How To Get Started With Python in Visual Studio Code

Updated on April 9, 2020
How To Get Started With Python in Visual Studio Code


Python is one of the most popular and easy to learn languages, which is why it is often one of the first languages you learn. Let’s see how to work with and run Python inside of Visual Studio Code.

In this tutorial you’ll install the Python extension then use intellisense and shortcuts to run your Python code.


Step 1 — Running Python From the Built-in Terminal

With Python installed and your local programming environment set up, open Visual Studio Code.

Inside of Visual Studio Code, open the directory you’re working in by going to File -> Open and selecting the directory. After that, you’ll see your folder open in the explorer window on the left.

Python test folder open to the left of the screen

With the directory open, you can create your first Python file (.py extension) with some code to print "Hello World".

"Hello World" type into the editor within a print function in Python

Save the file.

Now that you have your Hello World code ready, we can run it by using the built-in terminal in Visual Studio Code. If if is not open already, you can open it by going to View -> Terminal or use the shortcut, CTRL+~.

View menu open with Terminal selected

The terminal that you just opened will automatically start in the current directory that you are editing in Visual Studio Code. This is exactly why we created and opened a directory before getting started. We can prove this by running the following command:

  1. pwd

This command will print the path to the current directory. From there, you can verify that your Python file is also inside of the current directory by running the following command to print a list of files in the directory:

  1. ls

Now, you can run your Python file with the following command:

  1. python filename

After running, you’ll see Hello World printed out in the console.

Hello World printed out in the console

Step 2 — Installing the Python Extension

We can streamline the process of working with Python in Visual Studio by installing the Python extension created by Microsoft. To install the extension, open up the extension menu on the left (the icon looks like a square inside of a square) and search Python.

It will be the first one that pops up, and you can click on it to view the extension details and click Install.

Python extension search and Python extension main page for installation

After installing, you might need to reload, so go ahead and do that.

After you restart, you can now take advantage of the Python extension’s features:

  • IntelliSense
  • Auto-completion
  • Shortcuts for running Python Files
  • Additional info on hovering Python variables, functions, and so on.

To start working with IntelliSense, create an empty array called list.

list = []

Then following type list. followed by a period and notice that some information pops up. The extension is providing you all the functions and properties of a list that you can use.

the list array and the "list." added into the editor

If you want to use one of those functions, you can press ENTER or TAB to auto-complete that function name. This means that don’t have to memorize every function in Python because the extension will give you hints as to what is available. Notice also that it shows you a brief description of what the function does and what parameters it takes.

You can also get intellisense when importing modules in Python. Notice if you type random, intellisense pops up to complete the name of the module as well as providing some background info on what it does.

 typed into the editor with the intellisense information added in

If you then start to use the random module, you’ll continue to get intellisense for functions that you can access with that module.

using random with dot notation provides further information on what can be accessed with it

Lastly, you can hover on existing variables, module imports, and so on, for additional information whenever you need it.

hovering over existing variables will always provide further information

Step 3 — Using Shortcuts to Run Python Code

If you want to do more in your Python file, here’s a short snippet for the Bubble Sort algorithm. It calls the bubble_sort function and prints out the result. You can copy this code into your file:

def bubble_sort(list):
    sorted_list = list[:]
    is_sorted = False
    while is_sorted == False:
        swaps = 0
        for i in range(len(list) - 1):
            if sorted_list[i] > sorted_list[i + 1]: # swap
                temp = sorted_list[i]
                sorted_list[i] = sorted_list[i + 1]
                sorted_list[i + 1] = temp
                swaps += 1
        if swaps == 0:
                is_sorted = True
    return sorted_list

print(bubble_sort([2, 1, 3]))

With this new piece of code, let’s explore a new way to run our Python file. The typical first workflow for working with Python files is to save your file and then run that Python file in the terminal. With the Python extension, there are a few shortcuts to help with this process.

Inside of any Python file, you can right click in the editor and choose Run Python File In Terminal. This command will do each of the individual steps that we talked about before.

algorithm in the editor with menu up and Run Python File In Terminal selected

After using the shortcut, you can see the bubble_sort output in your console.

Bubble_sort output in your console

You also have a shortcut to open the Python REPL where you can quickly type Python code directly into your console and see the output. Open the command palette using the shortcut CMD+SHIFT+P on Mac or CTRL+SHIFT+P on Windows and select Python Start REPL.

Python Start REPL selected in the command palette

After typing in a print command, you will see Hello World immediately displayed in the console.

Hello World displayed in the console


Python is an incredibly popular language with strong support in Visual Studio Code. By installing the Python extension, you’ll get Python intellisense, auto-completion, and other useful miscellaneous shortcuts.

Thanks for learning with the DigitalOcean Community. Check out our offerings for compute, storage, networking, and managed databases.

Learn more about us

About the authors

Still looking for an answer?

Ask a questionSearch for more help

Was this helpful?
Leave a comment

This textbox defaults to using Markdown to format your answer.

You can type !ref in this text area to quickly search our full set of tutorials, documentation & marketplace offerings and insert the link!

Try DigitalOcean for free

Click below to sign up and get $200 of credit to try our products over 60 days!

Sign up

Join the Tech Talk
Success! Thank you! Please check your email for further details.

Please complete your information!

Featured on Community

Get our biweekly newsletter

Sign up for Infrastructure as a Newsletter.

Hollie's Hub for Good

Working on improving health and education, reducing inequality, and spurring economic growth? We'd like to help.

Become a contributor

Get paid to write technical tutorials and select a tech-focused charity to receive a matching donation.

Welcome to the developer cloud

DigitalOcean makes it simple to launch in the cloud and scale up as you grow — whether you're running one virtual machine or ten thousand.

Learn more
DigitalOcean Cloud Control Panel