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Enforcing Python Code Quality and Style with Linting Tools

Updated: at 02:51 AM

Python is a powerful, versatile programming language used for a wide range of applications from web development and scientific computing to machine learning and data analysis. With great flexibility comes the ability to write Python code in different styles. While this expressiveness is one of Python’s strengths, it can lead to inconsistencies in code quality and style.

Linting tools analyze source code to flag programming errors, bugs, stylistic errors, and suspicious code. By adhering to a consistent style guide and set of best practices like the industry standard PEP 8 style guide, Python developers can improve their code’s readability, maintainability and portability.

This comprehensive guide will explain what linting is, why following a consistent code style matters, provide an overview of popular Python linting tools, and demonstrate how to use linting to enforce PEP 8 style compliance in your Python projects.

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What is Linting?

The term “lint” originated from the Unix utility that flagged suspicious C language constructs. Today, linting refers to the process of running a program that analyzes code for potential errors, like:

Python interprets syntax errors when code is run. However, other issues like stylistic inconsistencies are not errors, so they will not be flagged. This is where linting becomes essential.

Linting catches issues that are easy to miss during manual code reviews. Automated style guide enforcement helps make code more uniform. Applying consistent standards for docstrings, whitespace, naming conventions, etc. makes code easier to read and maintain in the long run.

Why Linting Matters

Here are some key reasons why using a linting tool to adhere to uniform style standards is important:

Adopting a uniform code style is not a matter of personal preference but rather a way to create and maintain clean, readable code. Python’s PEP 8 style guide is the accepted standard.

There are many open source Python linting tools available including:


Pylint is the most widely used Python linter. It analyzes code for errors and deviation from PEP 8 while also checking code quality, looking for bugs, and refactoring suggestions. Pylint messages can be customized to suit project needs.


Flake8 combines the power of PyFlakes (logic error checker), pycodestyle (PEP 8 style guide enforcer), and Ned Batchelder’s McCabe script (complexity analyzer) into a simple to use linting tool. It checks for style issues and logical errors.


pycodestyle (formerly known as pep8) focuses solely on enforcing PEP 8 style compliance, leaving logic and error checking to other tools. This simplicity makes it fast and widely used.


PyLama runs a set of different linters including Pylint, pycodestyle, pydocstyle, PyFlakes, Mccabe, and others to check style and code quality from multiple perspectives.


pydocstyle is a docstring style linter that checks Python docstrings against PEP 257 guidelines for document readability and consistency. Well documented code makes maintenance easier.


Bandit analyzes code to find common security issues and helps developers write more secure code that avoids known vulnerabilities.

There are also IDE linter plugins for tools like Visual Studio Code, PyCharm, Atom, and more. These analyze code on the fly and highlight issues during development.

Linting Setup

It is best practice to configure linting early on in a Python project to enforce uniformity from the start. Here are the basic steps to add linting to your workflow:

  1. Choose a linter - Selecting a linting tool depends on your needs. Pylint provides the most rigorous linting while tools like pycodestyle focus specifically on style.

  2. Install the linter - Use pip to install your chosen tool. For example: pip install pylint.

  3. Create a config file - Linters use config files to customize checks. Start with the default config file created upon installation.

  4. Run the linter - Execute the linter against your code files and review the report of identified issues. For example: pylint

  5. Fix issues - Address each warning and error, modifying code to adhere to standards. Rerun the linter to validate fixes.

  6. Integrate linter - Finally integrate the linter into your workflow by adding it to your project’s continuous integration pipeline and pre-commit hooks to check every commit.

Now let’s walk through a real world example of using Pylint and pycodestyle to enforce PEP 8 compliance.

Using Pylint and pycodestyle to Enforce PEP 8

Say we want to check a simple Python script called for style issues and code quality using Pylint and pycodestyle.

First, we will install the linting packages:

pip install pylint
pip install pycodestyle

Next, run Pylint on the code:


And the pycodestyle PEP 8 style guide enforcer:


This generates the linting reports:

************* Module myscript C0114: Missing module docstring (missing-module-docstring) C0103: Constant name "a" doesn't conform to UPPER_CASE naming style (invalid-name) E0602: Undefined variable 'printHelloWorld' (undefined-variable) W0105: String statement has no effect (pointless-string-statement)

-------------------------------------------------- E302 expected 2 blank lines, found 1 E225 missing whitespace around operator C0103 Constant name "a" doesn't conform to UPPER_CASE naming style (invalid-name) E0602 Undefined variable 'printHelloWorld' (undefined-variable)

Both Pylint and pycodestyle identify issues with not following PEP 8 naming conventions and undefined variables. Pycodestyle finds missing blank lines and whitespace.

Now we will modify the code to fix these linting errors:

# Linting demo script

import math

PRINT_HELLO_WORLD = "Hello World!"


The fixes include:

Rerunning the linters shows our code now passes all checks!

Integrating these linting tools into your project’s continuous integration pipelines will further validate all code changes going forward adhere to expected quality and style standards.

Configuring Linter Strictness

Linter config files allow customizing checked rules. For Pylint, enabling certain rules to check for bugs, disabling opinionated style checks, and configuring strictness allows fine tuning linting to suit project needs.

For example, adding:



to .pylintrc disables requiring docstrings for modules, classes and methods.

The [MESSAGES CONTROL]( Pylint section offers additional options like:

Pycodestyle also lets you configure which errors to ignore, maximum allowed line length, etc. Start strict, then adjust linting to balance code quality and productivity.

Integrating Linting into CI/CD Pipelines

To prevent style violations from entering the codebase, it is best practice to integrate linting checks into continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) workflows.

Common ways to incorporate linting into pipelines include:

Adding linter execution to the project requirement’s definition is an effective way to mandate PEP 8 standards adherence.

Linting Best Practices

To maximize the benefits of linting, consider these best practices:


PEP 8 provides sensible Python coding conventions that lead to readable, maintainable code. Linting makes adhering to standards simple by programmatically flagging deviations.

Modern Python projects should take advantage of the robust linting tools available like Pylint, pycodestyle, and Flake8 to improve collaboration, portability and reduce bugs. Integrating linting into your development workflows costs little effort while delivering immense long term dividends.

Following the steps outlined in this guide, you can quickly begin linting projects to boost Python code quality through consistent style and eliminate simple mistakes early. Linting leads to more robust code, easier maintenance, and ultimately more productive developers. Python programmers who prioritize quality embrace linting as an indispensable best practice.