When you first learn Python, accessing the values of a dictionary is as simple as using dictionary[key]. For example:

>>> fruit_bowl = {
...     'apples': 4,
...     'pears': 3,
...     'bananas': 7
... }
>>> fruit_bowl['apples']
4

Of course, there is another way of accessing dictionary values. You can use the dict.get() method:

>>> fruit_bowl.get('apples')
4

On first viewing, you might think, what is the point in using .get()? Is it just alternative syntax for the square-bracket notation?

NO. The .get(key, default) method actually allows you to define a default value to use in the case that the dictionary key does not exist.

Let's talk through the various scenarios when using dict().get(). Firstly, if you pass in a key that does not exist, the function will return None:

>>> fruit_bowl.get('potatoes')
>>> value = fruit_bowl.get('potatoes')
>>> value == None
True

If the key doesn't exist, you may wish to provide a default value:

>>> fruit_bowl.get('potatoes', 'no potatoes in the fruit bowl')
'no potatoes in the fruit bowl'

The provision of default values when accessing dictionary values makes your code more robust because it is less likely to throw errors. This is generally considered good practice, but it can make code harder to debug on occasion!

There is, of course, one caveat. dict.get(key, default) always evaluates the default value before trying to access the dictionary key. This means that the function can throw an error even if the key exists. For example:

>>> value = fruit_bowl.get('pears', fruit_bowl['potatoes'])
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
KeyError: 'potatoes'

In the above example, the 'pears' key exists in fruit_bowl, but .get() tries to evaluate the default value fruit_bowl['potatoes'] first, which throws an error.