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Safari | Python Developer's Handbook -> Modules and Packages

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Modules and Packages

A module is a collection of classes, functions, and variables saved in a text file.

When referencing a module within your Python application, you don't need to specify the file suffixyour program text files must carry a .py extension. Modules can be written in Python or in C. No matter what option you use, you call both types of modules using the same syntax. The following syntax imports and creates the global namespace for a module:

import <module>


A module filename called yourmodule.py should be mentioned in your import clause as follows:

>>> import yourmodule


It is also possible to have multiple modules imported at the same time, using just one import statement as follows:

>>> import m1, m2, m3



An interesting fact you should know is that all the code is executed when it is imported for the first time.

Some modules are always available in Python. Others (including yours) are files and need to be imported (in most cases, those files have .py or .pyc suffixes). To be imported, a file must have been saved in one of the directories listed in the sys.path variable.

If you need your module to be runnable and importable at the same time, you need to put something like the following line of code at the end of the file:

If __name__ == "__main__": your_function()



Remember that in UNIX, you need to change the permission of a file to make it executable.

You can find out the contents of a module by typing:



For example,

>>> dir(math)


Now we will talk about packages.

A package is a collection of modules in the same directory. Package names must be subdirectories of one of the directories listed in the sys.path variable.

A package directory must have, at least, an empty __init__.py file, and it might contain subpackages (subdirectories). Each subdirectory also needs, at least, an empty __init__.py file.

In the statement

>>> import a.b


the module named a.b designates a submodule named b inside a package called a.

When you import a package, its subpackages aren't imported all together. You need to explicitly say that in the __init__.py file.

It would be similar to saving the following line in the __init__.py file of your package:

import subpackage1, subpackage2, subpackage3

Remember that to locate modules and packages, Python uses the paths that are stored at sys.path. This variable is a simple list, like any other, and you can add any directory to this list that you want. Type sys.path at the prompt of your interpreter to know the current contents of this variable.

A new feature incorporated to release 2.0 is the possibility to rename modules when importing them. The syntax for that can be either

import module as newname


from module import name as newname

This feature is equivalent to the code

import module
newmodule = module
del module

Built-In Methods

All these built-in functions are part of the __builtin__ module, and you can use them after you have a module or package named m.

>>> m.__dict__            # lists the module dictionary
>>> m.x = m.__dict__["x"]   # provides access to a specific attribute
>>> m.__doc__            # returns the documentation string
>>> m.__name__            # returns the name of the module
>>> m.__file__            # returns the file name
>>> m.__path__            # returns the fully qualified package name


from in Contrast to import

The import and from statements allow one module to refer to objects from another module's namespace. They help eliminate problems with different modules that have some internal names equal. The next examples discuss the possible ways to use these statements.

>>> import string
>>> print string.join(list)


The previous example imports the string module as a local reference to an external module, allowing fully qualified references to any other objects in the string namespace.

The next example adds the join() function to the namespace of the current module. This method allows you to control exactly which names you import into your local namespace from a module.

>>> from string import join
>>> print join(list)


Now, take a look at the next line:

>>> from string import *


The problem with this syntax is that if the string module defines its own dosomething() function, you lose the dosomething() that might exist in your current namespace.

If you instead do a simple import string, you will keep your current dosomething() function. However, the dosomething() function from the string module will now be accessed by string.dosomething().

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