I need a good explanation (references are a plus) on Python's slice notation.

To me, this notation needs a bit of picking up.

It looks extremely powerful, but I haven't quite got my head around it.

27 Answers 11

up vote 2677 down vote accepted

It's pretty simple really:

a[start:end] # items start through end-1
a[start:]    # items start through the rest of the array
a[:end]      # items from the beginning through end-1
a[:]         # a copy of the whole array

There is also the step value, which can be used with any of the above:

a[start:end:step] # start through not past end, by step

The key point to remember is that the :end value represents the first value that is not in the selected slice. So, the difference beween end and start is the number of elements selected (if step is 1, the default).

The other feature is that start or end may be a negative number, which means it counts from the end of the array instead of the beginning. So:

a[-1]    # last item in the array
a[-2:]   # last two items in the array
a[:-2]   # everything except the last two items

Python is kind to the programmer if there are fewer items than you ask for. For example, if you ask for a[:-2] and a only contains one element, you get an empty list instead of an error. Sometimes you would prefer the error, so you have to be aware that this may happen.

797 upvote
and a[::-1] to reverse a string. – Christopher Mahan
15 upvote
You can give meaning to index -2 by reading it as length-2. (But don't forget the edge cases) – Kos
162 upvote
Also can be important that [:] returns a shallow copy of a list. it means that every slice notation returns a list which have new address in memory, but its elements would have same addresses that elements of source list have. – Gill Bates
Do I get it correctly that a new object is returned? – Denys S.
7 upvote
@DenysS: Yes, after taking a slice of a list, changes in the slice do not affect the original (and vice versa). A new list object is returned. – Greg Hewgill
21 upvote
Slicing builtin types returns a copy but that's not universal. Notably, slicing NumPy arrays returns a view that shares memory with the original. – Beni Cherniavsky-Paskin
2 upvote
Based on the discussion here //allinonescript.com/questions/19613932/…, I think the word start through not past end, by step should be changed to up to (but not including) end, by step – Lukas Halim
4 upvote
I don't think anyone's mentioned that None is a valid slice value. I find it's handy used as a default argument. Eg: crop = lambda l, n=None: l[:n] then crop([1,2,3], ) returns [1,2,3] - note that no integer default arg would work here. – ejrb
1 upvote
@Gill Bates: are you sure? I tried: x=[0,1,2,3]; y=x[2:]; x[-1]=5;, and y[-1] is still 3, same result in both Python2.7.4 and 3.3.1 – Frozen Flame
1 upvote
[::-n] gives reverse at n steps – rsudip90
1 upvote
I understand the notation array[start:end:step]. My question is where is the step parameter in the documentation? I've seen it nowhere related to lists. They do mention it WRT range(), but not list. – monsto
@frozen-flame you need to use 'object': a = 1; b = 2; c =3 l = [a, b, c] id(l[0]) == id(l[:][0]) => True – MoiTux
1 upvote
@monsto: Slice notation is documented in 6.3.3 Slicings. – Greg Hewgill
I'll add one more a[start:end+n] # items start through end-1 - n is ignored, no exception. – Medorator
What about when you have double colons like a[::1] ? – gideon
@gideon: That's the same as "a copy of the whole array" case a[:] with a step value of 1. – Greg Hewgill
1 upvote
"The key point to remember is that the :end value represents the first value that is not in the selected slice." great way to remember this. I always thought "what you want plus one", but this is much clearer. – Bemmu
1 upvote
Side-note: Every omitted slice value is implicitly replaced with None. This is important when you're using dynamically determined negative end indices: If you want to remove the last x characters from a sequence, where x could be any value (including 0), you can't just do a[:-x], because when x is 0, a[:-0] is the same as a[:0]; it returns an empty sequence. Explicitly using None fixes this corner case: a[:-x or None] means you use -x when it's a real value, but when it's 0, you replace w/None; it's as if you didn't provide the end value, so you get the whole sequence. – ShadowRanger
2 upvote
what about things with double : as in [::-1]? – Charlie Parker
3 upvote
@CharlieParker: That's the same as a[:] a copy of the whole list, with a :step value of -1, which results in a reversed copy of the whole list. – Greg Hewgill
1 upvote
@Ziffusion: That's just it, the meaning of None is different depending on the sign of the stride. – Greg Hewgill
1 upvote
@GregHewgill Whoops! I hit that delete accidentally. Thanks for the answer. The question was: "How is it explained in terms of semantics attached to a absent index. I mean, with a positive stride, an absent index means the start or end+1 depending on where it appears. How is the meaning suddenly flipped when the stride is negative?" – Ziffusion

The Python tutorial talks about it (scroll down a bit until you get to the part about slicing).

The ASCII art diagram is helpful too for remembering how slices work:

 | P | y | t | h | o | n |
 0   1   2   3   4   5   6
-6  -5  -4  -3  -2  -1

One way to remember how slices work is to think of the indices as pointing between characters, with the left edge of the first character numbered 0. Then the right edge of the last character of a string of n characters has index n.

1 upvote
For slices with negative steps, I find this ASCII art confusing, and it should extend to -6 since 'ApleH'[:-6:-1] is a valid slice and different from using -5 – Chris_Rands

Enumerating the possibilities allowed by the grammar:

>>> seq[:]                # [seq[0],   seq[1],          ..., seq[-1]    ]
>>> seq[low:]             # [seq[low], seq[low+1],      ..., seq[-1]    ]
>>> seq[:high]            # [seq[0],   seq[1],          ..., seq[high-1]]
>>> seq[low:high]         # [seq[low], seq[low+1],      ..., seq[high-1]]
>>> seq[::stride]         # [seq[0],   seq[stride],     ..., seq[-1]    ]
>>> seq[low::stride]      # [seq[low], seq[low+stride], ..., seq[-1]    ]
>>> seq[:high:stride]     # [seq[0],   seq[stride],     ..., seq[high-1]]
>>> seq[low:high:stride]  # [seq[low], seq[low+stride], ..., seq[high-1]]

Of course, if (high-low)%stride != 0, then the end point will be a little lower than high-1.

If stride is negative, the ordering is changed a bit since we're counting down:

>>> seq[::-stride]        # [seq[-1],   seq[-1-stride],   ..., seq[0]    ]
>>> seq[high::-stride]    # [seq[high], seq[high-stride], ..., seq[0]    ]
>>> seq[:low:-stride]     # [seq[-1],   seq[-1-stride],   ..., seq[low+1]]
>>> seq[high:low:-stride] # [seq[high], seq[high-stride], ..., seq[low+1]]

Extended slicing (with commas and ellipses) are mostly used only by special data structures (like Numpy); the basic sequences don't support them.

>>> class slicee:
...     def __getitem__(self, item):
...         return `item`
>>> slicee()[0, 1:2, ::5, ...]
'(0, slice(1, 2, None), slice(None, None, 5), Ellipsis)'
1 upvote
does something weird happen if stride is negative as in [::-1]? – Charlie Parker
@CharlieParker When strike is negative it counts down from high to low. – ephemient
Actually there is still something left out e.g. if I type 'apple'[4:-4:-1] I get 'elp', python is translating the -4 to a 1 maybe? – liyuan
How is this not the accepted answer, since it also describes Python's :: slicing? – 1313e

And a couple of things that weren't immediately obvious to me when I first saw the slicing syntax:

>>> x = [1,2,3,4,5,6]
>>> x[::-1]

Easy way to reverse sequences!

And if you wanted, for some reason, every second item in the reversed sequence:

>>> x = [1,2,3,4,5,6]
>>> x[::-2]

I use the "an index points between elements" method of thinking about it myself, but one way of describing it which sometimes helps others get it is this:


X is the index of the first element you want.
Y is the index of the first element you don't want.

After using it a bit I realise that the simplest description is that it is exactly the same as the arguments in a for loop...


any of them are optional


then the negative indexing just needs you to add the length of the string to the negative indices to understand it.

This works for me anyway...

The answers above don't discuss slice assignment:

>>> r=[1,2,3,4]
>>> r[1:1]
>>> r[1:1]=[9,8]
>>> r
[1, 9, 8, 2, 3, 4]
>>> r[1:1]=['blah']
>>> r
[1, 'blah', 9, 8, 2, 3, 4]

This may also clarify the difference between slicing and indexing.

Found this great table at http://wiki.python.org/moin/MovingToPythonFromOtherLanguages

Python indexes and slices for a six-element list.
Indexes enumerate the elements, slices enumerate the spaces between the elements.

Index from rear:    -6  -5  -4  -3  -2  -1      a=[0,1,2,3,4,5]    a[1:]==[1,2,3,4,5]
Index from front:    0   1   2   3   4   5      len(a)==6          a[:5]==[0,1,2,3,4]
                   +---+---+---+---+---+---+    a[0]==0            a[:-2]==[0,1,2,3]
                   | a | b | c | d | e | f |    a[5]==5            a[1:2]==[1]
                   +---+---+---+---+---+---+    a[-1]==5           a[1:-1]==[1,2,3,4]
Slice from front:  :   1   2   3   4   5   :    a[-2]==4
Slice from rear:   :  -5  -4  -3  -2  -1   :
                                                b==[0,1,2,3,4,5] (shallow copy of a)

This is just for some extra info... Consider the list below

>>> l=[12,23,345,456,67,7,945,467]

Few other tricks for reversing the list:

>>> l[len(l):-len(l)-1:-1]
[467, 945, 7, 67, 456, 345, 23, 12]

>>> l[:-len(l)-1:-1]
[467, 945, 7, 67, 456, 345, 23, 12]

>>> l[len(l)::-1]
[467, 945, 7, 67, 456, 345, 23, 12]

>>> l[::-1]
[467, 945, 7, 67, 456, 345, 23, 12]

>>> l[-1:-len(l)-1:-1]
[467, 945, 7, 67, 456, 345, 23, 12]

See abc's answer above

I find it easier to remember how it's works, then I can figure out any specific start/stop/step combination.

It's instructive to understand range() first:

def range(start=0, stop, step=1):  # illegal syntax, but that's the effect
    i = start
    while (i < stop if step > 0 else i > stop):
        yield i
        i += step

Begin from start, increment by step, do not reach stop. Very simple.

The thing to remember about negative step is that stop is always the excluded end, whether it's higher or lower. If you want same slice in opposite order, it's much cleaner to do the reversal separately: e.g. 'abcde'[1:-2][::-1] slices off one char from left, two from right, then reverses. (See also reversed().)

Sequence slicing is same, except it first normalizes negative indexes, and can never go outside the sequence:

TODO: The code below had a bug with "never go outside the sequence" when abs(step)>1; I think I patched it to be correct, but it's hard to understand.

def this_is_how_slicing_works(seq, start=None, stop=None, step=1):
    if start is None:
        start = (0 if step > 0 else len(seq)-1)
    elif start < 0:
        start += len(seq)
    if not 0 <= start < len(seq):  # clip if still outside bounds
        start = (0 if step > 0 else len(seq)-1)
    if stop is None:
        stop = (len(seq) if step > 0 else -1)  # really -1, not last element
    elif stop < 0:
        stop += len(seq)
    for i in range(start, stop, step):
        if 0 <= i < len(seq):
            yield seq[i]

Don't worry about the is None details - just remember that omitting start and/or stop always does the right thing to give you the whole sequence.

Normalizing negative indexes first allows start and/or stop to be counted from the end independently: 'abcde'[1:-2] == 'abcde'[1:3] == 'bc' despite range(1,-2) == []. The normalization is sometimes thought of as "modulo the length" but note it adds the length just once: e.g. 'abcde'[-53:42] is just the whole string.

2 upvote
The this_is_how_slicing_works is not the same as python slice. E.G. [0, 1, 2][-5:3:3] will get [0] in python, but list(this_is_how_slicing_works([0, 1, 2], -5, 3, 3)) get [1]. – Eastsun
@Eastsun Oops, you're right! A clearer case: range(4)[-200:200:3] == [0, 3] but list(this_is_how_slicing_works([0, 1, 2, 3], -200, 200, 3)) == [2]. My if 0 <= i < len(seq): was an attempt to implement "never go outside the sequence" simply but is wrong for step>1. I'll rewrite it later today (with tests). – Beni Cherniavsky-Paskin

In Python 2.7

Slicing in Python


len = length of string, tuple or list

c -- default is +1. The sign of c indicates forward or backward, absolute value of c indicates steps. Default is forward with step size 1. Positive means forward, negative means backward.

a --  When c is positive or blank, default is 0. When c is negative, default is -1.

b --  When c is positive or blank, default is len. When c is negative, default is -(len+1).

Understanding index assignment is very important.

In forward direction, starts at 0 and ends at len-1

In backward direction, starts at -1 and ends at -len

When you say [a:b:c], you are saying depending on the sign of c (forward or backward), start at a and end at b (excluding element at bth index). Use the indexing rule above and remember you will only find elements in this range:

-len, -len+1, -len+2, ..., 0, 1, 2,3,4 , len -1

But this range continues in both directions infinitely:

...,-len -2 ,-len-1,-len, -len+1, -len+2, ..., 0, 1, 2,3,4 , len -1, len, len +1, len+2 , ....

For example:

             0    1    2   3    4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11
             a    s    t   r    i   n   g
    -9  -8  -7   -6   -5  -4   -3  -2  -1

If your choice of a, b, and c allows overlap with the range above as you traverse using rules for a,b,c above you will either get a list with elements (touched during traversal) or you will get an empty list.

One last thing: if a and b are equal, then also you get an empty list:

>>> l1
[2, 3, 4]

>>> l1[:]
[2, 3, 4]

>>> l1[::-1] # a default is -1 , b default is -(len+1)
[4, 3, 2]

>>> l1[:-4:-1] # a default is -1
[4, 3, 2]

>>> l1[:-3:-1] # a default is -1
[4, 3]

>>> l1[::] # c default is +1, so a default is 0, b default is len
[2, 3, 4]

>>> l1[::-1] # c is -1 , so a default is -1 and b default is -(len+1)
[4, 3, 2]

>>> l1[-100:-200:-1] # Interesting

>>> l1[-1:-200:-1] # Interesting
[4, 3, 2]

>>> l1[-1:-1:1]

>>> l1[-1:5:1] # Interesting

>>> l1[1:-7:1]

>>> l1[1:-7:-1] # Interesting
[3, 2]

>>> l1[:-2:-2] # a default is -1, stop(b) at -2 , step(c) by 2 in reverse direction
1 upvote
another one interesting example: a = [ 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 ]; a[:-2:-2] which results to [9] – Deviacium
  0   1   2   3   4
| a | b | c | d | e |
  0  -4  -3  -2  -1

:   1   2   3   4   :
| a | b | c | d | e |
:  -4  -3  -2  -1   :

I hope this will help you to model the list in Python.

Reference: http://wiki.python.org/moin/MovingToPythonFromOtherLanguages

Thanks for enumerating the indices; I was confused by there isn't a "-0" but this clears it, such power :D – harshvchawla

You can also use slice assignment to remove one or more elements from a list:

r = [1, 'blah', 9, 8, 2, 3, 4]
>>> r[1:4] = []
>>> r
[1, 2, 3, 4]

Python slicing notation:

  • For start and end, negative values are interpreted as being relative to the end of the sequence.
  • Positive indices for end indicate the position after the last element to be included.
  • Blank values are defaulted as follows: [+0:-0:1].
  • Using a negative step reverses the interpretation of start and end

The notation extends to (numpy) matrices and multidimensional arrays. For example, to slice entire columns you can use:

m[::,0:2:] ## slice the first two columns

Slices hold references, not copies, of the array elements. If you want to make a separate copy an array, you can use deepcopy().

To get a certain piece of an iterable (like a list), here is an example:


In this example, a positive number for number 1 is how many components you take off the front. A negative number is the exact opposite, how many you keep from the end. A positive number for number 2 indicates how many components you intend to keep from the beginning, and a negative is how many you intend to take off from the end. This is somewhat counter intuitive, but you are correct in supposing that list slicing is extremely useful.

9 upvote
What distinctive new information does this answer provide? When a question has as many answers as this one does, especially highly voted answers, a new answer needs to provide distinctive new information to be worth adding. See also Is it worthwhile to finish your answer if multiple good answers are given while you're typing yours? on Meta Stack Overflow. – Jonathan Leffler

As a general rule, writing code with a lot of hardcoded index values leads to a readability and maintenance mess. For example, if you come back to the code a year later, you’ll look at it and wonder what you were thinking when you wrote it. The solution shown is simply a way of more clearly stating what your code is actually doing. In general, the built-in slice() creates a slice object that can be used anywhere a slice is allowed. For example:

>>> items = [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]
>>> a = slice(2, 4)
>>> items[2:4]
[2, 3]
>>> items[a]
[2, 3]
>>> items[a] = [10,11]
>>> items
[0, 1, 10, 11, 4, 5, 6]
>>> del items[a]
>>> items
[0, 1, 4, 5, 6]

If you have a slice instance s, you can get more information about it by looking at its s.start, s.stop, and s.step attributes, respectively. For example:

>>> a = slice(10, 50, 2)
>>> a.start
>>> a.stop
>>> a.step

Explain Python's slice notation

In short, the colons (:) in subscript notation (subscriptable[subscriptarg]) make slice notation - which has the optional arguments, start, stop, step:


Python slicing is a computationally fast way to methodically access parts of your data. In my opinion, to be even an intermediate Python programmer, it's one aspect of the language that it is necessary to be familiar with.

Important Definitions

To begin with, let's define a few terms:

start: the beginning index of the slice, it will include the element at this index unless it is the same as stop, defaults to 0, i.e. the first index. If it's negative, it means to start n items from the end.

stop: the ending index of the slice, it does not include the element at this index, defaults to length of the sequence being sliced, that is, up to and including the end.

step: the amount by which the index increases, defaults to 1. If it's negative, you're slicing over the iterable in reverse.

How Indexing Works

You can make any of these positive or negative numbers. The meaning of the positive numbers is straightforward, but for negative numbers, just like indexes in Python, you count backwards from the end for the start and stop, and for the step, you simply decrement your index. This example is from the documentation's tutorial, but I've modified it slightly to indicate which item in a sequence each index references:

 | P | y | t | h | o | n |
   0   1   2   3   4   5 
  -6  -5  -4  -3  -2  -1

How Slicing Works

To use slice notation with a sequence that supports it, you must include at least one colon in the square brackets that follow the sequence (which actually implement the __getitem__ method of the sequence, according to the Python data model.)

Slice notation works like this:


And recall that there are defaults for start, stop, and step, so to access the defaults, simply leave out the argument.

Slice notation to get the last nine elements from a list (or any other sequence that supports it, like a string) would look like this:


When I see this, I read the part in the brackets as "9th from the end, to the end." (Actually, I abbreviate it mentally as "-9, on")


The full notation is


and to substitute the defaults (actually when step is negative, stop's default is -len(my_list) - 1, so None for stop really just means it goes to whichever end step takes it to):


The colon, :, is what tells Python you're giving it a slice and not a regular index. That's why the idiomatic way of making a shallow copy of lists in Python 2 is

list_copy = sequence[:]

And clearing them is with:

del my_list[:]

(Python 3 gets a list.copy and list.clear method.)

Give your slices a descriptive name!

You may find it useful to separate forming the slice from passing it to the list.__getitem__ method (that's what the square brackets do). Even if you're not new to it, it keeps your code more readable so that others that may have to read your code can more readily understand what you're doing.

However, you can't just assign some integers separated by colons to a variable. You need to use the slice object:

last_nine_slice = slice(-9, None)

The second argument, None, is required, so that the first argument is interpreted as the start argument otherwise it would be the stop argument.

You can then pass the slice object to your sequence:

>>> list(range(100))[last_nine_slice]
[91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99]

Memory Considerations:

Since slices of Python lists create new objects in memory, another important function to be aware of is itertools.islice. Typically you'll want to iterate over a slice, not just have it created statically in memory. islice is perfect for this. A caveat, it doesn't support negative arguments to start, stop, or step, so if that's an issue you may need to calculate indices or reverse the iterable in advance.

>>> length = 100
>>> last_nine_iter = itertools.islice(list(range(length)), length-9, None, 1)
>>> list_last_nine = list(last_nine)
>>> list_last_nine
[91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99]

The fact that list slices make a copy is a feature of lists themselves. If you're slicing advanced objects like a Pandas DataFrame, it may return a view on the original, and not a copy.

Hi @aaronhall, excellent post! Would you consider contributing this post to the Intermediate Python book - github.com/yasoob/intermediatePython/issues/153 ? – neowulf33
#!/usr/bin/env python

def slicegraphical(s, lista):

    if len(s) > 9:
        print """Enter a string of maximum 9 characters,
    so the printig would looki nice"""
        return 0;
    # print " ",
    print '  '+'+---' * len(s) +'+'
    print ' ',
    for letter in s:
        print '| {}'.format(letter),
    print '|'
    print " ",; print '+---' * len(s) +'+'

    print " ",
    for letter in range(len(s) +1):
        print '{}  '.format(letter),
    print ""
    for letter in range(-1*(len(s)), 0):
        print ' {}'.format(letter),
    print ''
    print ''

    for triada in lista:
        if len(triada) == 3:
            if triada[0]==None and triada[1] == None and triada[2] == None:
                # 000
                print s+'[   :   :   ]' +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]
            elif triada[0] == None and triada[1] == None and triada[2] != None:
                # 001
                print s+'[   :   :{0:2d} ]'.format(triada[2], '','') +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]
            elif triada[0] == None and triada[1] != None and triada[2] == None:
                # 010
                print s+'[   :{0:2d} :   ]'.format(triada[1]) +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]
            elif triada[0] == None and triada[1] != None and triada[2] != None:
                # 011
                print s+'[   :{0:2d} :{1:2d} ]'.format(triada[1], triada[2]) +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]
            elif triada[0] != None and triada[1] == None and triada[2] == None:
                # 100
                print s+'[{0:2d} :   :   ]'.format(triada[0]) +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]
            elif triada[0] != None and triada[1] == None and triada[2] != None:
                # 101
                print s+'[{0:2d} :   :{1:2d} ]'.format(triada[0], triada[2]) +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]
            elif triada[0] != None and triada[1] != None and triada[2] == None:
                # 110
                print s+'[{0:2d} :{1:2d} :   ]'.format(triada[0], triada[1]) +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]
            elif triada[0] != None and triada[1] != None and triada[2] != None:
                # 111
                print s+'[{0:2d} :{1:2d} :{2:2d} ]'.format(triada[0], triada[1], triada[2]) +' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]:triada[2]]

        elif len(triada) == 2:
            if triada[0] == None and triada[1] == None:
                # 00
                print s+'[   :   ]    ' + ' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]]
            elif triada[0] == None and triada[1] != None:
                # 01
                print s+'[   :{0:2d} ]    '.format(triada[1]) + ' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]]
            elif triada[0] != None and triada[1] == None:
                # 10
                print s+'[{0:2d} :   ]    '.format(triada[0]) + ' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]]
            elif triada[0] != None and triada[1] != None:
                # 11
                print s+'[{0:2d} :{1:2d} ]    '.format(triada[0],triada[1]) + ' = ', s[triada[0]:triada[1]]

        elif len(triada) == 1:
            print s+'[{0:2d} ]        '.format(triada[0]) + ' = ', s[triada[0]]

if __name__ == '__main__':
    # Change "s" to what ever string you like, make it 9 characters for
    # better representation.
    s = 'COMPUTERS'

    # add to this list different lists to experement with indexes
    # to represent ex. s[::], use s[None, None,None], otherwise you get an error
    # for s[2:] use s[2:None]

    lista = [[4,7],[2,5,2],[-5,1,-1],[4],[-4,-6,-1], [2,-3,1],[2,-3,-1], [None,None,-1],[-5,None],[-5,0,-1],[-5,None,-1],[-1,1,-2]]

    slicegraphical(s, lista)

You can run this script and experiment with it, below is some samples that I got from the script.

  | C | O | M | P | U | T | E | R | S |
  0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   
 -9  -8  -7  -6  -5  -4  -3  -2  -1 

COMPUTERS[ 4 : 7 ]     =  UTE
COMPUTERS[ 2 : 5 : 2 ] =  MU
COMPUTERS[-5 : 1 :-1 ] =  UPM
COMPUTERS[ 4 ]         =  U
COMPUTERS[-4 :-6 :-1 ] =  TU
COMPUTERS[ 2 :-3 : 1 ] =  MPUT
COMPUTERS[ 2 :-3 :-1 ] =  
COMPUTERS[-5 :   ]     =  UTERS
COMPUTERS[-5 : 0 :-1 ] =  UPMO
COMPUTERS[-5 :   :-1 ] =  UPMOC
COMPUTERS[-1 : 1 :-2 ] =  SEUM
[Finished in 0.9s]

When using a negative step, notice that the answer is shifted to the right by 1.

This is how I teach slices to newbies:

Understanding difference between indexing and slicing:

Wiki Python has this amazing picture which clearly distinguishes indexing and slicing.

enter image description here

It is a list with 6 elements in it. To understand slicing better, consider that list as a set of six boxes placed together. Each box has an alphabet in it.

Indexing is like dealing with the contents of box. You can check contents of any box. But You can't check contents of multiple boxes at once. You can even replace contents of the box. But You can't place 2 balls in 1 box or replace 2 balls at a time.

In [122]: alpha = ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

In [123]: alpha
Out[123]: ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

In [124]: alpha[0]
Out[124]: 'a'

In [127]: alpha[0] = 'A'

In [128]: alpha
Out[128]: ['A', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

In [129]: alpha[0,1]
TypeError                                 Traceback (most recent call last)
<ipython-input-129-c7eb16585371> in <module>()
----> 1 alpha[0,1]

TypeError: list indices must be integers, not tuple

Slicing is like dealing with boxes itself. You can pickup first box and place it on another table. To pickup the box all You need to know is the position of beginning & ending of the box.

You can even pickup first 3 boxes or last 2 boxes or all boxes between 1 & 4. So, You can pick any set of boxes if You know beginning & ending. This positions are called start & stop positions.

The interesting thing is that You can replace multiple boxes at once. Also You can place multiple boxes where ever You like.

In [130]: alpha[0:1]
Out[130]: ['A']

In [131]: alpha[0:1] = 'a'

In [132]: alpha
Out[132]: ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

In [133]: alpha[0:2] = ['A', 'B']

In [134]: alpha
Out[134]: ['A', 'B', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

In [135]: alpha[2:2] = ['x', 'xx']

In [136]: alpha
Out[136]: ['A', 'B', 'x', 'xx', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

Slicing With Step:

Till now You have picked boxes continuously. But some times You need to pickup discretely. For example You can pickup every second box. You can even pickup every third box from the end. This value is called step size. This represents the gap between Your successive pickups. The step size should be positive if You are picking boxes from the beginning to end and vice versa.

In [137]: alpha = ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

In [142]: alpha[1:5:2] 
Out[142]: ['b', 'd']

In [143]: alpha[-1:-5:-2]
Out[143]: ['f', 'd']

In [144]: alpha[1:5:-2]
Out[144]: []

In [145]: alpha[-1:-5:2]      
Out[145]: []

How Python Figures Out Missing Parameters:

When slicing if You leave out any parameter, Python tries to figure it out automatically.

If You check source code of CPython, You will find a function called PySlice_GetIndicesEx which figures out indices to a slice for any given parameters. Here is the logical equivalent code in Python.

This function takes a Python object & optional parameters for slicing and returns start, stop, step & slice length for the requested slice.

def py_slice_get_indices_ex(obj, start=None, stop=None, step=None):

    length = len(obj)

    if step is None:
        step = 1
    if step == 0:
        raise Exception("Step cannot be zero.")

    if start is None:
        start = 0 if step > 0 else length - 1
        if start < 0:
            start += length
        if start < 0:
            start = 0 if step > 0 else -1
        if start >= length:
            start = length if step > 0 else length - 1

    if stop is None:
        stop = length if step > 0 else -1
        if stop < 0:
            stop += length
        if stop < 0:
            stop = 0 if step > 0 else -1
        if stop >= length:
            stop = length if step > 0 else length - 1

    if (step < 0 and stop >= start) or (step > 0 and start >= stop):
        slice_length = 0
    elif step < 0:
        slice_length = (stop - start + 1)/(step) + 1
        slice_length = (stop - start - 1)/(step) + 1

    return (start, stop, step, slice_length)

This is the intelligence that is present behind slices. Since Python has inbuilt function called slice, You can pass some parameters & check how smartly it calculates missing parameters.

In [21]: alpha = ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e', 'f']

In [22]: s = slice(None, None, None)

In [23]: s
Out[23]: slice(None, None, None)

In [24]: s.indices(len(alpha)) 
Out[24]: (0, 6, 1)

In [25]: range(*s.indices(len(alpha)))
Out[25]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

In [26]: s = slice(None, None, -1) 

In [27]: range(*s.indices(len(alpha)))
Out[27]: [5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0]

In [28]: s = slice(None, 3, -1)        

In [29]: range(*s.indices(len(alpha)))
Out[29]: [5, 4]

Note: This post is originally written in my blog http://www.avilpage.com/2015/03/a-slice-of-python-intelligence-behind.html

My brain seems happy to accept that lst[start:end] contains the start-th item. I might even say that it is a 'natural assumption'.

But occasionally a doubt creeps in and my brain asks for reassurance that it does not contain the end-th element.

In these moments I rely on this simple theorem:

for any n,    lst = lst[:n] + lst[n:]

This pretty property tells me that lst[start:end] does not contain the end-th item because it is in lst[end:].

Note that this theorem is true for any n at all. For example, you can check that

lst = range(10)
lst[:-42] + lst[-42:] == lst

returns True.

1. Slice Notation

To make it simple, remember slice has only one form:


and here is how it works:

  • s: an object that can be sliced
  • start: first index to start iteration
  • end: last index, NOTE that end index will not be included in the resulted slice
  • step: pick element every step index

Another import thing: all start,end, step can be omitted! And if they are omitted, their default value will be used: 0,len(s),1 accordingly.

So possible variations are:

# mostly used variations

# step related variations

# make a copy

NOTE: If start>=end(considering only when step>0), python will return a empty slice [].

2. Pitfalls

The above part explains the core features on how slice works, it will work on most occasions. However there can be pitfalls you should watch out, and this part explains them.

Negative indexes

The very first thing confuses python learners is that index can be negative! Don't panic: negative index means count from backwards.

For example:

s[-5:]    # start at the 5th index from the end of array, 
          # thus returns the last 5 elements
s[:-5]    # start at index 0, end until the 5th index from end of array, 
          # thus returns s[0:len(s)-5]

Negative step

Make things more confusing is that step can be negative too!

Negative step means iterate the array backwards: from end to start, with end index included, and start index excluded from result.

NOTE: when step is negative, the default value for start to len(s)(while end does not equal to 0, because s[::-1] contains s[0]). For example:

s[::-1]            # reversed slice
s[len(s)::-1]      # same as above, reversed slice
s[0:len(s):-1]     # empty list

Out of range error?

Be surprised: slice does not raise IndexError when index is out of range!

If the index is out of range, python will try its best set the index to 0 or len(s) according to the situation. For example:

s[:len(s)+5]      # same as s[:len(s)]
s[-len(s)-5::]    # same as s[0:]
s[len(s)+5::-1]   # same as s[len(s)::-1], same as s[::-1]

3. Examples

Let's finish this answer with examples explains everything we have discussed:

# create our array for demonstration
In [1]: s = [i for i in range(10)]

In [2]: s
Out[2]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

In [3]: s[2:]   # from index 2 to last index
Out[3]: [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

In [4]: s[:8]   # from index 0 up to index 8
Out[4]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

In [5]: s[4:7]  # from index 4(included) up to index 7(excluded)
Out[5]: [4, 5, 6]

In [6]: s[:-2]  # up to second last index(negative index)
Out[6]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

In [7]: s[-2:]  # from second last index(negative index)
Out[7]: [8, 9]

In [8]: s[::-1] # from last to first in reverse order(negative step)
Out[8]: [9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0]

In [9]: s[::-2] # all odd numbers in reversed order
Out[9]: [9, 7, 5, 3, 1]

In [11]: s[-2::-2] # all even numbers in reversed order
Out[11]: [8, 6, 4, 2, 0]

In [12]: s[3:15]   # end is out of range, python will set it to len(s)
Out[12]: [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

In [14]: s[5:1]    # start > end, return empty list
Out[14]: []

In [15]: s[11]     # access index 11(greater than len(s)) will raise IndexError
IndexError                                Traceback (most recent call last)
<ipython-input-15-79ffc22473a3> in <module>()
----> 1 s[11]

IndexError: list index out of range
Seems like you have a mistake here. You claim s[::-1] is the same as s[len(s):0:-1] but when i try with s=range(10) i see that the latter leaves off the "0" from the list. – MrFlick
@MrFlick You're correct! I made a mistake there, just updated. – cizixs

The answers above don't discuss multi-dimentional array slicing which is possible using the famous numpy package:

Slicing also apply to multi-dimentional arrays.

# Here, a is a numpy array

>>> a
array([[ 1,  2,  3,  4],
       [ 5,  6,  7,  8],
       [ 9, 10, 11, 12]])
>>> a[:2,0:3:2]
array([[1, 3],
       [5, 7]])

The ":2" before comma operates on the first dimension and the "0:3:2" after the comma operates on the second dimension.

2 upvote
You should identify which modules/packages implement this. The question was just tagged python and list. – hpaulj

The below is the example of index of a string

 | H | e | l | p | A |
 0   1   2   3   4   5
-5  -4  -3  -2  -1

str="Name string"

slicing example: [start:end:step]

str[start:end] # items start through end-1
str[start:]    # items start through the rest of the array
str[:end]      # items from the beginning through end-1
str[:]         # a copy of the whole array

Below is the example usage

print str[0]=N
print str[0:2]=Na
print str[0:7]=Name st
print str[0:7:2]=Nm t
print str[0:-1:2]=Nm ti
A[::-1] , how to understand this – kRazzy R

In Python, the most basic form for slicing is the following:


where l is some collection, start is an inclusive index and end is an exclusive index.

In [1]: l = list(range(10))

In [2]: l[:5] # first five elements
Out[2]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4]

In [3]: l[-5:] # last five elements
Out[3]: [5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

When slicing from start, you can omit the zero index, and when slicing to the end, you can omit the final index since it is redundant, so do not be verbose:

In [5]: l[:3] == l[0:3]
Out[5]: True

In [6]: l[7:] == l[7:len(l)]
Out[6]: True

Negative integers are useful when doing offsets relative to the end of a collection:

In [7]: l[:-1] # include all elements but the last one
Out[7]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

In [8]: l[-3:] # take the last 3 elements
Out[8]: [7, 8, 9]

It is possible to provide indices that are out of bounds when slicing such as:

In [9]: l[:20] # 20 is out of index bounds, l[20] will raise an IndexError exception
Out[9]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

In [11]: l[-20:] # -20 is out of index bounds, l[-20] will raise an IndexError exception
Out[11]: [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

Keep in mind that the result of slicing a collection is a whole new collection. In addition, when using slice notation in assignments, the length of the slice assignment do not need to be the same. The values before and after the assigned slice will be kept, and the collection will shrink or grow to contain the new values:

In [16]: l[2:6] = list('abc') # assigning less elements than the ones contained in the sliced collection l[2:6]

In [17]: l
Out[17]: [0, 1, 'a', 'b', 'c', 6, 7, 8, 9]

In [18]: l[2:5] = list('hello') # assigning more elements than the ones contained in the sliced collection l [2:5]

In [19]: l
Out[19]: [0, 1, 'h', 'e', 'l', 'l', 'o', 6, 7, 8, 9]

If you omit the start and end index, you will make a copy of the collection:

In [14]: l_copy = l[:]

In [15]: l == l_copy and l is not l_copy
Out[15]: True

If the start and end indexes are omitted when performing an assignment operation, the entire content of the collection will be replaced with a copy of what is referenced:

In [20]: l[:] = list('hello...')

In [21]: l
Out[21]: ['h', 'e', 'l', 'l', 'o', '.', '.', '.']

Besides basic slicing, it is also possible to apply the following notation:


where l is a collection, start is an inclusive index, end is an exclusive index, and step is a stride that can be used to take every nth item in l.

In [22]: l = list(range(10))

In [23]: l[::2] # take the elements which indexes are even
Out[23]: [0, 2, 4, 6, 8]

In [24]: l[1::2] # take the elements which indexes are odd
Out[24]: [1, 3, 5, 7, 9]

Using step provides a useful trick to reverse a collection in Python:

In [25]: l[::-1]
Out[25]: [9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0]

It is also possible to use negative integers for step as the following example:

In[28]:  l[::-2]
Out[28]: [9, 7, 5, 3, 1]

However, using a negative value for step could become very confusing. Moreover, in order to be Pythonic, you should avoid using start, end, and step in a single slice. In case this is required, consider doing this in two assignments (one to slice, and the other to stride).

In [29]: l = l[::2] # this step is for striding

In [30]: l
Out[30]: [0, 2, 4, 6, 8]

In [31]: l = l[1:-1] # this step is for slicing

In [32]: l
Out[32]: [2, 4, 6]
Your answer is unappreciated + 1 from me cheers!!! – Sachin Divakar
@SachinDivakar, thank you – lmiguelvargasf

Most of the above answers clears about Slice notation. Extended indexing syntax used for slicing is aList[start:stop:step] basic examples are

enter image description here:

More Slicing examples: 15 Extended Slices

what about -> A[::-1] how to understand this – kRazzy R

Hehehe, it is kind of strange to see myself trying to provide a better and simpler explanation after 2600+ votes on what's been marked as the right answer from Grew Hewgill.

Here we go ...

In my opinion, you will understand and memorize better the Python string slicing notation if you look at it the following way (read on).

Let's work with the following string ...

azString = "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz"

For those who don't know, you can create any substring from azString using the notation azString[x:y]

Coming from other programming languages, that's when the common sense gets compromised. What are x and y?

I had to sit down and run several scenarios in my quest for a memorization technique that will help me remember what x and y are and help me slice strings properly at the first attempt.

My conclusion is that x and y should be seen as the boundary indexes that are surrounding the strings that we want to extra. So we should see the expression as azString[index1, index2] or even more clearer as azString[index_of_first_character, index_after_the_last_character].

Here is an example visualization of that ...

Letters a b c d e f g h i j ... ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ Indexes 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ... | | cdefgh index1 index2

So all you have to do if to set index1 and index2 to the values that will surround the desired substring. For instance, to get the substring "cdefgh", you can use azString[2:8] because the index on the left side of "c" is 2 and the one on the right size of "h" is 8.

Remember, we are setting the boundaries.

That trick works all the time and is easy to memorize.

Hopefuly this will help.

If you feel negative indices in slicing is bit "unnatural", here's very easy way to think about it: just replace negative index with len - index. So for example, replace -3 with len(list) - 3. I think best way to illustrate what slicing does internally is just write some code that will give exactly the same behaviour:

def slice(list, start = None, end = None, step = 1):
  # take care of missing start/end parameters
  start = 0 if start is None else start
  end = len(list) if end is None else end

  # take care of negative start/end parameters
  start = len(list) + start if start < 0 else start
  end = len(list) + end if end < 0 else end

  # now just execute for-loop with start, end and step
  return [list[i] for i in range(start, end, step)]

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