I took the Python class at Google code today, and this is what I made for the problem about building a word counter.

Please take a look and suggest any improvements that can be done. Please do point out the bad practices if I have used any.

import sys

def make_dict(filename):
    """returns a word/count dictionary for the given input file"""
    wordcount_dict={}   #map each word to its count
    for word in words:
    for word in words:
    return  wordcount_dict

def print_words(filename):
    """prints each word in the file followed by its count"""
    for word in wordcount_dict.keys():
        print word, "  " , wordcount_dict[word]

def print_top(filename):
    """prints the words with the top 20 counts"""
    keys = wordcount_dict.keys()
    values = sorted(wordcount_dict.values())
    for x in xrange (1,21): #for the top 20 values
        for word in keys :
            if wordcount_dict[word]==values[-x]:
                print word, "       ",wordcount_dict[word]

def main():
  if len(sys.argv) != 3:
    print 'usage: ./wordcount.py {--count | --topcount} file'

  option = sys.argv[1]
  filename = sys.argv[2]
  if option == '--count':
  elif option == '--topcount':
    print 'unknown option: ' + option

if __name__ == '__main__':

3 Answers 3


I like the way you've broken down the code into functions, I think it makes sense and avoids repetition or duplication of code and functionality.

One slight improvement to consider here is to have print_words and print_top take the dictionary returned from make_dict rather than calling it as their first step. In addition to avoiding a tiny amount of duplicated code, this sort of "function composition" when used effectively can be a very powerful design pattern, allowing very expressive and readable code for more complicated problems than this one.

A few other specific thoughts:

In make_dict, you're reading the entire file contents into memory, and then processing each word twice. This works well enough for small files, but imagine that you had a 500 gigabyte text file? In this case, reading the file into memory ("buffering" it) will lead to a program crash, or at the very least, very bad performance.

Instead, you can actually iterate the file in a for loop, which will only read small portions of the file into memory at once. This requires a slight change to your logic in make_dict:

wordcount_dict={}   #map each word to its count
for line in myFile:
    # .strip() removes the newline character from the
    # end of the line, as well as any leading or trailing
    # white-space characters (spaces, tabs, etc)
    words = line.strip().lower().split()
    for word in words:
        if word not in wordcount_dict:
            wordcount_dict[word] = 0
        wordcount_dict[word] += 1

In print_words, you're using .keys() to get the words from the wordcount_dict, then accessing those keys from the dictionary. This works fine, but Python dictionaries allow you to get items (that is, key-value pairs) directly when iterating a dictionary, using .items() instead of .keys():

for word, count in wordcount_dict.items():
    print word, "  " , count

items() returns a list of length-2 tuples, and the for word, count in ... syntax "unpacks" those tuples into the variables word and count.

Building on this technique, we can simplify print_top as well. Once we have in hand a list of each (word, count) pair (the length-2 tuples), we can sort that list, and then print only the top 20 words (ranked by their count):

word_count_pairs = wordcount_dict.items()
    # use a "key" function to return the sort key
    # for each item in the list we are sorting; here
    # we return index 1 -- that is, the count -- to
    # sort by that
    key=lambda pair: pair[1],

    # reverse the sort so that the words with the
    # highest counts come first in the sorted list

# make a copy of the first 20 elements of the
# list, using slice notation
top_word_count_pairs = word_count_pairs[:20]

for word, count in top_word_count_pairs:
    print word, "       ",wordcount_dict[word]

If you have to prepare a word counter, then the more adequate container is collections.defaultdict

Then your make_dict function could be written much more simply:

def make_dict(filename):
    """returns a word/count dictionary for the given input file"""
    wordcount_dict = defaultdict(int)
    with open(filename, 'rU') as myFile:
        for line in myFile:
            words = line.strip().lower().split()
            for word in words:      
                wordcount_dict[word] += 1
    return wordcount_dict

Note that you don't need to care about initialization of dictionary entries for new keys for word counting, as defaultdict takes care of it.

Another different approach is to use OOP. That is, to create a word counter object with state initialization, methods and all the stuff. The code gets simplified, encapsulated and ready to be extended.

Below, there is a working OOP proposal. There are some improvements that can be implemented also in your functional version if you don't like OOP:

1) I simplified your methods. Now there is only one method print_words(self, number=None). If you want the best 20 then just indicate the number of words.

2) I included some optimizations to clean words that are splitted with punctuation characters (otherwise house, house. and house' would be counted as different), using constants from the string module.

non_chars = string.punctuation + string.whitespace
words = [item.strip(non_chars).lower() for item in line.split()]

3) I used operator.itemgetter for the sorting key (instead of lambdas. More readable, imho)

4) I used formatting for the print for a better look. Used classical %.

import operator
import string
from collections import defaultdict

class WordCounter(defaultdict):
    def __init__(self, filename):
        defaultdict.__init__(self, int)
        self.file = filename

    def _fill_it(self):
        "fill dictionary"
        non_chars = string.punctuation + string.whitespace
        with open(self.file, 'rU') as myFile:
            for line in myFile:
                words = [item.strip(non_chars).lower() for item in line.split()]
                for word in words:      
                    self[word] += 1

    def print_words(self, number=None):
        """prints the words with the top <number> counts"""
        wc_pairs = self.items()
        wc_pairs.sort(key=operator.itemgetter(1), reverse=True)
        number = number or len(wc_pairs)
        for word, count in wc_pairs[:number]:
            print "%-20s%5s" % (word, count)

my_wc = WordCounter('testme.txt')

print my_wc['aword']    # print 'aword' counts
my_wc.print_words()     # print all (sorted by counts)
my_wc.print_words(3)    # print top 3

And a final note: leaving a blank space before and after an operator and after commas in lists, increases readability of the text and is considered good practice.


I'd write make_dict function this way:

def make_dict(filename):
    with open(filename,'rU') as myFile:
        for line in myFile:
            words = line.strip().lower().split()
            for word in words:
                wordcount_dict.setdefault(word, 0)        
                wordcount_dict[word] += 1
    return wordcount_dict

With keyword closes file automatically if exception happens. {}.setdefault() is more pythonic than the condition which @dcrosta suggested.

What about main function, there is an excellent python library optparse, which helps parsing command line options. Check it if you need more complex user interface.

  • \$\begingroup\$ i was not aware of the setdefault() method of dictionary .with..as thing is new to me too..and about optparse , i am just starting out .So I guess i'll check that out later..thanks for the tip though :) \$\endgroup\$
    – tarashish
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 10:08

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