6. Modules

If you quit from the Python interpreter and enter it again, the definitions you have made (functions and variables) are lost. Therefore, if you want to write a somewhat longer program, you are better off using a text editor to prepare the input for the interpreter and running it with that file as input instead. This is known as creating a script. As your program gets longer, you may want to split it into several files for easier maintenance. You may also want to use a handy function that you’ve written in several programs without copying its definition into each program.

To support this, Python has a way to put definitions in a file and use them in a script or in an interactive instance of the interpreter. Such a file is called a module; definitions from a module can be imported into other modules or into the main module (the collection of variables that you have access to in a script executed at the top level and in calculator mode).

A module is a file containing Python definitions and statements. The file name is the module name with the suffix .py appended. Within a module, the module’s name (as a string) is available as the value of the global variable __name__. For instance, use your favorite text editor to create a file called fibo.py in the current directory with the following contents:

# Fibonacci numbers module

def fib(n):    # write Fibonacci series up to n
    a, b = 0, 1
    while b < n:
        print(b, end=' ')
        a, b = b, a+b
    print()

def fib2(n): # return Fibonacci series up to n
    result = []
    a, b = 0, 1
    while b < n:
        result.append(b)
        a, b = b, a+b
    return result

Now enter the Python interpreter and import this module with the following command:

>>> import fibo

This does not enter the names of the functions defined in fibo directly in the current symbol table; it only enters the module name fibo there. Using the module name you can access the functions:

>>> fibo.fib(1000)
1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377 610 987
>>> fibo.fib2(100)
[1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89]
>>> fibo.__name__
'fibo'

If you intend to use a function often you can assign it to a local name:

>>> fib = fibo.fib
>>> fib(500)
1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377

6.1. More on Modules

A module can contain executable statements as well as function definitions. These statements are intended to initialize the module. They are executed only the first time the module name is encountered in an import statement. [1] (They are also run if the file is executed as a script.)

Each module has its own private symbol table, which is used as the global symbol table by all functions defined in the module. Thus, the author of a module can use global variables in the module without worrying about accidental clashes with a user’s global variables. On the other hand, if you know what you are doing you can touch a module’s global variables with the same notation used to refer to its functions, modname.itemname.

Modules can import other modules. It is customary but not required to place all import statements at the beginning of a module (or script, for that matter). The imported module names are placed in the importing module’s global symbol table.

There is a variant of the import statement that imports names from a module directly into the importing module’s symbol table. For example:

>>> from fibo import fib, fib2
>>> fib(500)
1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377

This does not introduce the module name from which the imports are taken in the local symbol table (so in the example, fibo is not defined).

There is even a variant to import all names that a module defines:

>>> from fibo import *
>>> fib(500)
1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377

This imports all names except those beginning with an underscore (_). In most cases Python programmers do not use this facility since it introduces an unknown set of names into the interpreter, possibly hiding some things you have already defined.

Note that in general the practice of importing * from a module or package is frowned upon, since it often causes poorly readable code. However, it is okay to use it to save typing in interactive sessions.

Note

For efficiency reasons, each module is only imported once per interpreter session. Therefore, if you change your modules, you must restart the interpreter – or, if it’s just one module you want to test interactively, use imp.reload(), e.g. import imp; imp.reload(modulename).

6.1.1. Executing modules as scripts

When you run a Python module with

python fibo.py <arguments>

the code in the module will be executed, just as if you imported it, but with the __name__ set to "__main__". That means that by adding this code at the end of your module:

if __name__ == "__main__":
    import sys
    fib(int(sys.argv[1]))

you can make the file usable as a script as well as an importable module, because the code that parses the command line only runs if the module is executed as the “main” file:

$ python fibo.py 50
1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34

If the module is imported, the code is not run:

>>> import fibo
>>>

This is often used either to provide a convenient user interface to a module, or for testing purposes (running the module as a script executes a test suite).

6.1.2. The Module Search Path

When a module named spam is imported, the interpreter first searches for a built-in module with that name. If not found, it then searches for a file named spam.py in a list of directories given by the variable sys.path. sys.path is initialized from these locations:

  • the directory containing the input script (or the current directory).
  • PYTHONPATH (a list of directory names, with the same syntax as the shell variable PATH).
  • the installation-dependent default.

After initialization, Python programs can modify sys.path. The directory containing the script being run is placed at the beginning of the search path, ahead of the standard library path. This means that scripts in that directory will be loaded instead of modules of the same name in the library directory. This is an error unless the replacement is intended. See section Standard Modules for more information.

6.1.3. “Compiled” Python files

To speed up loading modules, Python caches the compiled version of each module in the __pycache__ directory under the name module.version.pyc, where the version encodes the format of the compiled file; it generally contains the Python version number. For example, in CPython release 3.3 the compiled version of spam.py would be cached as __pycache__/spam.cpython-33.pyc. This naming convention allows compiled modules from different releases and different versions of Python to coexist.

Python checks the modification date of the source against the compiled version to see if it’s out of date and needs to be recompiled. This is a completely automatic process. Also, the compiled modules are platform-independent, so the same library can be shared among systems with different architectures.

Python does not check the cache in two circumstances. First, it always recompiles and does not store the result for the module that’s loaded directly from the command line. Second, it does not check the cache if there is no source module. To support a non-source (compiled only) distribution, the compiled module must be in the source directory, and there must not be a source module.

Some tips for experts:

  • You can use the -O or -OO switches on the Python command to reduce the size of a compiled module. The -O switch removes assert statements, the -OO switch removes both assert statements and __doc__ strings. Since some programs may rely on having these available, you should only use this option if you know what you’re doing. “Optimized” modules have a .pyo rather than a .pyc suffix and are usually smaller. Future releases may change the effects of optimization.
  • A program doesn’t run any faster when it is read from a .pyc or .pyo file than when it is read from a .py file; the only thing that’s faster about .pyc or .pyo files is the speed with which they are loaded.
  • The module compileall can create .pyc files (or .pyo files when -O is used) for all modules in a directory.
  • There is more detail on this process, including a flow chart of the decisions, in PEP 3147.

6.2. Standard Modules

Python comes with a library of standard modules, described in a separate document, the Python Library Reference (“Library Reference” hereafter). Some modules are built into the interpreter; these provide access to operations that are not part of the core of the language but are nevertheless built in, either for efficiency or to provide access to operating system primitives such as system calls. The set of such modules is a configuration option which also depends on the underlying platform. For example, the winreg module is only provided on Windows systems. One particular module deserves some attention: sys, which is built into every Python interpreter. The variables sys.ps1 and sys.ps2 define the strings used as primary and secondary prompts:

>>> import sys
>>> sys.ps1
'>>> '
>>> sys.ps2
'... '
>>> sys.ps1 = 'C> '
C> print('Yuck!')
Yuck!
C>

These two variables are only defined if the interpreter is in interactive mode.

The variable sys.path is a list of strings that determines the interpreter’s search path for modules. It is initialized to a default path taken from the environment variable PYTHONPATH, or from a built-in default if PYTHONPATH is not set. You can modify it using standard list operations:

>>> import sys
>>> sys.path.append('/ufs/guido/lib/python')

6.3. The dir() Function

The built-in function dir() is used to find out which names a module defines. It returns a sorted list of strings:

>>> import fibo, sys
>>> dir(fibo)
['__name__', 'fib', 'fib2']
>>> dir(sys)  
['__displayhook__', '__doc__', '__excepthook__', '__loader__', '__name__',
 '__package__', '__stderr__', '__stdin__', '__stdout__',
 '_clear_type_cache', '_current_frames', '_debugmallocstats', '_getframe',
 '_home', '_mercurial', '_xoptions', 'abiflags', 'api_version', 'argv',
 'base_exec_prefix', 'base_prefix', 'builtin_module_names', 'byteorder',
 'call_tracing', 'callstats', 'copyright', 'displayhook',
 'dont_write_bytecode', 'exc_info', 'excepthook', 'exec_prefix',
 'executable', 'exit', 'flags', 'float_info', 'float_repr_style',
 'getcheckinterval', 'getdefaultencoding', 'getdlopenflags',
 'getfilesystemencoding', 'getobjects', 'getprofile', 'getrecursionlimit',
 'getrefcount', 'getsizeof', 'getswitchinterval', 'gettotalrefcount',
 'gettrace', 'hash_info', 'hexversion', 'implementation', 'int_info',
 'intern', 'maxsize', 'maxunicode', 'meta_path', 'modules', 'path',
 'path_hooks', 'path_importer_cache', 'platform', 'prefix', 'ps1',
 'setcheckinterval', 'setdlopenflags', 'setprofile', 'setrecursionlimit',
 'setswitchinterval', 'settrace', 'stderr', 'stdin', 'stdout',
 'thread_info', 'version', 'version_info', 'warnoptions']

Without arguments, dir() lists the names you have defined currently:

>>> a = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]
>>> import fibo
>>> fib = fibo.fib
>>> dir()
['__builtins__', '__name__', 'a', 'fib', 'fibo', 'sys']

Note that it lists all types of names: variables, modules, functions, etc.

dir() does not list the names of built-in functions and variables. If you want a list of those, they are defined in the standard module builtins:

>>> import builtins
>>> dir(builtins)  
['ArithmeticError', 'AssertionError', 'AttributeError', 'BaseException',
 'BlockingIOError', 'BrokenPipeError', 'BufferError', 'BytesWarning',
 'ChildProcessError', 'ConnectionAbortedError', 'ConnectionError',
 'ConnectionRefusedError', 'ConnectionResetError', 'DeprecationWarning',
 'EOFError', 'Ellipsis', 'EnvironmentError', 'Exception', 'False',
 'FileExistsError', 'FileNotFoundError', 'FloatingPointError',
 'FutureWarning', 'GeneratorExit', 'IOError', 'ImportError',
 'ImportWarning', 'IndentationError', 'IndexError', 'InterruptedError',
 'IsADirectoryError', 'KeyError', 'KeyboardInterrupt', 'LookupError',
 'MemoryError', 'NameError', 'None', 'NotADirectoryError', 'NotImplemented',
 'NotImplementedError', 'OSError', 'OverflowError',
 'PendingDeprecationWarning', 'PermissionError', 'ProcessLookupError',
 'ReferenceError', 'ResourceWarning', 'RuntimeError', 'RuntimeWarning',
 'StopIteration', 'SyntaxError', 'SyntaxWarning', 'SystemError',
 'SystemExit', 'TabError', 'TimeoutError', 'True', 'TypeError',
 'UnboundLocalError', 'UnicodeDecodeError', 'UnicodeEncodeError',
 'UnicodeError', 'UnicodeTranslateError', 'UnicodeWarning', 'UserWarning',
 'ValueError', 'Warning', 'ZeroDivisionError', '_', '__build_class__',
 '__debug__', '__doc__', '__import__', '__name__', '__package__', 'abs',
 'all', 'any', 'ascii', 'bin', 'bool', 'bytearray', 'bytes', 'callable',
 'chr', 'classmethod', 'compile', 'complex', 'copyright', 'credits',
 'delattr', 'dict', 'dir', 'divmod', 'enumerate', 'eval', 'exec', 'exit',
 'filter', 'float', 'format', 'frozenset', 'getattr', 'globals', 'hasattr',
 'hash', 'help', 'hex', 'id', 'input', 'int', 'isinstance', 'issubclass',
 'iter', 'len', 'license', 'list', 'locals', 'map', 'max', 'memoryview',
 'min', 'next', 'object', 'oct', 'open', 'ord', 'pow', 'print', 'property',
 'quit', 'range', 'repr', 'reversed', 'round', 'set', 'setattr', 'slice',
 'sorted', 'staticmethod', 'str', 'sum', 'super', 'tuple', 'type', 'vars',
 'zip']

6.4. Packages

Packages are a way of structuring Python’s module namespace by using “dotted module names”. For example, the module name A.B designates a submodule named B in a package named A. Just like the use of modules saves the authors of different modules from having to worry about each other’s global variable names, the use of dotted module names saves the authors of multi-module packages like NumPy or the Python Imaging Library from having to worry about each other’s module names.

Suppose you want to design a collection of modules (a “package”) for the uniform handling of sound files and sound data. There are many different sound file formats (usually recognized by their extension, for example: .wav, .aiff, .au), so you may need to create and maintain a growing collection of modules for the conversion between the various file formats. There are also many different operations you might want to perform on sound data (such as mixing, adding echo, applying an equalizer function, creating an artificial stereo effect), so in addition you will be writing a never-ending stream of modules to perform these operations. Here’s a possible structure for your package (expressed in terms of a hierarchical filesystem):

sound/                          Top-level package
      __init__.py               Initialize the sound package
      formats/                  Subpackage for file format conversions
              __init__.py
              wavread.py
              wavwrite.py
              aiffread.py
              aiffwrite.py
              auread.py
              auwrite.py
              ...
      effects/                  Subpackage for sound effects
              __init__.py
              echo.py
              surround.py
              reverse.py
              ...
      filters/                  Subpackage for filters
              __init__.py
              equalizer.py
              vocoder.py
              karaoke.py
              ...

When importing the package, Python searches through the directories on sys.path looking for the package subdirectory.

The __init__.py files are required to make Python treat the directories as containing packages; this is done to prevent directories with a common name, such as string, from unintentionally hiding valid modules that occur later on the module search path. In the simplest case, __init__.py can just be an empty file, but it can also execute initialization code for the package or set the __all__ variable, described later.

Users of the package can import individual modules from the package, for example:

import sound.effects.echo

This loads the submodule sound.effects.echo. It must be referenced with its full name.

sound.effects.echo.echofilter(input, output, delay=0.7, atten=4)

An alternative way of importing the submodule is:

from sound.effects import echo

This also loads the submodule echo, and makes it available without its package prefix, so it can be used as follows:

echo.echofilter(input, output, delay=0.7, atten=4)

Yet another variation is to import the desired function or variable directly:

from sound.effects.echo import echofilter

Again, this loads the submodule echo, but this makes its function echofilter() directly available:

echofilter(input, output, delay=0.7, atten=4)

Note that when using from package import item, the item can be either a submodule (or subpackage) of the package, or some other name defined in the package, like a function, class or variable. The import statement first tests whether the item is defined in the package; if not, it assumes it is a module and attempts to load it. If it fails to find it, an ImportError exception is raised.

Contrarily, when using syntax like import item.subitem.subsubitem, each item except for the last must be a package; the last item can be a module or a package but can’t be a class or function or variable defined in the previous item.

6.4.1. Importing * From a Package

Now what happens when the user writes from sound.effects import *? Ideally, one would hope that this somehow goes out to the filesystem, finds which submodules are present in the package, and imports them all. This could take a long time and importing sub-modules might have unwanted side-effects that should only happen when the sub-module is explicitly imported.

The only solution is for the package author to provide an explicit index of the package. The import statement uses the following convention: if a package’s __init__.py code defines a list named __all__, it is taken to be the list of module names that should be imported when from package import * is encountered. It is up to the package author to keep this list up-to-date when a new version of the package is released. Package authors may also decide not to support it, if they don’t see a use for importing * from their package. For example, the file sound/effects/__init__.py could contain the following code:

__all__ = ["echo", "surround", "reverse"]

This would mean that from sound.effects import * would import the three named submodules of the sound package.

If __all__ is not defined, the statement from sound.effects import * does not import all submodules from the package sound.effects into the current namespace; it only ensures that the package sound.effects has been imported (possibly running any initialization code in __init__.py) and then imports whatever names are defined in the package. This includes any names defined (and submodules explicitly loaded) by __init__.py. It also includes any submodules of the package that were explicitly loaded by previous import statements. Consider this code:

import sound.effects.echo
import sound.effects.surround
from sound.effects import *

In this example, the echo and surround modules are imported in the current namespace because they are defined in the sound.effects package when the from...import statement is executed. (This also works when __all__ is defined.)

Although certain modules are designed to export only names that follow certain patterns when you use import *, it is still considered bad practise in production code.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with using from Package import specific_submodule! In fact, this is the recommended notation unless the importing module needs to use submodules with the same name from different packages.

6.4.2. Intra-package References

When packages are structured into subpackages (as with the sound package in the example), you can use absolute imports to refer to submodules of siblings packages. For example, if the module sound.filters.vocoder needs to use the echo module in the sound.effects package, it can use from sound.effects import echo.

You can also write relative imports, with the from module import name form of import statement. These imports use leading dots to indicate the current and parent packages involved in the relative import. From the surround module for example, you might use:

from . import echo
from .. import formats
from ..filters import equalizer

Note that relative imports are based on the name of the current module. Since the name of the main module is always "__main__", modules intended for use as the main module of a Python application must always use absolute imports.

6.4.3. Packages in Multiple Directories

Packages support one more special attribute, __path__. This is initialized to be a list containing the name of the directory holding the package’s __init__.py before the code in that file is executed. This variable can be modified; doing so affects future searches for modules and subpackages contained in the package.

While this feature is not often needed, it can be used to extend the set of modules found in a package.

Footnotes

[1]In fact function definitions are also ‘statements’ that are ‘executed’; the execution of a module-level function definition enters the function name in the module’s global symbol table.