Data Types in Programming: Numbers, Strings and Others

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  • 0:15 Strings
  • 1:44 Numeric Data Types
  • 3:09 Boolean Data
  • 3:53 Composite Data Types
  • 6:13 Date and Time
  • 6:53 Enumerated
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul is a GIS professor at Vancouver Island U, has a PhD from U of British Columbia, and has taught stats and programming for 15 years.

Within a programing language, a data type of an object determines what type of values an object can have and what operations can be performed on the object. Learn about the most common data types, including strings, numbers, Booleans, lists and arrays.

Data Types

Programming uses a number of different data types. A data type determines what type of value an object can have and what operations can be performed.


One of the most widely used data types is a string. A string consists of one or more characters, which can include letters, numbers, and other types of characters. You can think of a string as plain text.

A string represents alphanumeric data. This means that a string can contain many different characters, but they are all considered as if they were text, even if the characters are numbers. A string can also contain spaces. This presents a bit of an issue. How are you going to distinguish between the value of a string and the actual code of the program? The solution is to mark the beginning and end of a string with a special character, typically a quote. For example, the following code is used to print text to the screen:

print 'Hello World!'

The use of quotes ensures that the text 'Hello World!' is recognized as a string and not as two separate words that may have some special meaning in the programming language. The use of quotes also makes it possible to use numeric characters as part of a string. For example, the following code is used to store a street address:

address = '123 Central Avenue'

Without the quotes, the numeric characters 123 would be interpreted as a number, but with the quotes, it is recognized as being part of a string that represents a street address.

Numeric Data Types

The second most important data type is numeric data. There are several different ones.

An integer is a numeric value without a decimal. Integers are whole numbers and can be positive or negative. Sometimes a distinction is made between short and long integers, referring to how much data storage is used for the number. A short integer is typically stored using 16 bits, which means you can store up to 2^16, or 65,536, unique values. For any number larger than that, you would need to use a long integer, which uses 32 bits or more.

A number with a decimal is referred to as a decimal, a float or a double. The terminology varies somewhat with the programming language being used. The term 'float' comes from floating point, which means you can control where the decimal point is located. The term 'double' refers to using double the amount of storage relative to a float. Working with numbers in code is a little bit like using a calculator. Here is an example of how numeric values are used in code, in this case using a multiplication character:

result = 3 * 117.89

The value stored in the 'result' would be 353.67.

Boolean Data

The Boolean data type can only represent two values: true or false. Typically, a 1 is used to represent True, and a 0 is used to represent False. Consider the following example where a user inputs two values and the program determines whether the first one is smaller than the second one or not.


In this example the first value is in fact not smaller than the second one, and the program therefore results in a Boolean value of False. The Boolean type is the primary results of conditional statements, which are used to control workflow in program. For example, if a particular condition is true, then do this - if the condition is false, then do something else.

Composite Data Types

The data types covered so far are often referred to as primitive data types. A composite data type is obtained by combining more than one primitive data type. These are also referred to as data structures. Common examples of composite data types are lists and arrays.

A list contains elements of one particular data type. For example, a list could contain strings. An example would be the names of all players on a soccer team. Each name is a string, but when you organize all the names together, they form a list. A list is the simplest data structure.

For example, a list of strings could look like this:

('John', 'Paul', 'George', 'Ringo')

A list of numbers could look like this:

(67, 84, 92, 52, 81, 75)

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