Modules and Imports

Standard Library

Python has always had a “batteries included” philosophy - having a rich and versatile standard library which is immediately available, without making the user download separate packages. This is thought to have contributed to Python’s early success. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, there’s probably a built-in library that can help you do what you want.

The downside to this is that the standard libraries need to maintain backwards compatibility. Some were quick hacks, hard to use, poorly designed and now impossible to fix, or have simply been rendered obsolete. Luckily, Python also makes it easy to install and use external libraries - we’ll cover this later.

The Standard Library

There are some great libraries included with Python that you’ll probably end up seeing or using frequently. sys provides system-specific parameters and functions, such as exit(). os has miscellaneous operating system interfaces, and provides the excellent os.path submodule for handling file paths on any operating system. math gives you all the advanced math function. json is an easy-to-use json parser and encoder. Python even gives you built-in libraries for database access, logging, internet protocols, multimedia, debugging, and even libraries for extending Python itself. The full list of standard libraries can be found in the Python documentation.

As a quick example, let’s look at Python’s datetime library. You can easily make a datetime object that represents any given point in time. For example:

>>> import datetime
>>> right_now =
>>> print(right_now)
2020-10-29 23:29:53.798740
>>> repr(right_now)
'datetime.datetime(2020, 10, 29, 23, 29, 53, 798740)'

We can even make a datetime object for an arbitrary date, and subtract it from right now to get a timedelta object:

>>> new_years = datetime.datetime(2020, 1, 1, 0, 0)
>>> print(new_years)
2019-01-01 00:00:00
>>> delta = right_now - new_years
>>> print(delta)
302 days, 23:29:53.798740

We can easily see that it’s been over 302 days from new_years until right_now. We’ll come back to datetime later in this chapter.

Modules and Imports

Python has a simple package structure. Any directory with a file named can be considered a Python module.

Note: a file is no longer required for Python 3 modules, but it’s still supported and can be useful.

For example, let’s make a basic function and start a new module to house it:

def add_numbers(x, y):
    return x + y

Let’s put our function in a file called and place it in a folder called my_math_functions. Now, as long as the folder my_math_functions is somewhere in our PYTHONPATH, we can import my_math_functions and reach add_numbers(). If we start our REPL from the folder that contains my_math_functions, we can import it:

>>> import my_math_functions
>>> my_math_functions.add_numbers(1, 2)

Best Practices

There a few different ways to import modules or even just specific objects from modules. You can import everything from a module into the local namespace using *:

>>> from my_math_functions import *
>>> add_numbers(1, 2)

This isn’t a good practice, because it’s hard to tell where a specific function is coming from without the namespace context. Also, function names can conflict, and this can make things very difficult to debug.

It is better to import functions specifically:

>>> from my_math_functions import add_numbers
>>> add_numbers(1, 2)

This make things a little clearer, as we can look at the top and see where the add_number() function came from. However, an even better way is to just import the module and use it in calls to maintain the namespace context:

>>> import my_math_functions
>>> my_math_functions.add_numbers(1, 2)

This can be slightly more verbose, but unless it makes your function calls ridiculously long, it generally makes things much easier to debug.

You can use the as keyword to make things a little easier on yourself.

>>> import my_math_functions as mmf
>>> mmf.add_numbers(1, 2)


What is the PYTHONPATH we mentioned earlier? This is a list of paths on your system where Python will look for packages. Python will always look first in the working directory (the folder you’re in when you start the REPL or run your program), so if your module folder is there, you can import it. You can also install your modules just like any other external modules, using a file. It’s also possible to change or add paths to your PYTHONPATH list if you need to store modules elsewhere, but this isn’t a very portable solution.