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Jonathan Bowman
Jonathan Bowman

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Easily Load non-Python Data Files from a Python Package with importlib.resources

Do you ever store files alongside your Python files, and want to read them from within a running Python script?

Using import works great on Python modules and packages, but import will not work on non-Python data files, such as text files (including JSON, HTML, csv, etc.) or binary files (such as images).

importlib.resources vs __file__

You could hack something together with the __file__ variable, which refers to the current Python module as a file in the filesystem. And many developers do this.

However, importlib.resources exists, since Python 3.7, and presents a more reliable and better-looking way to load data files.

An example

To demonstrate, let's experiment with a plain text file alongside a Python module, in a package.

We'll start with a simple project with Poetry (feel free
to use the tool of your choice instead, or read my intro to installing and using Poetry.

poetry new --src hello
cd hello
poetry install
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In src/hello, we can create two files, greeting.txt and


Hello, {recipient}!
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"""Tools for greeting others."""

import importlib.resources

def greet(recipient):
    """Greet a recipient."""
    template = importlib.resources.read_text("hello", "greeting.txt")
    return template.format(recipient=recipient)
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Now, you can launch a python console with poetry run python, and try the following:

>>> from hello import greet
>>> greet.greet("World")
'Hello, World!\n'
>>> greet.greet("Universe")
'Hello, Universe!\n'
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Note the call to importlib.resources.read_text(). This is what reads the contents of the file specified. There are other goodies available, such as importlib.resources.read_binary(). See the importlib.resources docs for further explanation and examples.

An alternative, and why it isn't as good

Of course, this also works:

import pathlib

def greet2(recipient):
    """Greet a recipient, hackily."""
    template = pathlib.Path(__file__).parent.joinpath("greeting.txt").read_text()
    return template.format(recipient=recipient)
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There is no shame in this implementation, but it just feels a bit more hacky, using a dunder (double underscore) variable, getting the parent directory, etc. Not a big deal though.

What is a big deal is that Python packages can be bundled together in different ways. One of these ways is in a zip file. The file reference will not work properly in such a zip file, while the importlib.resources will work fine.

In addition, importlib.resources makes convenient use of the import path. Let Python find the package and file in question; no need to work out the paths relative to file when you are loading data from files that are located in other packages. In other words, if you can import hello then you can importlib.resources.read_text("hello"...) no matter what script or module you are currently running.

Continue to dunder

There is one clever hack I should still mention. The line in greet() could be written:

    template = importlib.resources.read_text(__package__, "greeting.txt")
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The difference is that instead of naming the package explicitly with "hello", we use the dunder variable __package__ that returns the name of the existing package.

This, of course, only works if you are attempting to load resources from the same package that contains the call to importlib.resources. If you move the function to a different package, it will fail.

So, while not recommended (explicit is better than implicit), at least you are aware of this option.

The backport: importlib_resources

Want to use importlib.resources with older versions of Python, such as 3.5 or 3.6?

Thankfully, the importlib_resources package exists.

You may poetry add importlib-resources or pip install importlib-resources then use importlib_resources in place of any importlib.resources in this article's examples.

Other reading

As you design your modules and packages, you may find it helpful to read my brief intro to package/module structure in Python.

Happy developing!

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