Built-in Package Support in Python 1.5
Starting with Python version 1.5a4, package support is built into the Python interpreter. This implements a slightly simplified and modified version of the package import semantics pioneered by the "ni" module.
"Package import" is a method to structure 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 PIL from having to worry about each other's module names.
Starting with Python version 1.3, package import was supported by a standard Python library module, "ni". (The name is supposed to be an acronym for New Import, but really referrs to the Knights Who Say Ni in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who, after King Arthur's knights return with a shrubbery, have changed their names to the Knights Who Say Neeeow ... Wum ... Ping - but that's another story.)
The ni module was all user code except for a few modifications to the Python parser (also introduced in 1.3) to accept import statements of the for "import A.B.C" and "from A.B.C import X". When ni was not enabled, using this syntax resulted in a run-time error "No such module". Once ni was enabled (by executing "import ni" before importing other modules), ni's import hook would look for the submodule of the correct package.
The new package support is designed to resemble ni, but has been streamlined, and a few features have been changed or removed.
Suppose you want to design a package for the uniform handling of sound files and sound data. There are many different sound file formats (usually recognized by their extension, e.g. .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 (e.g. 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 Utils/ Subpackage for internal use __init__.py iobuffer.py errors.py ... 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 dolby.py ...
Users of the package can import individual modules from the package, for example:
- This loads the submodule Sound.Effects.echo. It must be referenced
with its full name, e.g.
Sound.Effects.echo.echofilter(input, output, delay=0.7, atten=4)
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)
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
import item, the item can be either a submodule
(or subpackage) of the package, or some other name defined in a 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, ImportError is raised.
Contrarily, when using syntax like
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.
Importing * From a Package; the
Now what happens when the user writes
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. Unfortunately, this operation does not work
very well on Mac and Windows platforms, where the filesystem does not
always have accurate information about the case of a filename! On
these platforms, there is no guaranteed way to know whether a file
ECHO.PY should be imported as a module echo, Echo or ECHO. (For
example, Windows 95 has the annoying practice of showing all file
names with a capitalized first letter.) The DOS 8+3 filename
restriction adds another interesting problem for long module names.
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
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
Sounds/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
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 its
initialization code, __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, e.g.
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.)import Sound.Effects.echo import Sound.Effects.surround from Sound.Effects import *
Note that in general the practicing 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, and certain modules are designed to export only names that follow certain patterns.
Remember, there is nothing wrong with using
import specific_submodule! In fact this becomes the
recommended notation unless the importing module needs to use
submodules with the same name from different packages.
The submodules often need to refer to each other. For example, the
surround module might use the echo module. In fact, such references
are so common that the import statement first looks in the containing
package before looking in the standard module search path. Thus, the
surround module can simply use
import echo or
echo import echofilter. If the imported module is not found
in the current package (the package of which the current module is a
submodule), the import statement looks for a top-level module with the
When packages are structured into subpackage (as with the Sound
package in the example), there's no shortcut to refer to submodules of
sibling packages - the full name of the subpackage must be used. For
example, if the module Sound.Filters.vocoder needs to use the echo
module in the Sound.Effects package, it can use
Sound.Effects import echo.
(One could design a notation to refer to parent packages, similar to the use of ".." to refer to the parent directory in Unix and Windows filesystems. In fact, ni supported this using __ for the package containing the current module, __.__ for the parent package, and so on. This feature was dropped because of its awkwardness; since most packages will have a relative shallow substructure, this is no big loss.)
Packages Are Modules, Too!
Warning: the following may be confusing for those who are familiar with Java's package notation, which is similar to Python's, but different.
Whenever a submodule of a package is loaded, Python makes sure that
the package itself is loaded first, loading its __init__.py file if
necessary. The same for packages. Thus, when the statement
import Sound.Effects.echo is executed, it first ensures
that Sound is loaded; then it ensures that Sound.Effects is loaded;
and only then does it ensure that Sound.Effects.echo is loaded
(loading it if it hasn't been loaded before).
Once loaded, the difference between a package and a module is minimal. In fact, both are represented by module objects, and both are stored in the table of loaded modules, sys.modules. The key in sys.modules is the full dotted name of a module (which is not always the same name as used in the import statement). This is also the contents of the __name__ variable (which gives the full name of the module or package).
The __path__ Variable
The one distinction between packages and modules lies in the presence or absence of the variable __path__. This is only present for packages. It is initialized to a list of one item, containing the directory name of the package (a subdirectory of a directory on sys.path). Changing __path__ changes the list of directories that are searched for submodules of the package. For example, the Sound.Effects package might contain platform specific submodules. It could use the following directory structure:
Sound/ __init__.py Effects/ # Generic versions of effects modules __init__.py echo.py surround.py reverse.py ... plat-ix86/ # Intel x86 specific effects modules echo.py surround.py plat-PPC/ # PPC specific effects modules echo.py
The Effects/__init__.py file could manipulate its __path__ variable so that the appropriate platform specific subdirectory comes before the main Effects directory, so that the platform specific implementations of certain effects (if available) override the generic (probably slower) implementations. For example:
platform = ... # Figure out which platform applies dirname = __path__ # Package's main folder __path__.insert(0, os.path.join(dirname, "plat-" + platform))
If it is not desirable that platform specific submodules hide generic modules with the same name, __path__.append(...) should be used instead of __path__.insert(0, ...).
Note that the plat-* subdirectories are not subpackages of Effects - the file Sound/Effects/plat-PPC/echo.py correspondes to the module Sound.Effects.echo.
Dummy Entries in
When using packages, you may occasionally find spurious entries in sys.modules, e.g. sys.modules['Sound.Effects.string'] could be found with the value None. This is an "indirection" entry created because some submodule in the Sound.Effects package imported the top-level string module. Its purpose is an important optimization: because the import statement cannot tell whether a local or global module is wanted, and because the rules state that a local module (in the same package) hides a global module with the same name, the import statement must search the package's search path before looking for a (possibly already imported) global module. Since searching the package's path is a relatively expensive operation, and importing an already imported module is supposed to be cheap (in the order of one or two dictionary lookups) an optimization is in order. The dummy entry avoids searching the package's path when the same global module is imported from the second time by a submodule of the same package.
Dummy entries are only created for modules that are found at the top level; if the module is not found at all, the import fails and the optimization is generally not needed. Moreover, in interactive use, the user could create the module as a package-local submodule and retry the import; if a dummy entry had been created this would not be found. If the user changes the package structure by creating a local submodule with the same name as a global module that has already been used in the package, the result is generally known as a "mess", and the proper solution is to quit the interpreter and start over.
What If I Have a Module and a Package With The Same Name?
You may have a directory (on sys.path) which has both a module spam.py and a subdirectory spam that contains an __init__.py (without the __init__.py, a directory is not recognized as a package). In this case, the subdirectory has precedence, and importing spam will ignore the spam.py file, loading the package spam instead. If you want the module spam.py to have precedence, it must be placed in a directory that comes earlier in sys.path.
(Tip: the search order is determined by the list of suffixes returned by the function imp.get_suffixes(). Usually the suffixes are searched in the following order: ".so", "module.so", ".py", ".pyc". Directories don't explicitly occur in this list, but precede all entries in it.)
A Proposal For Installing Packages
In order for a Python program to use a package, the package must be findable by the import statement. In other words, the package must be a subdirectory of a directory that is on sys.path.
Traditionally, the easiest way to ensure that a package was on sys.path was to either install it in the standard library or to have users extend sys.path by setting their $PYTHONPATH shell environment variable. In practice, both solutions quickly cause chaos.
In Python 1.5, a convention has been established that should prevent chaos, by giving the system administrator more control. First of all, two extra directories are added to the end of the default search path (four if the install prefix and exec_prefix differ). These are relative to the install prefix (which defaults to /usr/local):
The site-packages directory can be used for packages that are likely to depend on the Python version (e.g. package containing shared libraries or using new features). The site-python directory is used for backward compatibility with Python 1.4 and for pure Python packages or modules that are not sensitive to the Python version used.
Recommended use of these directories is to place each package in a
subdirectory of its own in either the site-packages or the site-python
directory. The subdirectory should be the package name, which should
be acceptable as a Python identifier. Then, any Python program can
import modules in the package by giving their full name. For example,
the Sound package used in the example could be installed in the
directory $prefix/lib/python1.5/site-packages/Sound to enable imports
Adding a Level of Indirection
Some sites wish to install their packages in other places, but still wish them to to be importable by all Python programs run by all their users. This can be accomplished by two different means:
- Symbolic Links
- If the package is structured for dotted-name import, place a
symbolic link to its top-level directory in the site-packages or
site-python directory. The name of the symbolic link should be the
package name; for example, the Sound package could have a symbolic
link $prefix/lib/python1.5/site-packages/Sound pointing to
- Path Configuration Files
- If the package really requires adding one or more directories on
sys.path (e.g. because it has not yet been structured to support
dotted-name import), a "path configuration file" named
package.pth can be placed in either the site-python or
site-packages directory. Each line in this file (except for comments
and blank lines) is considered to contain a directory name which is
appended to sys.path. Relative pathnames are allowed and interpreted
relative to the directory containing the .pth file.
The .pth files are read in alphabetic order, with case sensitivity the same as the local file system. This means that if you find the irresistable urge to play games with the order in which directories are searched, at least you can do it in a predictable way. (This is not the same as an endorsement. A typical installation should have no or very few .pth files or something is wrong, and if you need to play with the search order, something is very wrong. Nevertheless, sometimes the need arises, and this is how you can do it of you must.)
Notes for Mac and Windows Platforms
On Mac and Windows, the conventions are slightly different. The conventional directory for package installation on these platforms is the root (or a subdirectory) of the Python installation directory, which is specific to the installed Python version. This is also the (only) directory searched for path configuration files (*.pth).
Subdirectories of the Standard Library Directory
Since any subdirectory of a directory on sys.path is now implicitly usable as a package, one could easily be confused about whether these are intended as such. For example, assume there's a subdirectory called tkinter containing a module Tkinter.py. Should one write import Tkinter or import tkinter.Tkinter? If the tkinter subdirectory os on the path, both will work, but that's creating unnecessary confusion.
I have established a simple naming convention that should remove this confusion: non-package directories must have a hyphen in their name. In particular, all platform-specific subdirectories (sunos5, win, mac, etc.) have been renamed to a name with the prefix "plat-". The subdirectories specific to optional Python components that haven't been converted to packages yet have been renamed to a name with the prefix "lib-". The dos_8x3 sundirectory has been renamed to dos-8x3. The following tables gives all renamed directories:
|Old Name||New Name|
Note that the test subdirectory is not renamed. It is now a
package. To invoke it, use a statement like
Other StuffXXX I haven't had the time to write up discussions of the following items yet:
The following features of ni have not been duplicated exactly. Ignore this section unless you are currently using the ni module and wish to migrate to the built-in package support.
By default, when a submodule of package A.B.C imports a module X, ni would search for A.B.C.X, A.B.X, A.X and X, in that order. This was defined by the __domain__ variable in the package which could be set to a list of package names to be searched. This feature is dropped in the built-in package support. Instead, the search always looks for A.B.C.X first and then for X. (This a reversal to the "two scope" approach that is used successfully for namespace resolution elsewhere in Python.)
Using ni, packages could use explicit "relative" module names using the special name "__" (two underscores). For example, modules in package A.B.C can refer to modules defined in package A.B.K via names of the form __.__.K.module. This feature has been dropped because of its limited use and poor readability.
Incompatible Semantics For
Using ni, the __init__.py file inside a package (if present) would
be imported as a standard submodule of the package. The built-in
package support instead loads the __init__.py file in the package's
namespace. This means that if __init__.py in package A defines a name
x, if can be referred to as A.x without further effort. Using ni, the
__init__.py would have to contain an assignment of the form
= x to get the same effect.
Also, the new package support requires that an
__init__ module is present; under ni, it was optional.
This is a change introduced in Python 1.5b1; it is designed to avoid
directories with common names, like "string", to unintentionally hide
valid modules that occur later on the module search path.
Packages that wish to be backwards compatible with ni can test whether the special variable __ exists, e.g.:
# Define a function to be visible at the package level def f(...): ... try: __ except NameError: # new built-in package support pass else: # backwards compatibility for ni __.f = f