What is the use of self in Python?

What is the use of self in Python: Understanding Benefits & Drawbacks

Python, with its simplicity and versatility, has become one of the most popular programming languages worldwide. Among its many features, the concept of ‘self’ plays a crucial role. If you’ve ever wondered what ‘self’ really means in Python and why it’s necessary, you’re in the right place.

When working with object-oriented programming (OOP) in Python, you often define classes to create objects. These objects can have attributes (data) and methods (functions) that act on the data. The ‘self’ parameter is a fundamental aspect of class definitions in Python. But what exactly is ‘self’? In Python, ‘self’ represents the instance of the class. It is used as the first parameter in methods that belong to a class, allowing access to the attributes and methods of the class in a systematic way.  This article aims to shed light on what ‘self’ really means in Python, why it’s essential, and whether it’s just another keyword.

Is self a Keyword?

Now, you might be wondering, is ‘self’ a keyword in Python? Well, not exactly. Unlike keywords such as ‘if’, ‘for’, or ‘while’, ‘self’ is more of a convention rather than a reserved word in Python. However, it holds special significance within class definitions. When you define a method within a class and include ‘self’ as the first parameter, Python automatically passes the instance of the class to that method when it’s called. This means you don’t explicitly pass the instance as an argument when invoking the method. 

Python’s design philosophy emphasizes readability and simplicity. By not making self a keyword, Python retains flexibility while encouraging the use of conventional naming. This approach allows the language to be more adaptable to various coding styles without enforcing rigid syntax rules.

What is the Need of Self?

Now, you might be wondering, why do we need ‘self’ in the first place? Imagine you’re building a house, and you have a blueprint (class) for it. Now, when you actually construct a house based on that blueprint, each house (instance) will have its own unique characteristics, like color, size, and interior design.

Similarly, in Python, classes serve as blueprints, and objects are instances created based on those blueprints. ‘Self’ helps each instance keep track of its own attributes and methods. It ensures that when you call a method or access a variable within an instance, Python knows exactly which instance you’re referring to.

Let’s break it down with an example:

class Car:

    def __init__(self, brand, model):

        self.brand = brand

        self.model = model

    def display_info(self):

        print(f”Brand: {self.brand}, Model: {self.model}”)

car1 = Car(“Toyota”, “Corolla”)

car2 = Car(“Tesla”, “Model S”)

car1.display_info()  # Output: Brand: Toyota, Model: Corolla

car2.display_info()  # Output: Brand: Tesla, Model: Model S

In this example, ‘self’ is used to differentiate between the ‘brand’ and ‘model’ attributes of each car instance. Without ‘self’, Python wouldn’t know which instance’s attributes to access.

Common Pitfalls with Self

While ‘self’ is an essential concept in Python, it’s also a common source of confusion for beginners. Here are some common pitfalls to watch out for:

Forgetting to include ‘self’ as the first parameter in method definitions within a class. This will result in errors when trying to access instance attributes or methods.

Accidentally using a different name instead of ‘self’. While ‘self’ is just a convention, it’s widely accepted and understood by Python programmers. Using a different name can lead to confusion and make your code less readable.

Misusing ‘self’ outside of class definitions. ‘self’ only has meaning within the scope of a class definition. Attempting to use ‘self’ outside of a class will result in a NameError.

Why is Self Defined Explicitly in Python?

In Python, the self parameter is used in instance methods to refer to the instance of the class on which the method is being called. Unlike some other programming languages where the instance reference is implicitly available, Python requires it to be explicitly defined. But why is this necessary?

Clarity and Explicitness

One of Python’s guiding principles, as outlined in the Zen of Python, is “Explicit is better than implicit.” By explicitly requiring self, Python ensures that the code is clear and understandable. When you see self in a method definition, it’s immediately obvious that the method is dealing with instance variables and methods. This explicitness reduces ambiguity, making the code easier to read and maintain.

Flexibility in Method Calls

By explicitly passing self, Python provides flexibility in method calls. Methods can be called on different instances or even with alternative first arguments, enabling more dynamic and flexible coding patterns. This approach gives developers more control and avoids the “magic” behavior found in some other languages where the context of self might be less clear.


Explicitly defining self also brings consistency to Python’s method definitions. Whether you are dealing with instance methods, class methods, or static methods, the way arguments are passed remains consistent. Class methods use cls to refer to the class itself, while static methods do not pass the instance or class reference. This consistency makes it easier to understand and predict the behavior of different types of methods.

Benefits of Self in Python

Enhances Code Readability

Code readability is a cornerstone of Python’s philosophy. By using self, developers can immediately identify which variables and methods belong to the instance of a class. This clarity helps in understanding the code quickly, which is especially beneficial in collaborative environments where multiple developers work on the same codebase.

Facilitates Object-Oriented Programming

self is fundamental to implementing object-oriented programming in Python. It allows each instance of a class to have its own attributes and methods, encapsulating data and behavior within objects. This encapsulation leads to better-organized and modular code, making it easier to manage, debug, and extend.

Supports Inheritance and Polymorphism

Inheritance and polymorphism are key features of OOP. With self, subclasses can override methods and access superclass methods easily. This ability to extend and modify existing code promotes code reuse and flexibility. self ensures that when a method is called, it operates on the correct instance, enabling polymorphic behavior where different classes can define different behaviors for the same method name.

Enables Dynamic Binding

Dynamic binding refers to the process where the code to be executed is determined at runtime. By using self, Python supports dynamic binding, allowing methods to be called on objects that may be instances of different classes. This feature is crucial for creating flexible and dynamic code where the exact class type of an object might not be known until runtime.

Simplifies Instance Management

Managing instance-specific data becomes straightforward with self. Each instance of a class can maintain its own state, stored in instance variables accessed through self. This setup is particularly useful in applications where different objects need to maintain separate states, such as in graphical user interfaces, games, or simulations.

Promotes Consistency Across the Codebase

By adhering to the explicit use of self, developers ensure a consistent approach to method definitions across the codebase. This consistency reduces the learning curve for new team members and minimizes errors that can arise from misunderstandings about method behavior. Consistent code is easier to refactor, test, and maintain.

Enables Advanced Python Features

self is not just for beginners; it also underpins some advanced features of Python. For example, decorators, context managers, and metaclasses all interact with instance and class methods where self plays a crucial role. Understanding self is essential for leveraging these advanced features effectively.


The explicit use of self in Python is a deliberate design choice that brings numerous benefits to the language. It enhances code readability, facilitates object-oriented programming, supports inheritance and polymorphism, and enables dynamic binding. By promoting consistency and simplicity, self helps developers write clear, maintainable, and efficient code. At Medh, we believe in empowering learners to master programming concepts with clarity and confidence. Our educational courses are designed to help you understand the fundamentals of Python, including the essential role of self. Whether you’re a beginner looking to start your programming journey or an experienced coder aiming to deepen your knowledge, Medh has the right resources for you.


  1. What is self in Python?
  2. self “ is a reference to the instance of the class on which a method is being called. It is used to access instance variables and methods.
  1. Why is self needed in Python?
  2. self” is needed for clarity, consistency, and flexibility. It ensures that instance variables and methods are explicitly referenced, reducing ambiguity and making the code more readable and maintainable.
  1. Can I use a different name instead of self?
  2. While “self” is just a convention and you can technically use any name, it is strongly recommended to use self to maintain readability and follow Python community standards.
  1. How is self different from cls?
  2. self” refers to the instance of the class, while cls refers to the class itself. cls is used in class methods, whereas self is used in instance methods.
  1. Is self only used in methods?
  2. Yes, self is used in instance methods to refer to the instance on which the method is called. It is not used outside of methods.
  1. Does self have to be the first parameter?
  2. Yes, in instance methods, self must be the first parameter. This position indicates that the method operates on an instance of the class.
  1. Can I omit self in my method definitions?

A. No, you cannot omit self in instance method definitions. It must be explicitly declared to define instance methods correctly in Python.

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