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Recursion in Python Functions: A Beginner's Guide

Recursion in Python Functions: A Beginner's Guide

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Recursion is a programming concept where a function calls itself until a specific condition is met. It is a powerful tool used by programmers to solve problems that require repetitive work.

When is it Useful?

Recursion is useful when solving problems that have repeated subproblems. It allows the program to break down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable tasks. This makes the code easier to understand, read and write.

Recursive vs Iterative Solutions to Problems

Recursive solutions are often more elegant, but they may also be less efficient than iterative solutions. Iterative solutions use loops to repeatedly execute a block of code. While recursive solutions can be slower, they are often more concise and easier to understand.

How to Write and Debug Recursive Functions in Python

To write a recursive function in Python, you need to identify the base case and the recursive case. The base case is the condition that stops the recursion. The recursive case is the condition that continues the recursion.

For example, let's take a look at a simple recursive function that calculates the factorial of a number:

def factorial(n):
    if n == 0:
        return 1
        return n * factorial(n-1)

In this function, the base case is when n is equal to 0, and the recursive case is when n is greater than 0.

To debug a recursive function, you can add print statements to help you understand how the function is being executed. You can also use a debugger like PyCharm or Visual Studio Code to step through the function line by line.

Examples and Exercises

Let's take a look at some examples of recursive functions in Python:

Example 1: Fibonacci Sequence

The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers where each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. The first two numbers in the sequence are 0 and 1.

We can write a recursive function to calculate the nth number in the Fibonacci sequence:

def fibonacci(n):
    if n <= 1:
        return n
        return fibonacci(n-1) + fibonacci(n-2)

Example 2: Binary Search

Binary search is an algorithm that searches for a specific value in a sorted list by dividing the list in half repeatedly until the value is found or determined not to be in the list.

We can write a recursive function to implement binary search:

def binary_search(arr, low, high, x):
    if high >= low:
        mid = (high + low) // 2
        if arr[mid] == x:
            return mid
        elif arr[mid] > x:
            return binary_search(arr, low, mid-1, x)
            return binary_search(arr, mid+1, high, x)
        return -1

Exercise: Sum of Digits

Write a recursive function that calculates the sum of the digits in a positive integer.

def digit_sum(n):
    if n < 10:
        return n
        return n % 10 + digit_sum(n // 10)


Recursion is a powerful tool in Python programming that allows you to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. By understanding how to write and debug recursive functions, you can become a more proficient programmer and solve a wider range of problems.


Robort Gabriel

Lagos, Nigeria

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