Python Dictionaries: A Comprehensive Guide to Basic and Advanced Operations

Python dictionaries, one of the most dynamic and widely-used data structures in Python, offer a versatile and powerful tool for efficient and flexible programming. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the basics of Python dictionaries and explore advanced operations to help you harness the full potential of this indispensable data structure.

Table of Contents

What is Python Dictionary?

A dictionary in Python is a collection of key-value pairs where keys are unique and mapped to corresponding values. Each key is unique, and it maps to a corresponding value. Dictionaries are mutable, meaning you can modify them after creation, making them incredibly versatile for a wide range of applications. 

# Example of a Python Dictionary 

my_dict = {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 23, 'city': 'Ghaziabad'} 

Basic Operations on Python Dictionaries

Creating a Dictionary

Creating a dictionary is straightforward. You can initialize an empty dictionary or a dictionary with key-value pairs using curly braces {}. 

# Empty Dictionary 

empty_dict = {} 

# Dictionary with elements 

my_dict = {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 23, 'city': 'Ghaziabad'} 

Accessing Elements 

You can access the value associated with a key by using the key within square brackets. 

# Accessing elements 

print(my_dict['name'])  # Output: 'Tarun' 

print(my_dict['age'])   # Output: 23 

Modifying Elements

Dictionaries are mutable, so you can update the value associated with a key. 

# Modifying elements 

my_dict['age'] = 24 

print(my_dict)  # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 24, 'city': 'Ghaziabad'} 

Adding Elements

You can append new key-value pairs to a dictionary. 

# Adding elements 

my_dict['job'] = 'Engineer' 

print(my_dict)  # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 24, 'city': 'Ghaziabad', 'job': 'Engineer'} 

Removing Elements

You can remove a key-value pair from a dictionary using the del keyword or the pop() method. 

# Removing elements 

del my_dict['job'] 

print(my_dict)  # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 24, 'city': 'Ghaziabad'} 



print(my_dict)  # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'city': 'Ghaziabad'} 

Dictionary Length

You can get the number of key-value pairs in a dictionary using the len() function. 

# Dictionary length 

print(len(my_dict))  # Output: 2 

Advanced Operations on Dictionaries

Dictionary Methods

Python provides various built-in methods for manipulating dictionaries, such as keys(), values(), and items(). 

# Dictionary methods 

print(my_dict.keys())    # Output: dict_keys(['name', 'city']) 

print(my_dict.values())  # Output: dict_values(['Tarun', 'Ghaziabad']) 

print(my_dict.items())   # Output: dict_items([('name', 'Tarun'), ('city', 'Ghaziabad')]) 

Built-in Functions

Python offers built-in functions like len(), sorted(), and sum() that can be used with dictionaries. 

# Built-in functions 

print(len(my_dict))          # Output: 2 

print(sorted(my_dict.keys()))# Output: ['city', 'name'] 

Dictionary Comprehensions

Similar to list comprehensions, you can use dictionary comprehensions to create dictionaries in a concise manner. 

# Dictionary comprehension 

squares = {x: x*x for x in (2, 3, 4)} 

print(squares)  # Output: {2: 4, 3: 9, 4: 16} 

Dictionary Iteration

You can iterate over a dictionary using a for loop to access keys, values, or key-value pairs. 

# Dictionary iteration 

for key in my_dict:
    print(key, my_dict[key]) 

Dictionary Views

Dictionary views (keys(), values(), items()) provide dynamic views on the dictionary’s contents, allowing you to observe changes. 

# Dictionary views 

keys_view = my_dict.keys() 

my_dict['job'] = 'Engineer' 

print(keys_view)  # Output: dict_keys(['name', 'city', 'job']) 

Nested Dictionaries

Dictionaries can contain other dictionaries, allowing you to create nested data structures. 

# Nested dictionaries 

employees = { 

    'employee1': {'name': 'John', 'age': 30}, 

    'employee2': {'name': 'Jane', 'age': 25} 


Merging Dictionaries

You can merge two dictionaries using the update() method or dictionary unpacking. 

# Merging dictionaries 

dict1 = {'a': 11, 'b': 22} 

dict2 = {'b': 33, 'c': 44} 



print(dict1)  # Output: {'a': 11, 'b': 33, 'c': 44} 

Dictionary Sorting

While dictionaries are inherently unordered, you can sort them by keys or values using the sorted() function. 

# Dictionary sorting 

sorted_dict = dict(sorted(my_dict.items(), key=lambda x: x[0])) 

print(sorted_dict)  # Output: {'city': 'Ghaziabad', 'job': 'Engineer', 'name': 'Tarun'}

Dictionary Membership

You can check if a key exists in a dictionary using the in and not in operators. 

# Dictionary membership 

print('name' in my_dict)  # Output: True 

print('job' not in my_dict)  # Output: True 

Dictionary Copying

Be cautious when copying dictionaries as simply assigning one dictionary to another creates a reference, not a copy. 

# Copying dictionaries 

new_dict = my_dict.copy() 

print(new_dict)  # Output : {'name': 'Tarun', 'city': 'Ghaziabad', 'job': 'Engineer'}

Dictionary Aliasing

When you assign a dictionary to another variable, both variables refer to the same memory location. Any changes made to one variable will reflect in the other. 

# Dictionary aliasing 

alias_dict = my_dict 

alias_dict['city'] = 'Los Angeles' 

print(my_dict)  # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'city': 'Los Angeles', 'job': 'Engineer'}

Dictionary get() Method

The get() method allows you to retrieve the value for a specified key. If the key does not exist, it returns a default value, which is None by default. 

# Using get() method 

print(my_dict.get('name'))     # Output: 'Tarun' 

print(my_dict.get('salary'))   # Output: None 

print(my_dict.get('salary', 0))# Output: 0

Dictionary setdefault() Method

The setdefault() method retrieves the value of a key from the dictionary. If the key is not present, it adds the key with a designated value. 

# Using setdefault() method 

print(my_dict.setdefault('name', 'Jane'))  # Output: 'Jane' 

print(my_dict.setdefault('salary', 5000))  # Output: 5000 

print(my_dict)  # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'city': 'Los Angeles', 'job': 'Engineer', 'salary': 5000}

Dictionary clear() Method

The clear() method removes all items from the dictionary. 

# Using clear() method 


print(my_dict)   # Output: {} 

Dictionary fromkeys() Method

The fromkeys() method creates a new dictionary with keys from a sequence and values set to a specified value. 

# Using fromkeys() method 

keys = ['name', 'age', 'city'] 

default_value = 'Unknown' 

new_dict = dict.fromkeys(keys, default_value) 

print(new_dict)  # Output: {'name': 'Unknown', 'age': 'Unknown', 'city': 'Unknown'} 

Dictionary popitem() Method

The popitem() method removes and returns the last/latest key-value pair added to the dictionary. 

# Using popitem() method 

person = {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 23, 'city': 'Ghaziabad'} 

print(person.popitem())  # Output: ('city', 'Ghaziabad') 

print(person)            # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 23} 

Dictionary update() Method with Iterable of Key-Value Pairs

The update() method can also accept an iterable of key-value pairs. 

# Using update() method with an iterable of key-value pairs 

person.update([('city', 'Los Angeles'), ('job', 'Engineer')]) 

print(person)  # Output: {'name': 'Tarun', 'age': 23, 'city': 'Los Angeles', 'job': 'Engineer'} 


Python dictionaries are incredibly versatile and offer a wide array of operations and methods to manipulate key-value pairs efficiently. From the basics of creating, accessing, and modifying dictionaries to advanced techniques like aliasing, using get(), setdefault(), and more, dictionaries provide a robust set of tools for various programming needs. 

Understanding these advanced operations will further enhance your proficiency in using dictionaries effectively in Python. With this comprehensive guide, you’re well-equipped to leverage the full capabilities of dictionaries in your Python projects. Happy coding! 

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