Chapter 7: Modules and Packages

Up until this chapter we have been looking at code at the level of the interactive console and simple scripts. This works well for small examples, but when your program gets larger, it becomes necessary to break programs up into smaller units. In Python, the basic building block for these units in larger programs is the module.

Imports For Re-Use

Breaking code up into modules helps to organize large code bases. Modules can be used to logically separate code that belongs together, making programs easier to understand. Modules are helpful for creating libraries that can be imported and used in different applications that share some functionality. Jython’s standard library comes with a large number of modules that can be used in your programs right away.

Import Basics

The following discussion will use the a silly example file called

class Spam(object):

    def order(self, number):
        print "spam " * number

def order_eggs():
    print " and eggs!"

s = Spam()

We’ll start with a couple of definitions. A namespace is a logical grouping of unique identifiers. In other words, a namespace is that set of names that can be accessed from a given bit of code in your program. For example, if you open up a Jython prompt and type dir(), the names in the interpreter’s namespace will be displayed.

>>> dir()
['__doc__', '__name__']

The interpreter namespace contains __doc__ and __name__. The __doc__ property contains the top level docstring, which is empty in this case. We’ll get to the __name__ property in a moment. First we need to talk about Jython modules. A module in Jython is a file containing Python definitions and statements which in turn define a namespace. The module name is the same as the file name with the suffix .py removed, so in our current example the Python file “” defines the module “breakfast”.

Now we can talk about the __name__ property. When a module is run directly, as in “jython”, __name__ will contain ‘__main__’. If a module is imported, __name__ will contain the name of the module, so “import breakfast” result’s in the breakfast module containing a __name__ of “breakfast”.

>>> __doc__
>>> __name__
Let’s see what happens when we import breakfast: ::
>>> import breakfast
spam spam spam
 and eggs!
>>> dir()
['__doc__', '__name__', 'breakfast']

Checking the doc() after the import shows that breakfast has been added to the top level namespace. Notice that the act of importing actually executed the code in Most of the time, we wouldn’t want a module to execute in this way on import. To avoid this, but allow the code to execute when it is called directly, we typically check the __name__ property:

class Spam(object):

    def order(self, number):
        print "spam " * number

def order_eggs():
    print " and eggs!"

if __name__ == '__main__':
    s = Spam()
Now if we import breakfast, we will not get the output: ::
>>> import breakfast

This is because in this case the __name__ property will contain ‘breakfast’, the name of the module. If we call from the commandline like “jython” we would then get the output again, because breakfast would be executing as __main__.

In languages like Java, the import statement is strictly a compiler directive that must occur at the top of the source file. In Jython, the import statement is an expression that can occur anywhere in the source file, and can even be conditionally executed.

As an example, a common idiom is to attempt to import something that may not be there in a try block, and in the except block import a module that is known to be there.

>>> try:
...     from blah import foo
... except ImportError:
...     def foo():
...         return "hello from backup foo"
>>> foo()
'hello from backup foo'

If a module named blah had existed, the definition of foo would have been taken from there. Since no such module existed, foo was defined in the except block, and when we called foo, the ‘hello from backup foo’ string was returned.

I should point out that dir() does not actually print out the entire namespace for the top level of the interpreter. There are a large number of names that are ommitted since the dir() output would not be as useful. The special __builtin__ module can be imported to see the rest:

>>> import __builtin__
>>> dir(__builtin__)
['ArithmeticError', 'AssertionError', 'AttributeError', ...


Unfortunately, Jython must contend with two very different definitions of “Package”. In the Python world, a Python package is a directory containing an file. The directory usually contains some Python modules which are said to be contained in the package. The file is executed before any contained modules are imported.

In the Java world, a Java package organizes Java classes into a namespace using nested directories. Java packages do not require an file. Also unlike Python packages, Java packages are explicitly referenced in each Java file with a package directive at the top.


The example contains one package: search, which is a package because it is a directory containing the special file. In this case is empty and so only serves as a marker that search is a package . If contained code, it would be executed before any of its containing modules could be imported. Note that the directory chapter7 itself is not a package because it does not contain an There are three modules in the example program: searchdir, search.input and search.scanner. The code for this program can be downloaded at XXX. ~~~~~~~~~~~~

import search.scanner as scanner
import sys

help = """
Usage: directory terms...

args = sys.argv

if args == None or len(args) < 2:
    print help

dir = args[1]
terms = args[2:]
scan = scanner.scan(dir, terms)
scan.display() ———-:

from search.walker import DirectoryWalker
from javax.swing import JFrame, JTable, WindowConstants

class ScanResults(object):
    def __init__(self):
        self.results = []

    def add(self, file, line):
        self.results.append((file, line))

    def display(self):
        colnames = ['file', 'line']
        table = JTable(self.results, colnames)
        frame = JFrame("%i Results" % len(self.results))
        frame.size = 400, 300
        frame.defaultCloseOperation = WindowConstants.EXIT_ON_CLOSE
        frame.visible = True

    def scan(dir, terms):
        results = ScanResults()
        for filename in DirectoryWalker(dir):
            for line in open(filename):
                for term in terms:
                    if term in line:
        return results ———:

import os

class DirectoryWalker:
    # A forward iterator that traverses a directory tree. Adapted from an
    # example in the eff-bot library guide:

    def __init__(self, directory):
        self.stack = [directory]
        self.files = []
        self.index = 0

    def __getitem__(self, index):
        while 1:
                file = self.files[self.index]
                self.index = self.index + 1
            except IndexError:
                # pop next directory from stack
       = self.stack.pop()
                self.files = os.listdir(
                self.index = 0
                # got a filename
                fullname = os.path.join(, file)
                if (os.path.isdir(fullname) and not
                    return fullname

If you run on it’s own directory like this:

Trying out the Example Code —————————:

$ jython . terms

You will get a swing table titled “5 Results” (possibly more if .class files are matched). Let’s examine the import statements used in this program. The module searchdir contains two import statements::

import search.scanner as scanner
import sys

The first imports the module “search.scannar” and renames the module “scannar”. The second imports the builtin module “sys” and leaves the name as “sys”. The module “search.scannar” has two import statements:

from search.walker import DirectoryWalker
from javax.swing import JFrame, JTable, WindowConstants

The first imports DirectoryWalker from the “search.walker” module. Note that we had to do this even though search.walker is in the same package as search.scanner. The last import is interesting because it imports the java classes like JFrame from the java package javax.swing. Jython makes this sort of import look the same as other imports. This simple example shows how you can import code from different modules and packages to modularize your programs.

Types of import statements

The import statement comes in a variety of forms that allow much finer control over how importing brings named values into your current module.

Basic import Statements ———————–

import module
from module import submodule
from . import submodule

I will discuss each of the import statement forms in turn starting with:

import module

This most basic type of import imports a module directly. Unlike Java, this form of import binds the leftmost module name, so If you import a nested module like:

import javax.swing.JFrame

You would need to refer to it as “javax.swing.JFrame” in your code. In Java this would have imported “JFrame”.

from import Statements ———————-

from module import name

This form of import allows you to import modules, classes or functions nested in other modules. This allows you to achieve the result that a typical Java import gives. To get a JFrame in your Jython code you issue:

from javax.swing import JFrame

You can also use the from style of import to import all of the names in a module directly into your current module using a ‘*’. This form of import is discouraged in the Python community, and is particularly troublesome when importing from Java packages (in some cases it does not work, see chapter 10 for details) so you should avoid its use. It looks like this:

from module import *

Relative import Statements

A new kind of import introduced in Python 2.5 is the explicit relative import. These import statements use dots to indicate how far back you will walk from the current nesting of modules, with one dot meaning the current module.

from . import module
from .. import module
from .module import submodule
from ..module import submodule

Even though this style of importing has just been introduced, its use is discouraged. Explicit relative imports are a reaction to the demand for implicit relative imports. If you look at the search.scanner package, you will see the import statement:

from search.walker import DirectoryWalker

Because search.walker sits in the same package as search.scanner, the import statement could have been:

from walker import DirectoryWalker

Some programmers like to use relative imports like this so that imports will survive module restructuring, but these relative imports can be error prone because of the possibility of name clashes. The new syntax provides an explicit way to use relative imports, though they too are still discouraged. The import statement above would look like this:

from .walker import DirectoryWalker

Aliasing import Statements

Any of the above imports can add an “as” clause to change import a module but give it a new name.

import module as alias
from module import submodule as alias
from . import submodule as alias

This gives you enormous flexibility in your imports, so to go back to the Jframe example, you could issue:

import javax.swing.JFrame as Foo

And instantiate a JFrame object with a call to Foo(), something that would surprise most Java developers coming to Jython.

Hiding Module Names

Typically when a module is imported, all of the names in the module are available to the importing module. There are a couple of ways to hide these names from importing modules. Starting any name with an underscore (_) which is the Python convention for marking names as private is the first way. The second way to hide module names is to define a list named __all__, which should contain only those names that you wish to have your module to expose. As an example here is the value of __all__ at the top of Jython’s os module:

__all__ = ["altsep", "curdir", "pardir", "sep", "pathsep",
           "linesep", "defpath", "name", "path",
           "SEEK_SET", "SEEK_CUR", "SEEK_END"]

Note that you can add to __all__ inside of a module to expand the exposed names of that module. In fact, the os module in Jython does just this to conditionally expose names based on the operating system that Jython is running on.

Module Search Path, Compilation, and Loading


Despite the popular belief that Jython is an “interpreted, not compiled”, in reality all Jython code is turned into Java bytecodes before execution. These bytecodes are not always saved to disk, but when you see Jython execute any code, even in an eval or an exec, you can be sure that bytecodes are getting fed to the JVM. The sole exception to this that I know of is the experimental pycimport module that I will describe in the section on sys.meta_path below, which interprets CPython bytecodes instead of producing Java bytecodes.

Module search Path and Loading

Understanding the process of module search and loading is more complicated in Jython than in either CPython or Java because Jython can search both Java’s CLASSPATH and Python’s path. We’ll start by looking at Python’s path and sys.path. When you issue an import, sys.path defines the path that Jython will use to search for the name you are trying to import. The objects within the sys.path list tell Jython where to search for modules. Most of these objects point to directories, but there are a few special items that can be in sys.path for Jython that are not just pointers to directories. Trying to import a file that does not reside anywhere in the sys.path (and also cannot be found in the CLASSPATH) raises an ImportError exception. Let’s fire up a command line and look at sys.path.

>>> import sys
>>> sys.path
['', '/Users/frank/jython/Lib', '__classpath__', '__pyclasspath__/',

The first blank entry (‘’) tells Jython to look in the current directory for modules. The second entry points to Jython’s Lib directory that contains the core Jython modules. The third and forth entries are special markers that we will discuss later, and the last points to the site-packages directory where new libraries can be installed when you issue setuptools directives from Jython (see Chapter XXX for more about setuptools).

Import Hooks

To understand the way that Jython imports Java classes we have to understand a bit about the Python import protocol. I won’t get into every detail, for that you would want to look at PEP 302 .

Briefly, we first try any custom importers registered on sys.meta_path. If one of them is capable of importing the requested module, allow that importer to handle it. Next, we try each of the entries on sys.path. For each of these, we find the first hook registered on sys.path_hooks that can handle the path entry. If we find an import hook and it successfully imports the module, we stop. If this did not work, we try the builtin import logic. If that also fails, an ImportError is thrown. So let’s look at Jython’s path_hooks.

sys.path_hooks ————–

>>> import sys
>>> sys.path_hooks
[<type 'org.python.core.JavaImporter'>, <type 'zipimport.zipimporter'>,
<type 'ClasspathPyImporter'>]

Each of these path_hooks entries specifies a path_hook that will attempt to import special fies. JavaImporter, as it’s name implies, allows the dynamic loading of Java packages and classes that are specified at runtime. For example, if you want to include a jar at runtime you can execute the following code, which will then get picked up by the JavaImporter hook the next time that an import is attempted:

>>> import sys
>>> sys.path.append("/Users/frank/lib/mysql-connector-java-5.1.6.jar")
>>> import com.mysql
*sys-package-mgr*: processing new jar, '/Users/frank/lib/mysql-connector-java-5.1.6.jar'
>>> dir(com.mysql)
['__name__', 'jdbc']


Adding entries to sys.meta_path allows you to add import behaviors that will occur before any other import is attempted, even the default builtin importing behavior. This can be a very powerful tool, allowing you to do all sorts of interesting things. As an example, I will talk about an experimental module that ships with Jython 2.5. That module is pycimport. If you start up jython and issue:

>>> import pycimport

Jython will start scanning for .pyc files in your path and if it finds one, will use the .pyc file to load you module. .pyc files are the files that CPython produces when it compiles Python source code. So, if you after you have imported pycimport (which adds a hook to sys.meta_path) then issue:

>>> import foo

Jython will scan your path for a file named foo.pyc, and if it finds one it will import the foo module using the CPython bytecodes. Here the code at the bottom of that makes defines the MetaImporter and adds it to sys.meta_path:

class __MetaImporter(object):
    def __init__(self):
        self.__importers = {}
    def find_module(self, fullname, path):
        if __debugging__: print "MetaImporter.find_module(%s, %s)" % (
            repr(fullname), repr(path))
        for _path in sys.path:
            if _path not in self.__importers:
                    self.__importers[_path] = __Importer(_path)
                    self.__importers[_path] = None
            importer = self.__importers[_path]
            if importer is not None:
                loader = importer.find_module(fullname, path)
                if loader is not None:
                    return loader
            return None

sys.meta_path.insert(0, __MetaImporter())

The find_module method calls into other parts of pycimport and looks for .pyc files. If it finds one, it knows how to parse and execute those files and adds the corresponding module to the runtime. Pretty cool eh?

Java Package Scanning

Although you can ask the Java SDK to give you a list of all of the packages known to a ClassLoader using:


there is no corresponding


This is unfortunate for Jython, because Jython users expect to be able to introspect they code they use in powerful ways. For example, users expect to be able to call dir() on Java objects and packages to see what names they contain:

>>> import
>>> dir(
['Adler32', 'CRC32', 'CheckedInputStream', 'CheckedOutputStream', 'Checksum', 'DataFormatException', 'Deflater', 'DeflaterOutputStream', 'GZIPInputStream', 'GZIPOutputStream', 'Inflater', 'InflaterInputStream', 'ZipEntry', 'ZipException', 'ZipFile', 'ZipInputStream', 'ZipOutputStream', '__name__']
>>> dir(
['__class__', '__delattr__', '__doc__', '__eq__', '__getattribute__', '__hash__', '__init__', '__ne__', '__new__', '__reduce__', '__reduce_ex__', '__repr__', '__setattr__', '__str__', 'available', 'class', 'close', 'closeEntry', 'equals', 'getClass', 'getNextEntry', 'hashCode', 'mark', 'markSupported', 'nextEntry', 'notify', 'notifyAll', 'read', 'reset', 'skip', 'toString', 'wait']

To make this sort of introspection possible in the face of merged namespaces requires some major effort the first time that Jython is started (and when jars or classes are added to Jython’s path at runtime). If you have ever run a new install of Jython before, you will recognize the evidence of this system at work:

*sys-package-mgr*: processing new jar, '/Users/frank/jython/jython.jar'
*sys-package-mgr*: processing new jar, '/System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/1.5.0/Classes/classes.jar'
*sys-package-mgr*: processing new jar, '/System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/1.5.0/Classes/ui.jar'
*sys-package-mgr*: processing new jar, '/System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/1.5.0/Classes/laf.jar'
*sys-package-mgr*: processing new jar, '/System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/1.5.0/Home/lib/ext/sunjce_provider.jar'
*sys-package-mgr*: processing new jar, '/System/Library/Frameworks/JavaVM.framework/Versions/1.5.0/Home/lib/ext/sunpkcs11.jar'

This is Jython scanning all of the jar files that it can find to build an internal representation of the package and classes available on your JVM. This has the unfortunate side effect of making the first startup on a new Jython installation painfully slow.

How Jython Finds the Jars and Classes to scan

There are two properties that Jython uses to find jars and classes. These settings can be given to Jython using commandline settings or the registry (see Chapter XXX). The two properties are:


These properties are comma separated lists of further registry entries that actually contain the values the scanner will use to build its listing. You probably should not change these properties. The properties that get pointed to by these properties are more interesting. The two that potentially make sense to manipulate are:


For the java.class.path property, entries are separated as the classpath is separated on the operating system you are on (that is, “;” on Windows and “:” on most other systems). Each of these paths are checked for a .jar or .zip and if they have these suffixes they will be scanned.

For the java.ext.dirs property, entries are separated in the same manner as java.class.path, but these entries represent directories. These directories are searched for any files that end with .jar or .zip, and if any are found they are scanned.

To control the jars that are scanned, you need to set the values for these properties. There are a number of ways to set these property values, see Chapter XXX for more.

If you only use full class imports, you can skip the package scanning altogether. Set the system property python.cachedir.skip to true or(again) pass in your own postProperties to turn it off.

Python Modules and Packages vs. Java Packages

The basic semantics of importing Python modules and packages versus the semantics of importing Java packages into Jython differ in some important respects that need to be kept carefully in mind.


When Jython tries to import a module, it will look in its sys.path in the manner described in the previous section until it finds one. If the module it finds represents a Python module or package, this import will display a “winner take all” semantic. That is, the first python module or package that gets imported blocks any other module or package that might subsequently get found on any lookups. This means that if you have a module foo that contains only a name bar early in the sys.path, and then another module also called foo that only contains a name baz, then executing “import foo” will only give you and not foo.baz.

This differs from the case when Jython is importing Java packages. If you have a Java package containing bar, and a Java package containing baz later in the path, executing “import” will merge the two namespaces so that you will get both and

Just as important to keep in mind, if there is a Python module or package of a particular name in your path that conflicts with a Java package in your path this will also have a winner take all effect. If the Java package is first in the path, then that name will be bound to the merged Java packages. If the Python module or package wins, no further searching will take place, so the Java packages with the clashing names will never be found.

Naming Python Modules and Packages ———————————-

Developers coming from Java will often make the mistake of modeling their Jython package structure the same way that they model Java packages. Do not do this. The reverse url convention of Java is a great, I would even say a brilliant convention for Java. It works very well indeed in the world of Java where these namespaces are merged. In the Python world however, where modules and packages display the winner take all semantic, this is a disastrous way to organize your code.

If you adopt this style for Python, say you are coming from “” so you would set up a package structure like “com.acme”. If you try to use a library from your vendor xyz that is set up as “”, then the first of these on your path will take the “com” namespace, and you will not be able to see the other set of packages.

Proper Python Naming ——————–

The Python convention is to keep namespaces as shallow as you can, and make your top level namespace reasonably unique, whether it be a module or a package. In the case of acme and company xyz above, you might start you package structures with “acme” and “xyz” if you wanted to have these entire codebases under one namespace (not necessarily the right way to go – better to organize by product instead of by organization, as a general rule).

Note: There are at least two sets of names that are particularly bad choices for naming modules or packages in Jython. The first is any top level domain like org, com, net, us, name. The second is any of the domains that Java the language has reserved for its top level namespaces: java, javax.

Java Import Example

We’ll start with a Java class which is on the CLASSPATH when Jython is started:

public class HelloWorld {
    public void hello() {
        System.out.println("Hello World!");
    public void hello(String name) {
        System.out.printf("Hello %s!", name);

Here we manipulate that class from the Jython interactive interpreter:

>>> from import HelloWorld
>>> h = HelloWorld()
>>> h.hello()
Hello World!
>>> h.hello("frank")
Hello frank!

It’s important to note that, because the HelloWorld program is located on the Java CLASSPATH, it did not go through the sys.path process we talked about before. In this case the Java class gets loaded directly by the ClassLoader. Discussions of Java ClassLoaders are beyond the scope of this book. To read more about ClassLoader see (citation? Perhaps point to the Java Language Specification section)


In this chapter we have learned how to divide code up into modules to for the purpose of organization and re-use. We have learned how to write modules and packages, and how the Jython system interacts with Java classes and packages. This ends Part I. We have now covered the basics of the Jython language and are now ready to learn how to use Jython.