Resolving "NameError: name '__file__' is not defined" in Python


Python, like any other programming language, has its own set of quirks and nuances. One such quirk that often stumps beginner developers is the "NameError: name '__file__' is not defined" error. What exactly is __file__? Why would it be defined in some contexts but not others?

This Byt will help you understand this error, why it occurs, and how to fix it.

What does this error mean?

The __file__ attribute in Python is a built-in attribute that is automatically set to the path of the module file from which the script is loaded. This attribute is handy when you want to know the location of the current script, especially when dealing with relative file paths. However, when you try to access __file__ in the Python interactive shell or Jupyter notebook, you may encounter the "NameError: name '__file__' is not defined" error. This is because __file__ is undefined in these environments.

NameError: name '__file__' is not defined

Accessing file in an Interactive Shell

The Python interactive shell is a great tool for quick and dirty testing of code snippets. However, it does not support the __file__ attribute, as it is not associated with any file. If you try to access __file__ in an interactive shell, you will get a NameError as shown above.

Note: If you need to get the directory of the current script in an interactive shell, you can use the os module's getcwd function instead.

Storing Code in Python Modules

One way to get around the NameError when trying to access __file__ is by storing your code in a Python module instead of running it in the interactive shell. A Python module is simply a file containing Python definitions and statements. The filename is the module name with the suffix .py added. When you import a module, Python runs the code in the module and makes it available for you to use.


Now, if you import this module from another script or from the interactive shell, __file__ will be defined:

import mymodule

Using the inspect Module

Another way to get the file path in an interactive shell is by using the inspect module. The inspect module provides several functions to help get information about live objects like modules, classes, methods, functions, etc. You can use the getfile function to get the file in which an object is defined.

import inspect

This will print the file path of the current script, even when run from an interactive shell. However, keep in mind that this will return <stdin> in an interactive shell since the script is actually read from standard input.

Getting the Current Working Directory with os.getcwd()

When you're dealing with file paths in Python, it's often useful to know the current working directory. This is the directory from where your script is being run. Python's os module provides a method called getcwd() that returns the current working directory as a string.

Here's how you can use it:

import os


Running this code will output something like:

$ python3
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This indicates that the script is being run from the /Users/username/Documents/my_project directory.

Get the Module Name with sys.argv

The sys module in Python provides access to some variables used or maintained by the Python interpreter. One of these is sys.argv, which is a list in Python, which contains the command-line arguments passed to the script. The first item in this list, sys.argv[0], is always the script name itself.

Let's see it in action:

import sys


If you run this script as python3, you'll see:

$ python3

As you can see, sys.argv[0] gives us the name of the script that is currently being executed.

Certainly! Here's a revised version of the section that focuses on accessing the __file__ attribute on imported modules in the context of the article title:

Accessing the __file__ Attribute on Imported Modules

When you import a module, not only are the functions, classes, and variables loaded into memory, but certain special attributes are also available. One such attribute is __file__, which can provide info on the location of the module's source file.

Here's how you can access it in a typical use-case. Suppose you have a module named my_module located at /path/to/

def hello_world():
    print("Hello, world!")

You can import this module and then access its __file__ attribute to see the path where the module is stored:

import my_module


When you run this script, you'll see:

$ python3

As you can see, we were able to access the __file__ attribute of another module, outside of the script that is currently being run.


In this Byte, we've explored several ways to resolve the
"NameError: name '__file__' is not defined" error in Python. We've learned how to obtain the current working directory using os.getcwd(), determine the module name using sys.argv, and access attributes on imported modules.

Last Updated: August 20th, 2023
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