Importing Python Modules

Importing Python Modules


Python allows us to create just about anything, from simple scripts to complex machine learning models. But to work on any complex project, you'll likely need to use or create modules. These are the building blocks of complex projects. In this article, we'll explore Python modules, why we need them, and how we can import them in our Python files.

Understanding Python Modules

In Python, a module is a file containing Python definitions and statements. The file name is the module name with the suffix .py added. Imagine you're working on a Python project, and you've written a function to calculate the Fibonacci series. Now, you need to use this function in multiple files. Instead of rewriting the function in each file, you can write it once in a Python file (module) and import it wherever needed.

Here's a simple example. Let's say we have a file with a function to add two numbers:


def add_numbers(num1, num2):
    return num1 + num2

We can import this math_operations module in another Python file and use the add_numbers function:


import math_operations

print(math_operations.add_numbers(5, 10))  # Output: 15

In the above example, we've imported the math_operations module using the import statement and used the add_numbers function defined in the module.

Note: Python looks for module files in the directories defined in sys.path. It includes the directory containing the input script (or the current directory), the PYTHONPATH (a list of directory names, with the same syntax as the shell variable PATH), and the installation-dependent default directory. You can check the sys.path using import sys; print(sys.path).

But why do we need to import Python files? Why can't we just write all our code in one file? Let's find out in the next section.

Why Import Python Files?

The concept of importing files in Python is comparable to using a library or a toolbox. Imagine you're working on a project and need a specific tool. Instead of creating that tool from scratch every time you need it, you would look in your toolbox for it, right? The same goes for programming in Python. If you need a specific function or class, instead of writing it from scratch, you can import it from a Python file that already contains it.

This not only helps us from having to continously rewrite code we've already written, but it also makes our code cleaner, more efficient, and easier to manage. This promotes a modular programming approach where the code is broken down into separate parts or modules, each performing a specific function. This modularity makes debugging and understanding the code much easier.

Here's a simple example of importing a Python standard library module:

import math

# Using the math library to calculate the square root



We import the math module and use its sqrt function to calculate the square root of 16.

Different Ways to Import Python Files

Python provides several ways to import modules, each with its own use cases. Let's look at the three most common methods.

Using 'import' Statement

The import statement is the simplest way to import a module. It simply imports the module, and you can use its functions or classes by referencing them with the module name.

import math




In this example, we import the math module and print the value of pi.

Using 'from...import' Statement

The from...import statement allows you to import specific functions, classes, or variables from a module. This way, you don't have to reference them with the module name every time you use them.

from math import pi




Here, we import only the pi variable from the math module and print it.

Using '' Statement

The statement is used when you want to give a module a different name in your script. This is particularly useful when the module name is long and you want to use a shorter alias for convenience.

import math as m




Here, we import the math module as m and then use this alias to print the value of pi.

Importing Modules from a Package

Packages in Python are a way of organizing related modules into a directory hierarchy. Think of a package as a folder that contains multiple Python modules, along with a special file that tells Python that the directory should be treated as a package.

But how do you import a module that's inside a package? Well, Python provides a straightforward way to do this.

Suppose you have a package named shapes and inside this package, you have two modules, and You can import the circle module like this:

from shapes import circle

Now, you can access all the functions and classes defined in the circle module. For instance, if the circle module has a function area(), you can use it as follows:

circle_area = circle.area(5)

This will print the area of a circle with a radius of 5.

Note: If you want to import a specific function or class from a module within a package, you can use the from...import statement, as we showed earlier.

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But what if your package hierarchy is deeper? What if the circle module is inside a subpackage called 2d inside the shapes package? Python has got you covered. You can import the circle module like this:

from shapes.2d import circle

Python's import system is quite flexible and powerful. It allows you to organize your code in a way that makes sense to you, while still providing easy access to your functions, classes, and modules.

Common Issues Importing Python Files

As you work with Python, you may come across several errors while importing modules. These errors could stem from a variety of issues, including incorrect file paths, syntax errors, or even circular imports. Let's see some of these common errors.

Fixing 'ModuleNotFoundError'

The ModuleNotFoundError is a subtype of ImportError. It's raised when you try to import a module that Python cannot find. It's one of the most common issues developers face while importing Python files.

import missing_module

This will raise a ModuleNotFoundError: No module named 'missing_module'.

There are several ways you can fix this error:

  1. Check the Module's Name: Ensure that the module's name is spelled correctly. Python is case-sensitive, which means module and Module are treated as two different modules.

  2. Install the Module: If the module is not a built-in module and you have not created it yourself, you may need to install it using pip. For example:

$ pip install missing_module
  1. Check Your File Paths: Python searches for modules in the directories defined in sys.path. If your module is not in one of these directories, Python won't be able to find it. You can add your module's directory to sys.path using the following code:
import sys
sys.path.insert(0, '/path/to/your/module')
  1. Use a Try/Except Block: If the module you're trying to import is not crucial to your program, you can use a try/except block to catch the ModuleNotFoundError and continue running your program. For example:
    import missing_module
except ModuleNotFoundError:
    print("Module not found. Continuing without it.")

Avoiding Circular Imports

In Python, circular imports can be quite a headache. They occur when two or more modules depend on each other, either directly or indirectly. This leads to an infinite loop, causing the program to crash. So, how do we avoid this common pitfall?

The best way to avoid circular imports is by structuring your code in a way that eliminates the need for them. This could mean breaking up large modules into smaller, more manageable ones, or rethinking your design to remove unnecessary dependencies.

For instance, consider two modules A and B. If A imports B and B imports A, a circular import occurs. Here's a simplified example:

import B

def function_from_A():
    print("This is a function in module A.")

import A

def function_from_B():
    print("This is a function in module B.")

Running either module will result in a RecursionError. To avoid this, you could refactor your code so that each function is in its own module, and they import each other only when needed.

def function_from_A():
    print("This is a function in module A.")

import A

def function_from_B():
    print("This is a function in module B.")

Note: It's important to remember that Python imports are case-sensitive. This means that import module and import Module would refer to two different modules and could potentially lead to a ModuleNotFoundError if not handled correctly.

Using in Python Packages

In our journey through learning about Python imports, we've reached an interesting stop — the file. This special file serves as an initializer for Python packages. But what does it do, exactly?

In the simplest terms, allows Python to recognize a directory as a package so that it can be imported just like a module. Previously, an empty file was enough to do this. However, from Python 3.3 onwards, thanks to the introduction of PEP 420, is no longer strictly necessary for a directory to be considered a package. But it still holds relevance, and here's why.

Note: The file is executed when the package is imported, and it can contain any Python code. This makes it a useful place for initialization logic for the package.

Consider a package named animals with two modules, mammals and birds. Here's how you can use to import these modules.

# file
from . import mammals
from . import birds

Now, when you import the animals package, mammals and birds are also imported.

import animals

animals.mammals.list_all()  # Use functions from the mammals module
animals.birds.list_all()  # Use functions from the birds module

By using, you've made the package's interface cleaner and simpler to use.

Organizing Imports: PEP8 Guidelines

When working with Python, or any programming language really, it's important to keep your code clean and readable. This not only makes your life easier, but also the lives of others who may need to read or maintain your code. One way to do this is by following the PEP8 guidelines for organizing imports.

According to PEP8, your imports should be grouped in the following order:

  1. Standard library imports
  2. Related third party imports
  3. Local application/library specific imports

Each group should be separated by a blank line. Here's an example:

# Standard library imports
import os
import sys

# Related third party imports
import requests

# Local application/library specific imports
from my_library import my_module

In addition, PEP8 also recommends that imports should be on separate lines, and that they should be ordered alphabetically within each group.

Note: While these guidelines are not mandatory, following them can greatly improve the readability of your code and make it more Pythonic.

To make your life even easier, many modern IDEs, like PyCharm, have built-in tools to automatically organize your imports according to PEP8.

With proper organization and understanding of Python imports, you can avoid common errors and improve the readability of your code. So, the next time you're writing a Python program, give these guidelines a try. You might be surprised at how much cleaner and more manageable your code becomes.


And there you have it! We've taken a deep dive into the world of Python imports, exploring why and how we import Python files, the different ways to do so, common errors and their fixes, and the role of in Python packages. We've also touched on the importance of organizing imports according to PEP8 guidelines.

Remember, the way you handle imports can greatly impact the readability and maintainability of your code. So, understanding these concepts is not just a matter of knowing Python's syntax—it's about writing better, more efficient code.

Last Updated: September 22nd, 2023
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