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How To Remove First & Last Characters From String In Python (Code Examples)

How To Remove First & Last Characters From String In Python (Code Examples)

How can you remove the first and last characters from a string easily in Python? Can it be done using just one line of code? With Python of course it can!

To remove the first and last characters from a string in Python use the slice operator on the string to return the needed characters, for example, my_string[1:-1].

Here is an example demonstrating the technique:

>>> my_string = "How long is a piece of string?"
>>> my_string[1:-1]
'ow long is a piece of string'

How does this work?

The slice operator in Python allows you to capture a range according to the following pattern:

The first number is the index start of the capture. As indexes start at zero the number 1 denotes the second element.

The second number after the colon defines the end of the capture but excludes that element. The index number -1 in Python means the last element in the range.

Therefore by using the slice operator 1:-1 the capture starts from the second element in the list or string (string in our case here) and captures all other elements up to but excluding the last element in the list or string. Hence why the first character and the last character are removed from the result.

Can you use this same technique in removing just the first or last character from a string in Python? Of course!

Remove First Character From A String

If your use case is to just remove the first character from your string using Python, you can still use the list operator to achieve you result in just one line of code.

Here is a demonstration first:

>>> my_string = "How long is a piece of string?"
>>> my_string[1:]
'ow long is a piece of string?'

Notice in the above example how the first character has been removed. By using the slice operator on the string the capture in the range is from the second element to the very end of the string as no number has been inserted after the colon.

Without having a second number in the slice operator Python assumes that the capture goes through to the end.

But what if you wanted to remove just the last character from a string, can the slice operator be used to do this as well? Of course!

Remove Last Character From A String

In a similar way to how you remove the first character from a string using the slice operator you can use the same operator to remove just the last character.

As mentioned above the second number in the slice operator performs the capture up to and excluding that indexed item. Therefore, to capture everything from the beginning to the end and excluding the end the slice operation needed would just be my_string[:-1].

Here is an example demonstrating this operation:

>>> my_string = "How long is a piece of string?"
>>> my_string[:-1]
'How long is a piece of string'

As you can see the question mark at the very end of the string has been removed by using the slice operator. In this instance there is no number to denote the starting index position, if this is blank then it is assumed the capture starts from the first element or character in the case of a string.

The second number in the slice operator as previously explained captures everything up to and excluding that item. The index number -1 means the last item in the string, therefore, by using this as the second number in the slice operator everything is captured up to the last character, but excluding that last character.

What if you wanted to remove every other character except for the first and last characters in a string? Can this be done in Python using the slice operator too? Of course!

Remove Everything Except For First & Last Characters In String

If you needed to remove everything in a string except for the first and last characters in the string you can apply the slice operator but it involves one last aspect not yet revealed about the slice operator: the third parameter.

As seen above the slice operator has taken the form x:y where x is the starting index number, and y is the ending index number (exclusive). However, there’s also another form of the slice operator that involves a third parameter and takes the form x:y:z where z is the step from start to end with the default step value being 1.

Here is a quick example demonstrating the step parameter in the slice operator:

>>> my_string = "How long is a piece of string?"
>>> my_string[::2]
'Hwln sapeeo tig'

In the above example the slice operation captures each second character from start to end and the result is displayed in the REPL.

So how can you use this third parameter to only capture the first and last characters of a string?

In the same way, the step was used to capture every second character above the same principle can be used to capture just the first and last character, except the step would just need to be the size of the string less one character.

Here’s a quick example demonstrating how you can do this:

>>> my_string = "How long is a piece of string?"
>>> my_string[::len(my_string)-1]
'H?'

As you can see from the above example the first and last characters from the string have been captured using the versatile slice operator and only the step parameter. With no parameters set for the first and second section of the operator it means the capture has started at the beginning and has progressed through to the very end of the string with the step defining the jump from the start to the end.

To help define the length of the string the len() built-in function has helped and we need to subtract one from this amount otherwise the jump goes beyond the string because we are jumping from the first character.

Summary

The slice operator is a handy syntax for being able to remove the first and last characters from a string in Python. The same operator can similarly by used to remove just the first character or just the last character as well.

In this article, you also explored how to capture just the first and last characters of a string using the slice operators’ step parameter.