Back to articles list Articles
8 minutes read

A Brief History of Python

Python is one of the most popular programming languages of our time. It is widely used by programmers around the world. Big tech companies, small businesses, start-ups, freelancers – they are all eager to use the capabilities it offers. What is the history of Python? Who is behind its success?

In 2021, Python turned 30 and had a lot to celebrate. It is now among the most popular programming languages according to a Stack Overflow report.

There are many arguments for using Python. Its clarity and simplicity make it the perfect choice for beginners. So, if you are still wondering how to start your programming journey, learn Python with a comprehensive basic training path online. You can even start from scratch!

It is one thing to learn Python. It is also interesting to understand how Python has become what it is today. It has quite an impressive history.

A Benevolent Dictator for Life

It was Christmas time 1989 in the Netherlands. Guido van Rossum was sitting at home thinking about how to spend a week off while the office where he was working was closed. He wanted something interesting to work on to keep him occupied.

At that time, he was working at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) on the Amoeba project. It was a microkernel-based distributed system for which he was developing system utilities. While on this project, van Rossum realized that coding in C took a lot of time. He thought: how useful would it be to create a language to help him complete his work faster?

He wanted to create a scripting language, more easily programmable and readable than shell scripts. It was to be a descendant of the ABC language that would appeal to Unix and C hackers. With some free time on his hand at Christmas, van Rossum began to flesh out the idea that popped into his head.

He immediately came up with the name "Python" for his new hobby project. He was a fan of the British surreal comedy troupe Monty Python, and as he admits, it was suitably irreverent for what was essentially a "skunkworks project." The name was short, catchy, a little edgy, and in keeping with the tradition of naming programming languages after famous people.

Guido van Rossum wanted this new language to be clear and easy to learn. It is based on a simplified use of the English language and open-source code. The philosophy of Python is summarized in "The Zen of Python," which states the 19 guiding principles for writing computer programs that have influenced the design of the Python language. To display it, run the following command in the Python interpreter:

>>> import this
history of python

In 1995, van Rossum became Python's Benevolent Dictator for Life (BDFL), a title first bestowed upon him and given to a small number of open-source software development leaders. He had joined the Corporation for National Research Initiatives to advance the language, and they were forming a semi-formal group to oversee its development. The term appeared in a follow-up mail by Ken Manheimer after one of the meetings.

After many years of holding this iconic title, with the story of Python already written in hundreds of pages, van Rossum announced in 2018 that he would step down as a BDFL of Python.

The Evolution of Python

Working at CWI (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica) at that time, van Rossum discussed the future of Python with his manager. They eventually agreed to publish it open-source. It may seem obvious today, but the business model for developing programming languages was still unclear in 1991.

02.1991 Python 0.9.0

February 1991 was a historic date. Guido van Rossum published the source code of the Python interpreter to alt.source, a Usenet group for open-source code. Thus began the dynamic story of Python, and open-sourcing helped Python succeed.

The first version, Python 0.9.0, was inspired by the ABC language van Rossum was implementing at CWI at that time. Its main goal was to take the best from ABC and fix the rest. This first Python release had the following important features:

  • Classes with inheritance exception handling.
  • Functions.
  • Modules.
  • Core data types like list, dict, and str.

01.1994 Python 1.0

Another milestone in the history of Python came with the release of its second version in January 1994. A separate Usenet group was created for this purpose.

Additional functionalities were implemented with this version:

  • Functional programming tools (lambda, map, filter, and reduce).
  • Support for complex numbers.
  • Functions with keyword arguments.

The popularity of Python started to grow at that time. The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. became interested in using this new language for their standards-related projects. They invited van Rossum as an expert to boost their Python skills.

Thanks to the NIST support, van Rossum started participating in conferences. He was invited to lead workshops and spread information about Python. As a result, some key contributors became interested in the project and had a significant impact on the evolution of the language.

A short time after, van Rossum was offered a position at CNRI (Corporation for National Research Initiatives). This allowed him to create a team of Python enthusiasts and release its subsequent versions. Also, an official website and a mailing list were created for Python.

10.2000 Python 2.0

With this version, Python started to build toward its future form as a reliable language with a comfortable development experience. Important features introduced in this version included the following:

  • List comprehension.
  • Cycle-detecting garbage collector.
  • Support for Unicode.
  • Unification of data types and classes.

12.2008 Python 3.0

The work on this version began back in 2000. Developers wanted to streamline the language and eliminate unnecessary language constructs and functions that had accumulated during almost 20 years of Python's existence.

Python 3.0 was backward-incompatible and brought some unexpected complications. It turned out Python was being widely used and often depended on other Python libraries. While it was easy to move one's scripts to Python 3, it was much harder to move programs that relied on third-party libraries since they didn't upgrade quickly.

Even with all the difficulties, the improvements in this version were important. The features implemented in Python 3.0 included the following:

  • The print keyword was changed to the print() function.
  • The raw_input() function was deprecated.
  • It unified the str and unicode types.
  • It included utilities for automatic conversion of Python 2.x code.

The migration from Python 2 was finally completed with its retirement in 2020.

10.2020 Python 3.9

The rapid growth of Python's popularity began in 2010. Soon, Python was competing with the most popular languages like Java and JavaScript.

Other features have been implemented in this current version of Python:

  • Dictionary merge and mpdate operators.
  • New removeprefix() and removesuffix() string methods.
  • Built-in generic types.

Python's popularity grew with the rise of fields such as machine learning and Big Data. But it owes much of its position to the number of developers using Python in their everyday work.

Libraries and Frameworks

Python is very popular for many things, and one of them is its extensibility. The evolution of Python includes the emergence of some tools without which it would not exist. If you have started or are interested in learning Python, you may have already heard about its libraries and frameworks.

Python has thousands of libraries that contain packages to perform specific operations. Developers can find reusable chunks of code in libraries to reduce the number of lines in their own code.

Some of the most popular libraries are:

  • This is an open-source library for deep-learning applications built by the Google Brain Team. The initial version was released in 2015 under Apache License 2.0.
  • NumPy, or Numerical Python. Created by Travis Oliphant in 2015, it is a key library for scientific and mathematical computing.
  • Initially released in 2008, this data manipulation and analysis tool was created by Wes McKinney.

Frameworks are usually more complex than libraries. They contain the basic flow and architecture of an application.

There are many popular web frameworks for Python. Here are some of them:

  • A web framework that makes it easier to build better web apps more quickly and with less code.
  • A developer-focused tool with all the features needed for rapid development, perfect for beginners getting their first web app deployed.
  • A rapid web development web framework for creating a database-driven, ready-to-extend application in minutes.

If you need more explanation, read about the different concepts in Python here. And check out the Python Wiki for more frameworks and other information about Python.

Python Today

Python is now widely used in many different areas. Web development is one of them. If you are thinking about a career as a developer, you can bet you will use Python. Thanks to frameworks like Django and Flask, Python is a perfect option for quick web development.

history of python

Another field where Python is a must-have is machine learning. Libraries like TensorFlow and Keras provide invaluable support for machine learning.

Data science has had some of the hottest jobs as of late, and Python comes in handy here also. Thanks to its simplicity, Python allows people to learn it quickly even when they have no previous IT experience.

It doesn't look like the current popularity of Python is going to wane anytime soon. Its wide application and the growing need in the labor market for specialists with Python skills serve as an invitation and a motivation to learn it now.

If you are not sure if you want to learn Python, start with resources right at your fingertips. Start on YouTube with some interesting Python channels or listen to Python podcasts. If you prefer an old-school approach, reach for one of the Python books. There are countless possibilities.

Then, when you are ready, take one of the online Python courses where you can learn and practice with lots of real-world examples and activities. The world of Python awaits you!