Putting modules on the Python pathΒΆ

Let’s say I have a Python module called myfunctions.py. I have stored this in a directory /Users/mb312/code. So, the full path to the file is /Users/mb312/code/myfunctions.py.

Here is the contents of myfunctions.py:

""" Some useful functions that I use, usefully

def add_badly(a, b):
    return a + b + 1

I’m working in some directory /Users/mb312/working (/Users/mb312/working is my current directory).

I want to be able to start Python, import myfunctions, and then do something like:

print(myfunctions.add_badly(10, 3))

and get the expected answer 14.

If I start Python and do that:

$ python
Python 2.7.9 (v2.7.9:648dcafa7e5f, Dec 10 2014, 10:10:46)
[GCC 4.2.1 (Apple Inc. build 5666) (dot 3)] on darwin
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import myfunctions
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
ImportError: No module named myfunctions

This is because Python does not know where to find myfunctions.py.

When Python is looking for a new module, like myfunctions.py, it searches a list of directories stored as the path variable, in the sys module.

Here is the contents of that variable on my system:

>>> import sys
>>> print('\n'.join(sys.path))


Notice that sys.path is a simple list:

>>> type(sys.path)
<type 'list'>

When I run the command import myfunctions, Python will look for a file myfunctions.py [1] in each of the directories in the list, starting with the first. As soon as it finds this file, it stops, and imports it. If it does not find the file, I get the ImportError we saw above.

The sys.path list of directories is also called the module search path. See https://docs.python.org/2/tutorial/modules.html#the-module-search-path for more detail.

If we want to be able to import myfunctions we need to put the directory containing the module into the module search path. In our case we want to put the directory /Users/mb312/code onto the module search path.

There are various ways to do this, but the most direct way to do that, is to change the value of the sys.path variable after starting Python.

Because sys.path is a list of strings, I can append my directory string to the list using standard list methods, so that Python will now search the new directory. In my case:

>>> sys.path.append('/Users/mb312/code')

Now we can import our custom module:

>>> import myfunctions
[1]Most Python code is stored in files with the extension .py. You can also write extensions for Python, which are compiled libraries that Python can also import. You can define functions and classes in these files as you can for Python code in .py files. These files have filename extensions that depend on the platform you are running on. On Linux or OSX the extension is generally .so, on Windows, the extension is often .pyd.