Python Modules and Packages

As a scripting language, one of the main benefits of Python is that you can just open a file, write some code and simply execute it in short order. No functions, no classes, just a few quick statements to solve a simple task. Great? Yeah… but not always.

Very often, as in other programming languages, we want to write code for a common task once and use it over and over. Wrapping this functionality in a function is a great first step, but what if you want to reuse the same code in many different scripts? That’s where modules and packages come in.


Python modules are really simple - basically, each file of Python source code is a module, and you can import each of these modules into any other script. Say you have a Python source file called that looks like:


def load(filename):
    Load data from a file where each line is one integer.

    data = []

    with open(filename) as fp:
        for line in fp:

    return data

We can then use the functionality of this module using the import syntax. When you attempt to import a module, it first searches in the current directory for a Python source file of that name ( in the case of import file), so the following file executed in the same directory as above will use its load function to read ‘datafile.txt’ and print it:

import parser

file_data = parser.load('datafile.txt')

for value in file_data:

Note the use of the dot . syntax to access the load function from parser. In Python, modules behave just like other objects, and so you can access their attributes as you would an attribute of the class.

It’s important to realise that all code in the file will be executed when it’s first imported. Generally speaking you would only define functions, classes and constant variables in modules you expect to be imported, but there are expections to that that are outside the scope of this post.

Importing from Other Locations

If you’re reading this post, the chances are that you’re already familiar with the import syntax and have used it to import modules from the Python standard library. For example, a common task is to read arguments from the command line when executing a Python script:


import sys

# Read the first command line argument
number = int(sys.argv[1])

print(number * 10)

The above script uses the sys module from the standard library to access the command line arguments given to Python. The module need not be located in the same directory, but is instead loaded from the Python path, a list of directories in which to search for Python modules when importing.

Adding new modules to the Python path requires either copying them to a directory already in the path, or by modifying the path to include its location. The best way to handle this is through the use of a setup script, which will be the subject of later posts.


Writing reusable code in modules is a great feature in Python, however modules containing a lot of functionality quickly get long and unwieldy. Fortunately, we can put a collection of related Python files in a single Python package.

Packages are in essence special directories containing Python source files. What tells Python that a directory is a package is the presence of a special file called The easiest way to explain is with an example - consider the following layout of files:

├── mypackage
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   └──
├── other
│   └──

In this setup, mypackage is a package, and other is not. If, in, we do any of:

from mypackage import two
from mypackage.three import somefunc

Then we will be able to use the functionality in these modules of mypackage (assuming somefunc is defined in On the other hand, any of the following lines with result in an ImportError:

import other.other
from other import other
from other.other import somefunc

The only difference is that is present in mypackage. This file just needs to exist - it does not need to contain anything.

You can also nest packages, though each level needs to contain an, for example in the following structure:

└── mypackage
    ├── subpackage
    │   ├──
    │   └──

we can access modules in the subpackage with any of:

import mypackage.subpackage.four
from mypackage.subpackage import four
from mypackage.subpackage.four import somefunc

Advanced Use of

While it’s true that does not need to contain anything, it can be useful to do so. Importantly, when you import the package directly, for example with the above structures:

import mypackage

the code in mypackage/ will define the contents of the imported mypackage module. This can be useful for designing a simple API to your project, so instead of a user of the package needing to know that the function myspecialfunction is in the module mypackage.three, the could have:

from mypackage.three import myspecialfunc

End users can then simply run mypackage.myspecialfunc after importing mypackage as above. There are a lot of ways of customising the import mechanics of a package using to suit your needs, but hopefully this post gives you a taste of the possibilities!