Opening Multiple Files Using 'with open' in Python


Python provides some very convenient ways to work with file-like objects, including the with feature. But what if we need to open multiple files in this way? Your could wouldn't exactly be "clean" if you had a bunch of nested with open statements. In this article, we'll show you how to open multiple files using the with open statement in Python.

What is 'with' in Python?

The with statement in Python is used in exception handling to make the code cleaner and much easier to understand. It simplifies the management of common resources like file streams. Let's take a quick look at how it works:

with open('example.txt', 'r') as file:
    data =

In the above code snippet, with open('example.txt', 'r') as file: is the with statement we're referring to. The open() function is used to open a file, and 'example.txt' is the name of the file we want to open. 'r' is the mode in which we want to open the file. In this case, it's read mode. The as keyword is used to create an alias - in this case, file.

The code then reads the file example.txt and assigns its content to the variable data. One of the benefits of using with is that it automatically takes care of closing the file once it's no longer needed, even if exceptions were raised. This makes it much easier to handle files manually.

Note: The with statement is not only used for opening files, but can also be used with other objects like threads, locks, and network connections. The main idea is to manage resources that can be open and closed.

The with open statement is similar to the following:

    file = open('example.txt', 'r')
    data =

This code is more verbose and you're more likely to forget to close the file. Using with is a more Pythonic way of handling files.

Why Open Multiple Files at Once?

There are a few reasons why you might want to open multiple files at once in Python. One of the most common scenarios is when you're working with a large dataset that's been split across multiple files. Instead of opening, reading, and closing each file one by one, you can streamline the process by opening all the files at once, reading in the data, and then closing the files.

This not only makes your code more efficient, but it's also cleaner and easier to read. Plus, it saves you from the potential headache of having to keep track of which files you've already opened/closed and which ones you haven't.

Wait! While opening multiple files at once can make your code more efficient, it can also consume more memory. So just be careful when working with a large number of files or very large files.

Opening Multiple Files

The basic method of opening multiple files in Python involves using the with open() function in combination with Python's built-in zip() function. Here's how you can do it:

with open('file1.txt', 'r') as file1, open('file2.txt', 'r') as file2:
    for line1, line2 in zip(file1, file2):
        print(line1.strip(), line2.strip())

In this code, we're opening two files, 'file1.txt' and 'file2.txt', for reading. The with open() function will help us make sure that the files are properly closed after they're no longer needed. We use the zip() function to read the lines from both files simultaneously, which is nice to have if the files are related in some way (for example, if one file contains questions and the other contains answers).

The output of this code will be the lines from 'file1.txt' and 'file2.txt' printed side by side.

This is just a basic method of opening multiple files in Python. There are other ways to do it that might be better suited to your specific use case, like using list comprehension or opening the files in a loop.

One thing to point out is that as of Python 3.10, you can now group the multiple open calls in parentheses and on multiple lines, which may help with readability:

with (
    open('file1.txt', 'r') as file1,
    open('file2.txt', 'r') as file2
    for line1, line2 in zip(file1, file2):
        print(line1.strip(), line2.strip())

Using 'with open' in a Loop

Another way to open multiple files is to just use a loop and open each file one at a time so that no two files are open simultaneously. This can be helpful if you're working with very large files and can't have multiple files open due to memory constraints.

filenames = ['file1.txt', 'file2.txt', 'file3.txt']
for file in filenames:
    with open(file, 'r') as f:

Here, we loop over our list of filenames. For each one, we use with open to open the file and assign it to the variable f. We then print out the contents of the file. Once the with block is exited, the file is automatically closed.

Using List Comprehension to Open Multiple Files

List comprehension is a popular feature in Python that allows you to create lists in a very readable and compact way. It can be used to open multiple files in a single line of code. Note that this method does not use with, so you'll need to manually close the files and handle errors, but it still might be helpful in some cases.

filenames = ['file1.txt', 'file2.txt', 'file3.txt']
files = [open(file) for file in filenames]

In this example, we have a list of filenames. We use list comprehension to iterate over the list, opening each file, and storing the resulting file object in a new list, files.

Handling Errors and Issues When Opening Multiple Files Using with

When working with files in any programming language, it's common to have to handle errors since so much can go wrong. Python's with keyword and try/except blocks can work together to better handle these errors

Let's take a look at an example:

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filenames = ["file1.txt", "file2.txt", "nonexistent.txt", "file3.txt"]

for name in filenames:
        with open(name, 'r') as f:
    except FileNotFoundError:
        print(f"{name} not found.")
    except PermissionError:
        print(f"You don't have permission to read {name}.")

In this example, we attempt to open four files with a loop. We've wrapped the file opening operation inside a with block which is itself enclosed in a try/except block. This way, if the file doesn't exist, a FileNotFoundError is caught and a custom error message is printed. We use it this way to specifically handle certain scenarios and letting with handle the closing of the file, if it was ever opened.


$ python
...contents of file1.txt...
...contents of file2.txt...
nonexistent.txt not found.
...contents of file3.txt...


In this article, we've explored various ways to open multiple files using with open in Python. We started with the basic method of opening multiple files, and then moved on to slightly more advanced techniques like using loops and list comprehension. We also briefly touched on how to handle errors and issues when opening multiple files.

Last Updated: September 13th, 2023
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