has a special meaning, particularly this function __init__ is called when a object of intSet is initialize, which initialize two variable/ attribute.
  • self.numBuckets = 47
  • self.vals = []
  • self: what does this means. To understand this, consider the below example:-
s = intSet()
print self.numBucket

The above code gives error.

NameError: name 'self' is not defined

The reason being, self is not available in the global scope.This code will however work.

print s.numBuckets

To understand this, we can say numBuckets and vals are attributes of the object s which is instance of the class intSet. self is used to refer the object being created.
We can also note that __init__ takes a parameter self, but when we created intSet() we did not pass any object, the reason being, the __init__ has a special magic, in which it take self as a parameter, even when it is not passed.
* def hashE(self,e):
– This is private function, as specified by the comment in the function, this function is not exposed as a interface. This is a convention and not enforced by the language, so this means that we can call this outside, just like any other interface, But good programmers always Program to the specification and not implementation.
* def insert(self,e):
– This is a exposed method, if we see the formal parameters of these we have two arguments, self and e.
– We call insert like this s.insert(i), what this does is, s before the dot is passed to the self formal parameter and i is passed to e.
– By convention, the first argument is always called self in python. It is not enforced, but it is a convention.
* def __str__(self):
– This is again a special method, what is means is when we call print "s: ", s, it will invoke __str__.
* We should not reference the data element of the class like, print "s.vals: ", s.vals, because this is not part of the specification. So if we reference it, it might break in future. So the implementation of vals may not be present in the future, so the program should work. Always remember the golden words Program to the specification and not implementation. This concept is called Data Hiding.

Data Hiding

This is the only fundamental which makes Abstract data type useful. Java provides a mechanism to enforce data hiding, but not in python.

The things which we are hiding are:-

  • Instance variables: Variables which are associated with each instance of the class. ex. numBuckets and vals.
  • We get a new copy of these variables when we create a new instance.
  • Class Variable:  Variables which are associated with a class.
  • We only have one copy of the class variable, like we have just one Class


When we design program using OOP, we are not looking at the implementation details, we should be able to think in terms of abstraction. Inheritance is a important feature in this regards.

Inheritance is used to setup hierarchy of Abstraction. The idea is to identify the similarity between most of the object and make a class which will have this common functionality. We should be able to identify if there is a shared attributes between different class.

So to design a MIT Database the base class will look like this:-

import datetime

class Person(object):
def __init__(self, name):
#Create a person with name = name
firstBlank = name.rindex(' ')
# print "__init__: firstBlank: ", firstBlank
self.lastName = name[firstBlank+1:]
except :
self.lastName = name
self.birthDay = None
def getLastName(self):
#returns self's last name
return self.lastName
def setBirthday(self,birthDate):
#assumes that self's birthday is of type
#sets self's birthday to birthDate
assert type(birthDate) ==
self.birthDay = birthDate
def getAge(self):
#assumes that self's birthday is set
#returns self's age in days
assert self.birthDay != None
return ( - self.birthDay).days
def __lt__(self,other):
#returns True if self name is lexicographically greater
#than other's name, and False Otherwise
if self.lastName == other.lastName:
return <
return self.lastName < other.lastName
def __str__(self):

Now lets dissect this code:-

  • def __init__(self, name): is the same as before, nothing new, it will be called when the object is created, with the parameter name.
  • def getLastName(self): is a method which will return me the value of the attribute lastName, the reason this method is present is because we do not want user of this abstraction to have access to the data attribute lastName directly, so that we can put some checks in place.
  • Mostly we will have method which will fetch get something, which will return the information about the instance of the class.
  • def setBirthday(self,birthDate): this is a set method, the reason for its existence is similar to get method.
  • def __lt__(self,other): this is another of those magic method, this will be used to compare two object of Person type. The reason we are using __lt__ and not any function name as less etc, is because __lt__ is predefined in Python, just like __str__ which will be called automatically when we will do comparison &lt; on Person object. So this Person class will behave exactly like any inbuilt data type, but if we have a special function name like less though it will get the job done, but it will not be same as inbuilt data type.

Lets consider this class:-

class MITPerson(Person):
nextIDNum = 0
def __init__(self, name):
#super(MITPerson, self).__init__()
self.idNum = MITPerson.nextIDNum
MITPerson.nextIDNum += 1
def getIdNum(self):
return self.idNum
def __lt__(self, other):
return self.idNum < other.idNum
def isStudent(self):
return type(self)==UG or type(self)==G
  • The class MITPerson is a subclass of Person, because we are passing Person as a argument in place of Object which we were passing till now, in this line, class MITPerson(Person):, so what this means is I want all the attributes of class Person, but MITPerson will have some additional attributes and functionality.
  • nextIDNum = 0 is a class variable, that means this is common to the class and not to just one object of the class. So this is shared across object of this class type.
  • def __lt__(self, other): The base class, Person also had __lt__ method, which I am overriding here. Overriding helps in modifying the base class methods to suits the sub class attributes. Because in the case of MITPerson we want to check the comparison based on nextIDNum and not the firstName or lastName basis as done in the Person class.
  • Consider that some time we need to use the functionality provided in the super class and not the overridden functionality in the subclass, we can use it by calling Person.__lt__(p1, p2)
  • p4 &lt; p3 : when we do comparision like this, what it will do is take p4, checking is __lt__ method and pass p3 as a argument.

Now consider this new class:-

class UG(MITPerson):
def __init__(self, name):
MITPerson.__init__(self, name)
self.year = None
def setYear(self, year):
if year > 5:
raise OverflowError('Too many')
self.year = year
def getYear(self):
return self.year

Lets dissect this code:-

  • class UG(MITPerson): UG is a subclass of MITPerson.
  • MITPerson.__init__(self, name): What is piece of code is doing is that it will call MITPersons __init__ and then continue to initialize itself.
  • What happens when we call this ug2 &lt; ug1?
  • The reason for this question is because we do not have __lt__ function in UG class, so since it is inheriting from MITPerson, it will invoke the __lt__ of MITPerson, if it was not present in MITPerson, then it will go further up in the hierarchy till it reaches object.

Now consider this class:-

class G(MITPerson):

g1 = G('Mitch Peabody')
  • Now as you can see the class G is not doing anything just saying pass, this means, G is a MITPerson with no special property.
  • The reason for doing this is we can check for type. As this will be type(g1) will be G



  1. MIT OCW
  2. Lecture Code handout (PDF)
  3. Lecture code (Py)

Further Study

  1. StackOverFlow | Python – why use “self” in a class?

Check Yourself

What is an instance?

What is an abstract data type?

What is encapsulation?

What is data hiding?

What functions can subclasses use?

Question in mind

  • Since python does not enforce data hiding, is there a naming convention to identify private members of a class.
  • Why is Data hiding not enforced in Python like Java.

The answers to the above question can be found here.


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