The best answers to the question “Can someone explain __all__ in Python?” in the category Dev.
I have been using Python more and more, and I keep seeing the variable
__all__ set in different
__init__.py files. Can someone explain what this does?
It’s a list of public objects of that module, as interpreted by
import *. It overrides the default of hiding everything that begins with an underscore.
Linked to, but not explicitly mentioned here, is exactly when
__all__ is used. It is a list of strings defining what symbols in a module will be exported when
from <module> import * is used on the module.
For example, the following code in a
foo.py explicitly exports the symbols
__all__ = ['bar', 'baz'] waz = 5 bar = 10 def baz(): return 'baz'
These symbols can then be imported like so:
from foo import * print(bar) print(baz) # The following will trigger an exception, as "waz" is not exported by the module print(waz)
__all__ above is commented out, this code will then execute to completion, as the default behaviour of
import * is to import all symbols that do not begin with an underscore, from the given namespace.
__all__ affects the
from <module> import * behavior only. Members that are not mentioned in
__all__ are still accessible from outside the module and can be imported with
from <module> import <member>.
I’m just adding this to be precise:
All other answers refer to modules. The original question explicitely mentioned
__init__.py files, so this is about python packages.
__all__ only comes into play when the
from xxx import * variant of the
import statement is used. This applies to packages as well as to modules.
The behaviour for modules is explained in the other answers. The exact behaviour for packages is described here in detail.
__all__ on package level does approximately the same thing as for modules, except it deals with modules within the package (in contrast to specifying names within the module). So
__all__ specifies all modules that shall be loaded and imported into the current namespace when us use
from package import *.
The big difference is, that when you omit the declaration of
__all__ in a package’s
__init__.py, the statement
from package import * will not import anything at all (with exceptions explained in the documentation, see link above).
On the other hand, if you omit
__all__ in a module, the “starred import” will import all names (not starting with an underscore) defined in the module.
Explain all in Python?
I keep seeing the variable
__all__set in different
What does this do?
It declares the semantically “public” names from a module. If there is a name in
__all__, users are expected to use it, and they can have the expectation that it will not change.
It also will have programmatic effects:
__all__ in a module, e.g.
__all__ = ['foo', 'Bar']
means that when you
import * from the module, only those names in the
__all__ are imported:
from module import * # imports foo and Bar
Documentation and code autocompletion tools may (in fact, should) also inspect the
__all__ to determine what names to show as available from a module.
__init__.py makes a directory a Python package
From the docs:
__init__.pyfiles are required to make Python treat the directories as containing packages; this is done to prevent directories with a common name, such as string, from unintentionally hiding valid modules that occur later on the module search path.
In the simplest case,
__init__.pycan just be an empty file, but it can also execute initialization code for the package or set the
__init__.py can declare the
__all__ for a package.
Managing an API:
A package is typically made up of modules that may import one another, but that are necessarily tied together with an
__init__.py file. That file is what makes the directory an actual Python package. For example, say you have the following files in a package:
package ├── __init__.py ├── module_1.py └── module_2.py
Let’s create these files with Python so you can follow along – you could paste the following into a Python 3 shell:
from pathlib import Path package = Path('package') package.mkdir() (package / '__init__.py').write_text(""" from .module_1 import * from .module_2 import * """) package_module_1 = package / 'module_1.py' package_module_1.write_text(""" __all__ = ['foo'] imp_detail1 = imp_detail2 = imp_detail3 = None def foo(): pass """) package_module_2 = package / 'module_2.py' package_module_2.write_text(""" __all__ = ['Bar'] imp_detail1 = imp_detail2 = imp_detail3 = None class Bar: pass """)
And now you have presented a complete api that someone else can use when they import your package, like so:
import package package.foo() package.Bar()
And the package won’t have all the other implementation details you used when creating your modules cluttering up the
After more work, maybe you’ve decided that the modules are too big (like many thousands of lines?) and need to be split up. So you do the following:
package ├── __init__.py ├── module_1 │ ├── foo_implementation.py │ └── __init__.py └── module_2 ├── Bar_implementation.py └── __init__.py
First make the subpackage directories with the same names as the modules:
subpackage_1 = package / 'module_1' subpackage_1.mkdir() subpackage_2 = package / 'module_2' subpackage_2.mkdir()
Move the implementations:
package_module_1.rename(subpackage_1 / 'foo_implementation.py') package_module_2.rename(subpackage_2 / 'Bar_implementation.py')
__init__.pys for the subpackages that declare the
__all__ for each:
(subpackage_1 / '__init__.py').write_text(""" from .foo_implementation import * __all__ = ['foo'] """) (subpackage_2 / '__init__.py').write_text(""" from .Bar_implementation import * __all__ = ['Bar'] """)
And now you still have the api provisioned at the package level:
>>> import package >>> package.foo() >>> package.Bar() <package.module_2.Bar_implementation.Bar object at 0x7f0c2349d210>
And you can easily add things to your API that you can manage at the subpackage level instead of the subpackage’s module level. If you want to add a new name to the API, you simply update the
__init__.py, e.g. in module_2:
from .Bar_implementation import * from .Baz_implementation import * __all__ = ['Bar', 'Baz']
And if you’re not ready to publish
Baz in the top level API, in your top level
__init__.py you could have:
from .module_1 import * # also constrained by __all__'s from .module_2 import * # in the __init__.py's __all__ = ['foo', 'Bar'] # further constraining the names advertised
and if your users are aware of the availability of
Baz, they can use it:
import package package.Baz()
but if they don’t know about it, other tools (like pydoc) won’t inform them.
You can later change that when
Baz is ready for prime time:
from .module_1 import * from .module_2 import * __all__ = ['foo', 'Bar', 'Baz']
By default, Python will export all names that do not start with an
_. You certainly could rely on this mechanism. Some packages in the Python standard library, in fact, do rely on this, but to do so, they alias their imports, for example, in
import os as _os, sys as _sys
_ convention can be more elegant because it removes the redundancy of naming the names again. But it adds the redundancy for imports (if you have a lot of them) and it is easy to forget to do this consistently – and the last thing you want is to have to indefinitely support something you intended to only be an implementation detail, just because you forgot to prefix an
_ when naming a function.
I personally write an
__all__ early in my development lifecycle for modules so that others who might use my code know what they should use and not use.
Most packages in the standard library also use
__all__ makes sense
It makes sense to stick to the
_ prefix convention in lieu of
- You’re still in early development mode and have no users, and are constantly tweaking your API.
- Maybe you do have users, but you have unittests that cover the API, and you’re still actively adding to the API and tweaking in development.
The downside of using
__all__ is that you have to write the names of functions and classes being exported twice – and the information is kept separate from the definitions. We could use a decorator to solve this problem.
I got the idea for such an export decorator from David Beazley’s talk on packaging. This implementation seems to work well in CPython’s traditional importer. If you have a special import hook or system, I do not guarantee it, but if you adopt it, it is fairly trivial to back out – you’ll just need to manually add the names back into the
So in, for example, a utility library, you would define the decorator:
import sys def export(fn): mod = sys.modules[fn.__module__] if hasattr(mod, '__all__'): mod.__all__.append(fn.__name__) else: mod.__all__ = [fn.__name__] return fn
and then, where you would define an
__all__, you do this:
$ cat > main.py from lib import export __all__ =  # optional - we create a list if __all__ is not there. @export def foo(): pass @export def bar(): 'bar' def main(): print('main') if __name__ == '__main__': main()
And this works fine whether run as main or imported by another function.
$ cat > run.py import main main.main() $ python run.py main
And API provisioning with
import * will work too:
$ cat > run.py from main import * foo() bar() main() # expected to error here, not exported $ python run.py Traceback (most recent call last): File "run.py", line 4, in <module> main() # expected to error here, not exported NameError: name 'main' is not defined