All About Python Dictionaries

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What are Python dictionaries?

dictionary is one of Python’s primary data structures. In essence, a dictionary (also shortened as dict) is a collection of key-value pairs, similar to an actual dictionary (like the one pictured above). When you look up a word in a dictionary, you find a corresponding definition. Similarly, in a Python dictionary, each key has a corresponding value.

In dictionaries, one key can have only one value. However, the value can be anything from a single number or character, to lists, tuples, other dictionaries, or even functions!

Creating a Dictionary

Dictionaries can be created several ways. The most straightforward way is below using curly braces.

# method 1)
mapper = {“a”: 1, “b”: 2, “c”:3}

In this example, we create a dictionary with three elements – that is, three key-value pairs. The keys are “a”, “b”, and “c”, while the corresponding values are 1, 2, and 3.

Getting the keys and values of a dictionary

We can get the keys of our dictionary using the keys method.


Similarly, we can get the values of a dictionary using the values method.


Adding new key-value pairs

We can add new key-value pairs to a dictionary using bracket notation.

mapper[“d”] = 4

mapper[“e”] = 5

Likewise, if we want to refine a key-value pair, we also use bracket notation.

mapper[“a”] = 10

Removing key-value pairs

Key-value pairs can be removed in a couple of different ways. The first is using the pop method.


Using the pop method both removes the key-value pair and returns the value corresponding to the key input into the method. Alternatively, we can remove a key-value pair using Python’s del method. This way does not return any value.

del mapper[“d”]

How to combine two Python dictionaries

Dictionaries can be combined using the update method. For example, we currently have:

mapper = {“a”, “b”, “c”}

Now let’s create another dictionary called extra:

extra = {“this”: “is”, “another”:”dictionary”}

Next, let’s combine mapper and extra.


Running the update method here will update mapper to also have the key-value pairs in extra.

The items method

We can convert a dictionary into a list of tuples using the items method. Here, each tuple will be a key-value pair. The first line below will create a dict_items object, which is iterable, so we can loop over the key-value pairs in this object. However, this object is not indexable – i.e. trying to run mapper.items()[0] will result in an error. However, if we wanted to reference key-value pairs by index, we can convert this to a list. In practice, we usually would not need to do this conversion.

# get key-value tuples in dictionary

# convert to list

The items method is especially useful when iterating over a dictionary, or when creating a dictionary comprehension, which we’ll discuss next.

Suppose we have dictionary of filenames – each key is a filename, and each value is a new name that we want to give for the key. Here, we can loop over the items (key-value pairs) in the dictionary and change each file name.

import os

files = {“file1.txt”: “new_file.txt”, “file2.txt”, “new_file2.txt”, “file3.txt”, “new_file3.txt”}

for key,val in files.items():
os.rename(key, val)

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