How to read this lecture...

Code should execute sequentially if run in a Jupyter notebook

Setting up Your Python Environment


This lecture is intended to be the first step on your Python journey

In it you will learn how to

  1. get a Python environment up and running with all the necessary tools
  2. execute simple Python commands
  3. run a sample program
  4. install the Python programs that underpin these lectures

Important Notes

The core Python package is easy to install but not what you should choose for these lectures

These lectures require the entire scientific programming ecosystem, which

  • the core installation doesn’t provide
  • is painful to install one piece at a time

Hence the best approach for our purposes is to install a free Python distribution that contains

  1. the core Python language and
  2. the most popular scientific libraries

Please read on for instructions

First Steps

While there are several such distributions, we highly recommend Anaconda

Anaconda is

  • very popular
  • cross platform
  • comprehensive
  • completely unrelated to the Nicki Minaj song of the same name

Anaconda also comes with a great package management system to organize your code libraries

All of what follows assumes that you adopt this recommendation!

Installing Anaconda

Installing Anaconda is straightforward: download the binary and follow the instructions

Important points:

  • Install the latest version (using Python 3.6)
  • If you are asked during the installation process whether you’d like to make Anaconda your default Python installation, say yes
  • Otherwise you can accept all of the defaults

Package Management

The packages in Anaconda contain the various scientific libraries used in day to day scientific programming

Anaconda supplies a great tool called conda to keep your packages organized and up to date

One conda command you should execute regularly is the one that updates the whole Anaconda distribution

As a practice run, please execute the following

  1. Open up a terminal

    • If you don’t know what a terminal is

      • For Mac users, see this guide
      • For Windows users, search for the cmd application or see this guide
      • Linux users – you already know what a terminal is
  2. Type conda update anaconda

(If you’ve already installed Anaconda and it was a little while ago, please make sure you execute this step)

Another useful command is conda info, which tells you about your installation

For more information on conda

  • type conda help in a terminal
  • read the documentation online

Get a Modern Browser

We’ll be using your browser to interact with Python, so now might be a good time to

  1. update your browser, or
  2. install a free modern browser such as Chrome or Firefox

Once you’ve done that we can start having fun


Jupyter notebooks are one of the many possible ways to interact with Python and the scientific Python stack

Jupyter notebooks provide a browser-based interface to Python with

  • The ability to write and execute Python commands
  • Formatted output in the browser, including tables, figures, animation, etc.
  • The option to mix in formatted text and mathematical expressions

Because of these possibilities, Jupyter is fast turning into a very major player in the scientific computing ecosystem

Here’s an image of showing execution of some code (borrowed from here) in a Jupyter notebook


You can find a nice example of the kinds of things you can do in a Jupyter notebook (such as include maths and text) here

Further examples can be found at QuantEcon’s notebook archive or the NB viewer site

While Jupyter isn’t the only way to code in Python, it’s great for when you wish to

  • start coding in Python
  • test new ideas or interact with small pieces of code
  • share or collaborate scientific ideas with students or colleagues

In fact these lectures are designed precisely for executing in Jupyter notebooks

Starting the Jupyter Notebook

To start the Jupyter notebook, either

  • search for Jupyter in your applications menu, or
  • open up a terminal (cmd for Windows) and type jupyter notebook (our preferred option)

If you use the second option, you will see something like this (click to enlarge)


The output tells us the notebook is running at http://localhost:8888/

  • localhost is the name of the local machine
  • 8888 refers to port number 8888 on your computer

Thus, the Jupyter kernel is listening for Python commands on port 8888 of our local machine

Hopefully your default browser has also opened up with a web page that looks something like this (click to enlarge)


What you see here is called the Jupyter dashboard

If you look at the URL at the top, it should be localhost:8888 or similar, matching the message above

Assuming all this has worked OK, you can now click on New at top right and select Python 3 or similar

Here’s what shows up on our machine:


The notebook displays an active cell, into which you can type Python commands

Notebook Basics

Let’s start with how to edit code and run simple programs

Running Cells

Notice that in the previous figure the cell is surrounded by a green border

This means that the cell is in edit mode

As a result, you can type in Python code and it will appear in the cell

When you’re ready to execute the code in a cell, hit Shift-Enter instead of the usual Enter


(Note: There are also menu and button options for running code in a cell that you can find by exploring)

User Interface Tour

At this stage we recommend you take your time to

  • look at the various options in the menus and see what they do
  • take the “user interface tour”, which can be accessed through the help menu

A Test Program

Let’s run a test program

Here’s an arbitrary program we can use:

On that page you’ll see the following code

import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

N = 20
theta = np.linspace(0.0, 2 * np.pi, N, endpoint=False)
radii = 10 * np.random.rand(N)
width = np.pi / 4 * np.random.rand(N)

ax = plt.subplot(111, polar=True)
bars =, radii, width=width, bottom=0.0)

# Use custom colors and opacity
for r, bar in zip(radii, bars):
    bar.set_facecolor( / 10.))

Don’t worry about the details for now — let’s just run it and see what happens

The easiest way to run this code is to copy and paste into a cell in the notebook

You should see something like this


(In older versions of Jupyter you might need to add the command %matplotlib inline before you generate the figure)

Working with the Notebook

Here are a few more tips on working with Jupyter notebooks

Tab Completion

In the previous program we executed the line import numpy as np

  • NumPy is a numerical library we’ll work with in depth

After this import command, functions in NumPy can be accessed with np.<function_name> type syntax

  • For example, try np.random.randn(3)

We can explore this attributes of np using the Tab key

For example, here we type np.ran and hit Tab (click to enlarge)


Jupyter offers up the two possible completions, random and rank

In this way, the Tab key helps remind you of what’s available, and also saves you typing

On-Line Help

To get help on np.rank, say, we can execute np.rank?

Documentation appears in a split window of the browser, like so


Clicking in the top right of the lower split closes the on-line help

Other Content

In addition to executing code, the Jupyter notebook allows you to embed text, equations, figures and even videos in the page

For example, here we enter a mixture of plain text and LaTeX instead of code


Next we Esc to enter command mode and then type m to indicate that we are writing Markdown, a mark-up language similar to (but simpler than) LaTeX

(You can also use your mouse to select Markdown from the Code drop-down box just below the list of menu items)

Now we Shift+Enter to produce this


Sharing Notebooks

A notebook can easily be saved and shared between users

Notebook files are just text files structured in JSON and typically ending with .ipynb

For example, try downloading the notebook we just created by clicking here

Save it somewhere you can navigate to easily

Now you can import it from the dashboard (the first browser page that opens when you start Jupyter notebook) and run the cells or edit as discussed above

You can also share your notebooks using nbviewer

The notebooks you see there are static html representations

To run one, download it as an ipynb file by clicking on the download icon at the top right of its page

Once downloaded you can open it as a notebook, as discussed just above

Additional Software

There are some other bits and pieces we need before we can proceed with the lectures


In these lectures we’ll make extensive use of code from the QuantEcon organization

On the Python side we’ll be using the version

This code has been organized into a Python package

  • A Python package is a software library that has been bundled for distribution
  • Hosted Python packages can be found through channels like Anaconda and PyPi


You can install by typing the following into a terminal (terminal on Mac, cmd on Windows, etc.)

pip install quantecon

More instructions on installing and keeping your code up to date can be found at QuantEcon

Working with Python Files

How does one run a locally saved Python file using the notebook?

Method 1: Copy and Paste

Copy and paste isn’t the slickest way to run programs but sometimes it gets the job done

One option is

  1. Navigate to your file with your mouse / trackpad using a file browser
  2. Click on your file to open it with a text editor
    • e.g., Notepad, TextEdit, TextMate, depending on your OS
  3. Copy and paste into a cell and Shift-Enter

Method 2: Run

Using the run command is often easier than copy and paste

  • For example, %run will run the file

(You might find that the % is unnecessary — use %automagic to toggle the need for %)

Note that Jupyter only looks for in the present working directory (PWD)

If isn’t in that directory, you will get an error

Let’s look at a successful example, where we run a file with contents:

for i in range(5):

Here’s the notebook (click to enlarge)



  • pwd asks Jupyter to show the PWD (or %pwd — see the comment about automagic above)

    • This is where Jupyter is going to look for files to run
    • Your output will look a bit different depending on your OS
  • ls asks Jupyter to list files in the PWD (or %ls)

    • Note that is there (on our computer, because we saved it there earlier)
  • cat asks Jupyter to print the contents of

  • run runs the file and prints any output

But file X isn’t in my PWD!

If you’re trying to run a file not in the present working director, you’ll get an error

To fix this error you need to either

  1. Shift the file into the PWD, or
  2. Change the PWD to where the file lives

One way to achieve the first option is to use the Upload button

  • The button is on the top level dashboard, where Jupyter first opened to
  • Look where the pointer is in this picture

The second option can be achieved using the cd command

  • On Windows it might look like this cd C:/Python27/Scripts/dir
  • On Linux / OSX it might look like this cd /home/user/scripts/dir

Note: You can type the first letter or two of each directory name and then use the tab key to expand

Loading Files

It’s often convenient to be able to see your code before you run it

In the following example we execute load where is in the PWD

(Use %load if automagic is off)

Now the code from the file appears in a cell ready to execute


Savings Files

To save the contents of a cell as file

  • put %%file as the first line of the cell
  • Shift+Enter

Here %%file is an example of a cell magic


The preceding discussion covers most of what you need to know to interact with this website

However, as you start to write longer programs, you might want to experiment with your workflow

There are many different options and we mention them only in passing

Text Editors

A text editor is an application that is specifically designed to work with text files — such as Python programs

Nothing beats the power and efficiency of a good text editor for working with program text

A good text editor will provide

  • efficient text editing commands (e.g., copy, paste, search and replace)
  • syntax highlighting, etc.

Among the most popular are Sublime Text and Atom

For a top quality open source text editor with a steeper learning curve, try Emacs

If you want an outstanding free text editor and don’t mind a seemingly vertical learning curve plus long days of pain and suffering while all your neural pathways are rewired, try Vim

Text Editors Plus IPython Shell

A text editor is for writing programs

To run them you can continue to use Jupyter as described above

Another option is to use the excellent IPython shell

To use an IPython shell, open up a terminal and type ipython

You should see something like this


The IPython shell has many of the features of the notebook: tab completion, color syntax, etc.

It also has command history through the arrow key

The up arrow key to brings previously typed commands to the prompt

This saves a lot of typing...

Here’s one set up, on a Linux box, with

  • a file being edited in Vim
  • An IPython shell next to it, to run the file


Exercise 1

If Jupyter is still running, quit by using Ctrl-C at the terminal where you started it

Now launch again, but this time using jupyter notebook --no-browser

This should start the kernel without launching the browser

Note also the startup message: It should give you a URL such as http://localhost:8888 where the notebook is running


  1. Start your browser — or open a new tab if it’s already running
  2. Enter the URL from above (e.g. http://localhost:8888) in the address bar at the top

You should now be able to run a standard Jupyter notebook session

This is an alternative way to start the notebook that can also be handy

Exercise 2

This exercise will familiare you with git and GitHub

Git is a version control system — a piece of software used to manage digital projects such as code libraries

In many cases the associated collections of files — called repositories — are stored on GitHub

GitHub is a wonderland of collaborative coding projects

For example, it hosts many of the scientific libraries we’ll be using later on, such as this one

Git is the underlying software used to manage these projects

Git is an extremely powerful tool for distributed collaboration — for example, we use it to share and synchronize all the source files for these lectures

There are two main flavors of Git

  1. the plain vanilla command line Git version

  2. the various point-and-click GUI versions

As an exercise, try

  1. Installing Git
  2. Getting a copy of using Git

For example, if you’ve installed the command line version, open up a terminal and enter

git clone

(This is just git clone in front of the URL for the repository)

Even better,

  1. Sign up to GitHub
  2. Look into ‘forking’ GitHub repositories (forking means making your own copy of a GitHub repository, stored on GitHub)
  3. Fork
  4. Clone your fork to some local directory, make edits, commit them, and push them back up to your forked GitHub repo
  5. If you made a valuable improvement, send us a pull request!

For reading on these and other topics, try