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How to Write a Python Subclass

Posted by Julian on Sat 17 June 2017 in Learning • 5 min read

This is an article on Python Subclasses and inheritance. Before reading on, if you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend you check out my write up on Python Classes.

Let’s get cracking!

A Python Sub-what?

Let’s say you have a class already set up. In my previous article on classes, I created what I’m going to refer to as a “single tier” Person class. That is, you use the Person class to create a person object. That’s it. (I created Bob using this class. Muahaha!).

What if I wanted some more depth though? Let’s use vehicles as an example. I’ll get really simplistic here.

Vehicle > Car > Mercedes.

See that? Now we’re talking! Multiple levels! Vehicle would be the parent class, Car would be the Subclass and Mercedes would be an object we create using the Car subclass.

Not only that, but the Mercedes we just created will inherit all of the attributes and functions associated with the Vehicle parent class and those from the Car class.

That is, the Mercedes will be deemed a car vehicle in that it has four wheels and a windshield as opposed to a motorbike vehicle which only has two wheels and a tiny windshield. Both the car and the motorbike are vehicles but just two different types of vehicles. Get it?

A Familiar Example

Full code here.

To demonstrate this in code, I wrote up a Boss class. Let’s face it, we’ve all had a job at some point in our lives. It’s also more than likely that we’ve copped good and bad bosses and managers along the way.

Imagine if you would, a game with a Boss in it. I can imagine myself coding up a Boss class similar to the below. I’d then use this code to create different types of Bosses:

class Boss(object):
    def __init__(self, name, attitude, behaviour, face): = name
        self.attitude = attitude
        self.behaviour = behaviour
        self.face = face

    def get_attitude(self):
        return self.attitude

    def get_behaviour(self):
        return self.behaviour

    def get_face(self):
        return self.face

A full explanation of a class written like this is found in my Python Classes article.

A boss would have a name, an attitude, a behaviour and a face (facial expression!).

Now, let’s start working on the Boss Subclasses. What kind of Bosses do we want to be able to make? How about a GoodBoss and a BadBoss?

class GoodBoss(Boss):
    def __init__(self,
        super().__init__(name, attitude, behaviour, face)

What did I do here? It’s very similar to coding the parent class. Note the differences though:

  1. We start by defining the subclass GoodBoss. See how it’s got “Boss” between the brackets? That’s because we’re defining a GoodBoss, Boss object. This will ensure the GoodBoss class inherits everything from the Boss class.

  2. In the init dunder, we have to specify self as well as all of the attributes defined in the parent Boss class. We can then add whatever ‘GoodBoss’ unique attributes we want, such as a “laugh” attribute (good bosses laugh right?). In this case, I’m not adding any, thus the last attribute you see is face.

  3. The super() statement is probably the most confusing. It relates to the inheritance from the base class.

I’d be doing you a disservice trying to explain super() in one bullet point so I’m going to direct you to where I read up on it. The 3rd answer in this Stack Overflow thread is amazing as is this Programiz article.

Phew! Okay. Next up, we can define some GoodBoss specific class functions. These can only be used by an object created using the GoodBoss class:

def nurture_talent(self):
    #A good boss nurtures talent making employees happy!
    print("The employees feel all warm and fuzzy then put their talents to good use.")

def encourage(self):
    #A good boss encourages their employees!
    print("The team cheers, starts shouting awesome slogans then gets back to work.")

What does a good boss do? He/She nurtures talent to help employees grow! They also encourage their teams to keep them motivated!

These two class functions simply print out the specified message when called. If this were a game, rather than just printing, we could have these functions perform transactions like “increase employee_happiness by 20 points, or something similar.

In the same way, we can define a BadBoss subclass. You can find the BadBoss subclass code in our code repo here.

Who’s the Boss?!

Time for some fun! I’ll be the good boss, Bob can be the bad boss. (Sorry brother!). The easiest way to test this out is to import the code into the interactive shell.

I’ve got a file called I’m initiating the python shell from the same folder the script lives in.

from boss_class import Boss, GoodBoss, BadBoss

Once imported, we can create a “standard” Boss, a GoodBoss or a BadBoss. Let’s start with the good one!

julian = GoodBoss("Julian", "Positive", "Sociable", "Smiling")

We can then use the class functions associated with both the Boss class and GoodBoss subclass:

The employees feel all warm and fuzzy then put their talents to good use.

I wish I really had that effect on people! Also, this is inheritance in action! We “inherited” the get_behaviour function from the Boss class! Woohoo!

Ending on a low

I know we’re on a roll but Bad Bosses always have a way of ruining things:

bob = BadBoss("Bob", “Crazy”, "Anti-Social", "Scowl of Hate")

'Scowl of Hate'

The employees feel cheated and start plotting Bob's demise while he stares at his own reflection.

Everyone stares while Bob yells. Someone shouts, 'Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?!Bob storms off, everyone comforts the victim and one person offers to arrange an 'accident' for Bob.

Disclaimer: I love Bob (we all know he’s the best thing since sliced bread!). I also love my AWS overlords.


How cool are classes, subclasses and inheritance?!

Not only has this helped me better plan my code but it’s also allowed me to better appreciate other code. I can only imagine how many classes and subclasses exist in video games (World of Warcraft for example!).

Once you get the hang of them, classes really are quite easy to use. They’re a series of set and forget templates/blueprints for you to call at any time. Oh the possibilities… Yum!

Oh and speaking of templates. I created a framework/blank class and subclass template for Day 77 of our 100 days of code challenge. Check it out here!

Keep Calm and Code in Python!

-- Julian

(Psst! Did anyone get the Simpsons Reference?)

See an error in this post? Please submit a pull request on Github.