The import system in Python
Python code in one module gains access to the code in another module by the process of importing it. The
import statement is the most common way of invoking the import machinery, but it is not the only way. Functions such as
importlib.import_module() and built-in
__import__() can also be used to invoke the import machinery.
import statement combines two operations; it searches for the named module, then it binds the results of that search to a name in the local scope. The search operation of the
import statement is defined as a call to the
__import__() function, with the appropriate arguments. The return value of
__import__() is used to perform the name binding operation of the
import statement. See the
import statement for the exact details of that name binding operation.
A direct call to
__import__() performs only the module search and, if found, the module creation operation. While certain side-effects may occur, such as the importing of parent packages, and the updating of various caches (including
sys.modules), only the
import statement performs a name binding operation.
import statement is executed, the standard builtin
__import__() function is called. Other mechanisms for invoking the import system (such as
importlib.import_module()) may choose to bypass
__import__() and use their own solutions to implement import semantics.
If the named module cannot be found, a
ModuleNotFoundError is raised. Python implements various strategies to search for the named module when the import machinery is invoked. These strategies can be modified and extended by using various hooks described in the sections below.
Changed in version 3.3: The import system has been updated to fully implement the second phase of PEP 302. There is no longer any implicit import machinery - the full import system is exposed through
sys.meta_path. In addition, native namespace package support has been implemented (see PEP 420).
importlib module provides a rich API for interacting with the import system. For example
importlib.import_module() provides a recommended, simpler API than built-in
__import__() for invoking the import machinery. Refer to the
importlib library documentation for additional detail.
Python has only one type of module object, and all modules are of this type, regardless of whether the module is implemented in Python, C, or something else. To help organize modules and provide a naming hierarchy, Python has a concept of packages.
You can think of packages as the directories on a file system and modules as files within directories, but don’t take this analogy too literally since packages and modules need not originate from the file system. For the purposes of this documentation, we’ll use this convenient analogy of directories and files. Like file system directories, packages are organized hierarchically, and packages may themselves contain subpackages, as well as regular modules.
It’s important to keep in mind that all packages are modules, but not all modules are packages. Or put another way, packages are just a special kind of module. Specifically, any module that contains a
__path__ attribute is considered a package.
All modules have a name. Subpackage names are separated from their parent package name by dots, akin to Python’s standard attribute access syntax. Thus you might have a module called
sys and a package called
email.mime and a module within that subpackage called
Python defines two types of packages, regular packages and namespace packages. Regular packages are traditional packages as they existed in Python 3.2 and earlier. A regular package is typically implemented as a directory containing an
__init__.py file. When a regular package is imported, this
__init__.py file is implicitly executed, and the objects it defines are bound to names in the package’s namespace. The
__init__.py file can contain the same Python code that any other module can contain, and Python will add some additional attributes to the module when it is imported.
For example, the following file system layout defines a top level
parent package with three subpackages:
parent/ __init__.py one/ __init__.py two/ __init__.py three/ __init__.py
parent.one will implicitly execute
parent/one/__init__.py. Subsequent imports of
parent.three will execute
A namespace package is a composite of various portions, where each portion contributes a subpackage to the parent package. Portions may reside in different locations on the file system. Portions may also be found in zip files, on the network, or anywhere else that Python searches during import. Namespace packages may or may not correspond directly to objects on the file system; they may be virtual modules that have no concrete representation.
Namespace packages do not use an ordinary list for their
__path__ attribute. They instead use a custom iterable type which will automatically perform a new search for package portions on the next import attempt within that package if the path of their parent package (or
sys.path for a top level package) changes.
With namespace packages, there is no
parent/__init__.py file. In fact, there may be multiple
parent directories found during import search, where each one is provided by a different portion. Thus
parent/one may not be physically located next to
parent/two. In this case, Python will create a namespace package for the top-level
parent package whenever it or one of its subpackages is imported.
To begin the search, Python needs the fully qualified name of the module (or package, but for the purposes of this discussion, the difference is immaterial) being imported. This name may come from various arguments to the
import statement, or from the parameters to the
This name will be used in various phases of the import search, and it may be the dotted path to a submodule, e.g.
foo.bar.baz. In this case, Python first tries to import
foo.bar, and finally
foo.bar.baz. If any of the intermediate imports fail, a
ModuleNotFoundError is raised.
The module cache
The first place checked during import search is
sys.modules. This mapping serves as a cache of all modules that have been previously imported, including the intermediate paths. So if
foo.bar.baz was previously imported,
sys.modules will contain entries for
foo.bar.baz. Each key will have as its value the corresponding module object.
During import, the module name is looked up in
sys.modules and if present, the associated value is the module satisfying the import, and the process completes. However, if the value is
None, then a
ModuleNotFoundError is raised. If the module name is missing, Python will continue searching for the module.
sys.modules is writable. Deleting a key may not destroy the associated module (as other modules may hold references to it), but it will invalidate the cache entry for the named module, causing Python to search anew for the named module upon its next import. The key can also be assigned to
None, forcing the next import of the module to result in a
Beware though, as if you keep a reference to the module object, invalidate its cache entry in
sys.modules, and then re-import the named module, the two module objects will not be the same. By contrast,
importlib.reload() will reuse the same module object, and simply reinitialise the module contents by rerunning the module’s code.
Finders and loaders
If the named module is not found in
sys.modules, then Python’s import protocol is invoked to find and load the module. This protocol consists of two conceptual objects, finders and loaders. A finder’s job is to determine whether it can find the named module using whatever strategy it knows about. Objects that implement both of these interfaces are referred to as importers - they return themselves when they find that they can load the requested module.
Python includes a number of default finders and importers. The first one knows how to locate built-in modules, and the second knows how to locate frozen modules. A third default finder searches an import path for modules. The import path is a list of locations that may name file system paths or zip files. It can also be extended to search for any locatable resource, such as those identified by URLs.
The import machinery is extensible, so new finders can be added to extend the range and scope of module searching.
Finders do not actually load modules. If they can find the named module, they return a module spec, an encapsulation of the module’s import-related information, which the import machinery then uses when loading the module.
The following sections describe the protocol for finders and loaders in more detail, including how you can create and register new ones to extend the import machinery.
Changed in version 3.4: In previous versions of Python, finders returned loaders directly, whereas now they return module specs which contain loaders. Loaders are still used during import but have fewer responsibilities.
The import machinery is designed to be extensible; the primary mechanism for this are the import hooks. There are two types of import hooks: meta hooks and import path hooks.
Meta hooks are called at the start of import processing, before any other import processing has occurred, other than
sys.modules cache look up. This allows meta hooks to override
sys.path processing, frozen modules, or even built-in modules. Meta hooks are registered by adding new finder objects to
sys.meta_path, as described below.
Import path hooks are called as part of
package.__path__) processing, at the point where their associated path item is encountered. Import path hooks are registered by adding new callables to
sys.path_hooks as described below.
The meta path
When the named module is not found in
sys.modules, Python next searches
sys.meta_path, which contains a list of meta path finder objects. These finders are queried in order to see if they know how to handle the named module. Meta path finders must implement a method called
find_spec() which takes three arguments: a name, an import path, and (optionally) a target module. The meta path finder can use any strategy it wants to determine whether it can handle the named module or not.
If the meta path finder knows how to handle the named module, it returns a spec object. If it cannot handle the named module, it returns
sys.meta_path processing reaches the end of its list without returning a spec, then a
ModuleNotFoundError is raised. Any other exceptions raised are simply propagated up, aborting the import process.
find_spec() method of meta path finders is called with two or three arguments. The first is the fully qualified name of the module being imported, for example
foo.bar.baz. The second argument is the path entries to use for the module search. For top-level modules, the second argument is
None, but for submodules or subpackages, the second argument is the value of the parent package’s
__path__ attribute. If the appropriate
__path__ attribute cannot be accessed, a
ModuleNotFoundError is raised. The third argument is an existing module object that will be the target of loading later. The import system passes in a target module only during reload.
The meta path may be traversed multiple times for a single import request. For example, assuming none of the modules involved has already been cached, importing
foo.bar.baz will first perform a top level import, calling
mpf.find_spec("foo", None, None) on each meta path finder (
foo has been imported,
foo.bar will be imported by traversing the meta path a second time, calling
mpf.find_spec("foo.bar", foo.__path__, None). Once
foo.bar has been imported, the final traversal will call
mpf.find_spec("foo.bar.baz", foo.bar.__path__, None).
Some meta path finders only support top level imports. These importers will always return
None when anything other than
None is passed as the second argument.
sys.meta_path has three meta path finders, one that knows how to import built-in modules, one that knows how to import frozen modules, and one that knows how to import modules from an import path (i.e. the path based finder).
Changed in version 3.4: The
find_spec()method of meta path finders replaced
find_module(), which is now deprecated. While it will continue to work without change, the import machinery will try it only if the finder does not implement
If and when a module spec is found, the import machinery will use it (and the loader it contains) when loading the module. Here is an approximation of what happens during the loading portion of import:
module = None if spec.loader is not None and hasattr(spec.loader, 'create_module'): # It is assumed 'exec_module' will also be defined on the loader. module = spec.loader.create_module(spec) if module is None: module = ModuleType(spec.name) # The import-related module attributes get set here: _init_module_attrs(spec, module) if spec.loader is None: if spec.submodule_search_locations is not None: # namespace package sys.modules[spec.name] = module else: # unsupported raise ImportError elif not hasattr(spec.loader, 'exec_module'): module = spec.loader.load_module(spec.name) # Set __loader__ and __package__ if missing. else: sys.modules[spec.name] = module try: spec.loader.exec_module(module) except BaseException: try: del sys.modules[spec.name] except KeyError: pass raise return sys.modules[spec.name]
Note the following details:
- If there is an existing module object with the given name in
sys.modules, import will have already returned it.
- The module will exist in
sys.modulesbefore the loader executes the module code. This is crucial because the module code may (directly or indirectly) import itself; adding it to
sys.modulesbeforehand prevents unbounded recursion in the worst case and multiple loading in the best.
- If loading fails, the failing module – and only the failing module – gets removed from
sys.modules. Any module already in the
sys.modulescache, and any module that was successfully loaded as a side-effect, must remain in the cache. This contrasts with reloading where even the failing module is left in
- After the module is created but before execution, the import machinery sets the import-related module attributes (“_init_module_attrs” in the pseudo-code example above), as summarized in a later section.
- Module execution is the key moment of loading in which the module’s namespace gets populated. Execution is entirely delegated to the loader, which gets to decide what gets populated and how.
- The module created during loading and passed to exec_module() may not be the one returned at the end of import.
The importlib implementation avoids using the return value directly. Instead, it gets the module object by looking the module name up in
sys.modules. The indirect effect of this is that an imported module may replace itself in
sys.modules. This is implementation-specific behavior that is not guaranteed to work in other Python implementations.
Changed in version 3.4: The import system has taken over the boilerplate responsibilities of loaders. These were previously performed by the
Module loaders provide the critical function of loading: module execution. The import machinery calls the
importlib.abc.Loader.exec_module() method with a single argument, the module object to execute. Any value returned from
exec_module() is ignored.
Loaders must satisfy the following requirements:
- If the module is a Python module (as opposed to a built-in module or a dynamically loaded extension), the loader should execute the module’s code in the module’s global name space (
- If the loader cannot execute the module, it should raise an
ImportError, although any other exception raised during
exec_module()will be propagated.
Module loaders may opt in to creating the module object during loading by implementing a
create_module() method. It takes one argument, the module spec, and returns the new module object to use during loading.
create_module() does not need to set any attributes on the module object. If the method returns
None, the import machinery will create the new module itself.
New in version 3.4: The
create_module()method of loaders.
Changed in version 3.4: The
load_module()method was replaced by
exec_module()and the import machinery assumed all the boilerplate responsibilities of loading.
For compatibility with existing loaders, the import machinery will use the
load_module()method of loaders if it exists and the loader does not also implement
load_module()has been deprecated and loaders should implement
load_module()method must implement all the boilerplate loading functionality described above in addition to executing the module. All the same constraints apply, with some additional clarification:
- If there is an existing module object with the given name in
sys.modules, the loader must use that existing module. (Otherwise,
importlib.reload()will not work correctly.) If the named module does not exist in
sys.modules, the loader must create a new module object and add it to
- The module must exist in
sys.modulesbefore the loader executes the module code, to prevent unbounded recursion or multiple loading.
- If loading fails, the loader must remove any modules it has inserted into
sys.modules, but it must remove only the failing module(s), and only if the loader itself has loaded the module(s) explicitly.
Changed in version 3.5: A
DeprecationWarningis raised when
exec_module()is defined but
Changed in version 3.6: An
ImportErroris raised when
exec_module()is defined but
When a submodule is loaded using any mechanism (e.g.
importlib APIs, the
import-from statements, or built-in
__import__()) a binding is placed in the parent module’s namespace to the submodule object. For example, if package
spam has a submodule
foo, after importing
spam will have an attribute
foo which is bound to the submodule. Let’s say you have the following directory structure:
spam/ __init__.py foo.py bar.py
spam/__init__.py has the following lines in it:
from .foo import Foo from .bar import Bar
then executing the following puts a name binding to
bar in the
>>> import spam >>> spam.foo <module 'spam.foo' from '/tmp/imports/spam/foo.py'> >>> spam.bar <module 'spam.bar' from '/tmp/imports/spam/bar.py'>
Given Python’s familiar name binding rules this might seem surprising, but it’s actually a fundamental feature of the import system. The invariant holding is that if you have
sys.modules['spam.foo'] (as you would after the above import), the latter must appear as the
foo attribute of the former.
The import machinery uses a variety of information about each module during import, especially before loading. Most of the information is common to all modules. The purpose of a module’s spec is to encapsulate this import-related information on a per-module basis.
Using a spec during import allows state to be transferred between import system components, e.g. between the finder that creates the module spec and the loader that executes it. Most importantly, it allows the import machinery to perform the boilerplate operations of loading, whereas without a module spec the loader had that responsibility.
New in version 3.4.
Import-related module attributes
__loader__attribute must be set to the loader object that the import machinery used when loading the module. This is mostly for introspection, but can be used for additional loader-specific functionality, for example getting data associated with a loader.
__package__attribute must be set. Its value must be a string, but it can be the same value as its
__name__. When the module is a package, its
__package__value should be set to its
__name__. When the module is not a package,
__package__should be set to the empty string for top-level modules, or for submodules, to the parent package’s name. See PEP 366 for further details.
Changed in version 3.6: The value of
__package__is expected to be the same as
__spec__attribute must be set to the module spec that was used when importing the module. Setting
__spec__appropriately applies equally to modules initialized during interpreter startup. The one exception is
__spec__is set to None in some cases.
__package__is not defined,
__spec__.parentis used as a fallback.
New in version 3.4.
Changed in version 3.6:
__spec__.parentis used as a fallback when
__package__is not defined.
If the module is a package (either regular or namespace), the module object’s
__path__attribute must be set. The value must be iterable, but may be empty if
__path__has no further significance. If
__path__is not empty, it must produce strings when iterated over. More details on the semantics of
__path__are given below.
Non-package modules should not have a
__file__is set, it may also be appropriate to set the
__cached__attribute which is the path to any compiled version of the code (e.g. byte-compiled file). The file does not need to exist to set this attribute; the path can simply point to where the compiled file would exist (see PEP 3147).
It is also appropriate to set
__file__is not set. However, that scenario is quite atypical. Ultimately, the loader is what makes use of
__cached__. So if a loader can load from a cached module but otherwise does not load from a file, that atypical scenario may be appropriate.
By definition, if a module has a
__path__ attribute, it is a package.
__path__ attribute is used during imports of its subpackages. Within the import machinery, it functions much the same as
sys.path, i.e. providing a list of locations to search for modules during import. However,
__path__ is typically much more constrained than
__path__ must be an iterable of strings, but it may be empty. The same rules used for
sys.path also apply to a package’s
sys.path_hooks (described below) are consulted when traversing a package’s
__init__.py file may set or alter the package’s
__path__ attribute, and this was typically the way namespace packages were implemented prior to PEP 420. With the adoption of PEP 420, namespace packages no longer need to supply
__init__.py files containing only
__path__ manipulation code; the import machinery automatically sets
__path__ correctly for the namespace package.
If the module has a spec (
__spec__), the import machinery will try to generate a repr from it. If that fails or there is no spec, the import system will craft a default repr using whatever information is available on the module. It will try to use the
module.__loader__ as input into the repr, with defaults for whatever information is missing.
Here are the exact rules used:
- If the module has a
__spec__attribute, the information in the spec is used to generate the repr. The “name”, “loader”, “origin”, and “has_location” attributes are consulted.
- If the module has a
__file__attribute, this is used as part of the module’s repr.
- If the module has no
__file__but does have a
__loader__that is not
None, then the loader’s repr is used as part of the module’s repr.
- Otherwise, just use the module’s
__name__in the repr.
For backward compatibility with Python 3.3, the module repr will be generated by calling the loader’s
module_repr() method, if defined, before trying either approach described above. However, the method is deprecated.
Cached bytecode invalidation
Before Python loads cached bytecode from
.pyc file, it checks whether the cache is up-to-date with the source
.py file. By default, Python does this by storing the source’s last-modified timestamp and size in the cache file when writing it. At runtime, the import system then validates the cache file by checking the stored metadata in the cache file against at source’s metadata.
Python also supports “hash-based” cache files, which store a hash of the source file’s contents rather than its metadata. There are two variants of hash-based
.pyc files: checked and unchecked. For checked hash-based
.pyc files, Python validates the cache file by hashing the source file and comparing the resulting hash with the hash in the cache file. If a checked hash-based cache file is found to be invalid, Python regenerates it and writes a new checked hash-based cache file. For unchecked hash-based
.pyc files, Python simply assumes the cache file is valid if it exists. Hash-based
.pyc files validation behavior may be overridden with the
Changed in version 3.7: Added hash-based
.pycfiles. Previously, Python only supported timestamp-based invalidation of bytecode caches.
The Path Based Finder
As mentioned previously, Python comes with several default meta path finders. One of these, called the path based finder (
PathFinder), searches an import path, which contains a list of path entries. Each path entry names a location to search for modules.
The path based finder itself doesn’t know how to import anything. Instead, it traverses the individual path entries, associating each of them with a path entry finder that knows how to handle that particular kind of path.
The default set of path entry finders implement all the semantics for finding modules on the file system, handling special file types such as Python source code (
.py files), Python byte code (
.pyc files) and shared libraries (e.g.
.so files). When supported by the
zipimport module in the standard library, the default path entry finders also handle loading all of these file types (other than shared libraries) from zipfiles.
Path entries need not be limited to file system locations. They can refer to URLs, database queries, or any other location that can be specified as a string.
The path based finder provides additional hooks and protocols so that you can extend and customize the types of searchable path entries. For example, if you wanted to support path entries as network URLs, you could write a hook that implements HTTP semantics to find modules on the web. This hook (a callable) would return a path entry finder supporting the protocol described below, which was then used to get a loader for the module from the web.
A word of warning: this section and the previous both use the term finder, distinguishing between them by using the terms meta path finder and path entry finder. These two types of finders are very similar, support similar protocols, and function in similar ways during the import process, but it’s important to keep in mind that they are subtly different. In particular, meta path finders operate at the beginning of the import process, as keyed off the
By contrast, path entry finders are in a sense an implementation detail of the path based finder, and in fact, if the path based finder were to be removed from
sys.meta_path, none of the path entry finder semantics would be invoked.
Path entry finders
The path based finder is responsible for finding and loading Python modules and packages whose location is specified with a string path entry. Most path entries name locations in the file system, but they need not be limited to this.
As a meta path finder, the path based finder implements the
find_spec() protocol previously described, however it exposes additional hooks that can be used to customize how modules are found and loaded from the import path.
Three variables are used by the path based finder,
__path__ attributes on package objects are also used. These provide additional ways that the import machinery can be customized.
sys.path contains a list of strings providing search locations for modules and packages. It is initialized from the
PYTHONPATH environment variable and various other installation- and implementation-specific defaults. Entries in
sys.path can name directories on the file system, zip files, and potentially other “locations” (see the
site module) that should be searched for modules, such as URLs, or database queries. Only strings and bytes should be present on
sys.path; all other data types are ignored. The encoding of bytes entries is determined by the individual path entry finders.
The path based finder is a meta path finder, so the import machinery begins the import path search by calling the path based finder’s
find_spec() method as described previously. When the
path argument to
find_spec() is given, it will be a list of string paths to traverse - typically a package’s
__path__ attribute for an import within that package. If the
path argument is
None, this indicates a top level import and
sys.path is used.
The path based finder iterates over every entry in the search path, and for each of these, looks for an appropriate path entry finder (
PathEntryFinder) for the path entry. Because this can be an expensive operation (e.g. there may be stat() call overheads for this search), the path based finder maintains a cache mapping path entries to path entry finders. This cache is maintained in
sys.path_importer_cache (despite the name, this cache actually stores finder objects rather than being limited to importer objects). In this way, the expensive search for a particular path entry location’s path entry finder need only be done once. User code is free to remove cache entries from
sys.path_importer_cache forcing the path based finder to perform the path entry search again.
In legacy code, it is possible to find instances of
sys.path_importer_cache. It is recommended that code be changed to use
Noneinstead. See Porting Python code for more details.
If the path entry is not present in the cache, the path based finder iterates over every callable in
sys.path_hooks. Each of the path entry hooks in this list is called with a single argument, the path entry to be searched. This callable may either return a path entry finder that can handle the path entry, or it may raise
ImportError is used by the path based finder to signal that the hook cannot find a path entry finder for that path entry. The exception is ignored and import path iteration continues. The hook should expect either a string or bytes object; the encoding of bytes objects is up to the hook (e.g. it may be a file system encoding, UTF-8, or something else), and if the hook cannot decode the argument, it should raise
sys.path_hooks iteration ends with no path entry finder being returned, then the path based finder’s
find_spec() method will store
sys.path_importer_cache (to indicate that there is no finder for this path entry) and return
None, indicating that this meta path finder could not find the module.
If a path entry finder is returned by one of the path entry hook callables on
sys.path_hooks, then the following protocol is used to ask the finder for a module spec, which is then used when loading the module.
The current working directory – denoted by an empty string – is handled slightly differently from other entries on
sys.path. First, if the current working directory is found to not exist, no value is stored in
sys.path_importer_cache. Second, the value for the current working directory is looked up fresh for each module lookup. Third, the path used for
sys.path_importer_cache and returned by
importlib.machinery.PathFinder.find_spec() will be the actual current working directory and not the empty string.
Path entry finder protocol
find_spec() takes two argument, the fully qualified name of the module being imported, and the (optional) target module.
find_spec() returns a fully populated spec for the module. This spec will always have “loader” set (with one exception).
To indicate to the import machinery that the spec represents a namespace portion. the path entry finder sets “loader” on the spec to
None and “submodule_search_locations” to a list containing the portion.
Changed in version 3.4:
find_module(), both of which are now deprecated, but will be used if
find_spec()is not defined.
Older path entry finders may implement one of these two deprecated methods instead of
find_spec(). The methods are still respected for the sake of backward compatibility. However, if
find_spec()is implemented on the path entry finder, the legacy methods are ignored.
find_loader()takes one argument, the fully qualified name of the module being imported.
find_loader()returns a 2-tuple where the first item is the loader and the second item is a namespace portion. When the first item (i.e. the loader) is
None, this means that while the path entry finder does not have a loader for the named module, it knows that the path entry contributes to a namespace portion for the named module. This will almost always be the case where Python is asked to import a namespace package that has no physical presence on the file system. When a path entry finder returns
Nonefor the loader, the second item of the 2-tuple return value must be a sequence, although it can be empty.
find_loader()returns a non-
Noneloader value, the portion is ignored and the loader is returned from the path based finder, terminating the search through the path entries.
For backwards compatibility with other implementations of the import protocol, many path entry finders also support the same, traditional
find_module()method that meta path finders support. However path entry finder
find_module()methods are never called with a
pathargument (they are expected to record the appropriate path information from the initial call to the path hook).
find_module()method on path entry finders is deprecated, as it does not allow the path entry finder to contribute portions to namespace packages. If both
find_module()exist on a path entry finder, the import system will always call
find_loader()in preference to
Replacing the standard import system
The most reliable mechanism for replacing the entire import system is to delete the default contents of
sys.meta_path, replacing them entirely with a custom meta path hook.
If it is acceptable to only alter the behaviour of import statements without affecting other APIs that access the import system, then replacing the builtin
__import__() function may be sufficient. This technique may also be employed at the module level to only alter the behaviour of import statements within that module.
To selectively prevent import of some modules from a hook early on the meta path (rather than disabling the standard import system entirely), it is sufficient to raise
ModuleNotFoundError directly from
find_spec() instead of returning
None. The latter indicates that the meta path search should continue, while raising an exception terminates it immediately.
Special considerations for __main__
__main__ module is a special case relative to Python’s import system. As noted elsewhere, the
__main__ module is directly initialized at interpreter startup, much like
builtins. However, unlike those two, it doesn’t strictly qualify as a built-in module. This is because the manner in which
__main__ is initialized depends on the flags and other options with which the interpreter is invoked.
Depending on how
__main__ is initialized,
__main__.__spec__ gets set appropriately or to
When Python is started with the
__spec__ is set to the module spec of the corresponding module or package.
__spec__ is also populated when the
__main__ module is loaded as part of executing a directory, zipfile or other
- interactive prompt
- running from stdin
- running directly from a source or bytecode file
__main__.__spec__ is always
None in the last case, even if the file could technically be imported directly as a module instead. Use the
-m switch if valid module metadata is desired in
Note also that even when
__main__ corresponds with an importable module and
__main__.__spec__ is set accordingly, they’re still considered distinct modules. This is due to the fact that blocks guarded by
if __name__ == "__main__": checks only execute when the module is used to populate the
__main__ namespace, and not during normal import.
XXX It would be really nice to have a diagram.
XXX runpy, pkgutil, et al in the library manual should all get “See Also” links at the top pointing to the new import system section.
XXX Add more explanation regarding the different ways in which
__main__ is initialized?
XXX Add more info on
__main__ quirks/pitfalls (i.e. copy from PEP 395).
The import machinery has evolved considerably since Python’s early days. The original specification for packages is still available to read, although some details have changed since the writing of that document.
PEP 451 adds the encapsulation of per-module import state in spec objects. It also off-loads most of the boilerplate responsibilities of loaders back onto the import machinery. These changes allow the deprecation of several APIs in the import system and also addition of new methods to finders and loaders.