Python Container Types: A Quick Guide

5/5 - (2 votes)

If you’re working with Python, most of the data structures you’ll think about are container types. πŸš‚πŸšƒπŸšƒπŸšƒ

These containers are special data structures that hold and manage collections of elements. Python’s most commonly used built-in container types include tuples, lists, dictionaries, sets, and frozensets πŸ“¦. These containers make it easy for you to store, manage and manipulate your data effectively and efficiently. πŸ˜ƒ

You might be wondering what makes each container unique. Well, they all serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics.

  • For instance, lists are mutable and ordered, allowing you to add, remove, or modify elements.
  • Tuples, on the other hand, are immutable and ordered, which means once created, their elements cannot be changed ✨.
  • Dictionaries are mutable and store key-value pairs, making it efficient for data retrieval.
  • Lastly, sets and frozensets are unordered collections, with sets being mutable and frozensets immutable.

As you explore Python, understanding these container types is essential, as they provide a foundation for organizing and manipulating your data.

Basic Built-In Container Types

You might be wondering about Python’s built-in container types. Let’s dive into them and see how useful they can be! πŸ˜ƒ


A List is a mutable sequence type in Python. It allows you to store a collection of objects in a defined order. With lists, you can add, remove or change items easily.

Example of creating a list:

your_list = [1, 2, 3, 4]

Some handy list methods are:

Feel free to dive into our full guide on lists here:

πŸ’‘ Recommended: The Ultimate Guide to Python Lists


A Tuple is an immutable sequence type. It’s similar to a list but cannot be modified once created. This makes tuples ideal for storing fixed sets of data.

Example of creating a tuple:

your_tuple = (1, 2, 3)

Since it’s immutable, fewer methods are available compared to lists:

  • count(x): Counts the occurrences of x in the tuple
  • index(x): Finds the index of the first occurrence of x

Again, we have created a full guide on tuples here:

πŸ’‘ Recommended: The Ultimate Guide to Python Tuples


A set is an unordered collection of unique elements. Sets can help you manage distinct items, and they can be mutable or immutable (frozenset).

Example of creating a set:

your_set = {1, 2, 3, 3}

A few useful set operations include:

πŸ’‘ Recommended: The Ultimate Guide to Python Sets


The dictionary, or dict, is a mutable mapping type. This container allows you to store key-value pairs efficiently.

Example of creating a dict:

your_dict = {'a': 1, 'b': 2, 'c': 3}

Some helpful dict methods are:

  • get(key, default): Gets the value for the key or returns the default value if not found
  • update(iterable): Merges the key-value pairs from iterable into the dictionary
  • pop(key, default): Removes and returns the value for the key or returns the default value if not found

πŸ’‘ Recommended: The Ultimate Guide to Python Dictionaries

That’s a quick rundown of Python’s basic built-in container types!

Advanced Container Types from Collections Module

The Python built-in containers, such as list, tuple, and dictionary, can be sufficient for many cases. However, when you need more specialized or high-performance containers, the collections module comes to the rescue πŸ’ͺ.

Let’s explore some of these advanced container types:


Ever struggled with using tuples to store data, leading to unreadable and error-prone code? πŸ€” The namedtuple class is your answer! Namedtuples are similar to regular tuples, but each element has a name for better readability and maintenance πŸ’‘:

from collections import namedtuple

Person = namedtuple("Person", ["name", "age", "city"])
person1 = Person("Alice", 30, "New York")
print(  # Output: Alice

Now, you can access tuple elements by name instead of index, making your code more readable and less error-prone πŸ‘Œ.

πŸ’‘ Recommended: Python Named Tuple Methods


If you need a high-performance, double-ended queue, look no further than the deque class. Deques allow you to efficiently append or pop items from both ends of the queue, which can be useful in various applications, such as maintaining a fixed-size history of events πŸ•°οΈ:

from collections import deque

dq = deque(maxlen=3)
for i in range(5):

# Output:
# deque([0], maxlen=3)
# deque([0, 1], maxlen=3)
# deque([0, 1, 2], maxlen=3)
# deque([1, 2, 3], maxlen=3)
# deque([2, 3, 4], maxlen=3)

With deque, you can keep your data structures efficient and clean 😎.


Do you have multiple dictionaries that you want to treat as a single unit? The ChainMap class can help! It allows you to link several mappings together, making it easy to search, update or delete items across dictionaries πŸ“š:

from collections import ChainMap

dict1 = {"a": 1, "b": 2}
dict2 = {"b": 3, "c": 4}
chain_map = ChainMap(dict1, dict2)
print(chain_map["b"])  # Output: 2, as it takes the value from the first dictionary

With ChainMap, you can work with multiple dictionaries as if they were one, simplifying your code and making it more efficient πŸ˜‰.


Counting items in a collection can be a repetitive task. Luckily, the Counter class can help you keep track of elements and their counts with ease πŸ’―:

from collections import Counter

data = [1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 3, 1, 1]
count = Counter(data)
print(count)  # Output: Counter({1: 4, 2: 2, 3: 2})

Now you can easily count items in your collections, making your code more concise and efficient πŸš€.


If you need a dictionary that maintains the insertion order of items, the OrderedDict class is perfect for you! Although Python 3.7+ dictionaries maintain order by default, OrderedDict can be useful when working with older versions or when you want to explicitly show that order matters πŸ“:

from collections import OrderedDict

od = OrderedDict()
od["a"] = 1
od["b"] = 2
od["c"] = 3
print(list(od.keys()))  # Output: ['a', 'b', 'c']

OrderedDict ensures that your code behaves consistently across Python versions and emphasizes the importance of insertion order 🌟.


When working with dictionaries, do you often find yourself initializing default values? The defaultdict class can automate that for you! Just provide a default factory function, and defaultdict will create default values for missing keys on the fly ✨:

from collections import defaultdict

dd = defaultdict(list)

print(dd)  # Output: defaultdict(, {'a': [1, 3], 'b': [2]})

With defaultdict, you can keep your code free of repetitive default value initializations and make your code more Pythonic 🐍.

Feel free to check out our cheat sheets on Python, OpenAI, and Blockchain topics:

Also, you may enjoy this article:

πŸ’‘ Recommended: 21 Most Profitable Programming Languages