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List and Tuples - Making things straight

Python lists and tuples seem to be no different for a beginner except that tuples are immutable and lists are mutable. However, what I have just mentioned is the Technical difference. But there is a Cultural difference aspect of this discussion. Figuring out the Cultural difference allows us to answer the following questions: When do I use tuples? When do I use lists?

When to use Lists or Tuples

First, let us take a look into the similarities between lists and tuples:

  1. Both are containers, a sequence of objects of any type
  2. Both are ordered: they maintain the order of the elements (unlike sets and dictionaries)

Now, let us take a look at the Cultural difference between lists and tuples. Lists are used when you have elements of a similar type of unknown length. Tuples are used when you have elements of different types of known length.

For example:

  • Find out the names of students in a class: This should ideally return a list of strings, where each element in the list is a string representing names and we do

not know the exact number of students.

["Tim", "Nitin", "Bob", "Julian", "Mike”] # The elements are of same type(string)
  • Representing a student in a class: A student has different attributes like name, student_id, class, school, day_scholar which can be represented as a tuple like so:
("Tim", 10, "6", "DPS", True)  # The elements are of different types.

In this aspect, tuples represent a database record.


Keep in mind the Technical difference between lists and tuples. However, lists are generally used when you have homogenous items of unknown length, and tuples are used when you have heterogeneous items of known length.

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