What will happen if I modify a Python script while it's running? – Dev

The best answers to the question “What will happen if I modify a Python script while it's running?” in the category Dev.


Imagine a python script that will take a long time to run, what will happen if I modify it while it’s running? Will the result be different?


When you run a python program and the interpreter is started up, the first thing that happens is the following:

  • the module sys and builtins is initialized
  • the __main__ module is initialized, which is the file you gave as an argument to the interpreter; this causes your code to execute

When a module is initialized, it’s code is run, defining classes, variables, and functions in the process. The first step of your module (i.e. main file) will probably be to import other modules, which will again be initialized in just the same way; their resulting namespaces are then made available for your module to use. The result of an importing process is in part a module (python-) object in memory. This object does have fields that point to the .py and .pyc content, but these are not evaluated anymore: module objects are cached and their source never run twice. Hence, modifying the module afterwards on disk has no effect on the execution. It can have an effect when the source is read for introspective purposes, such as when exceptions are thrown, or via the module inspect.

This is why the check if __name__ == "__main__" is necessary when adding code that is not intended to run when the module is imported. Running the file as main is equivalent to that file being imported, with the exception of __name__ having a different value.


  • What happens when a module is imported: The import system
  • What happens when the interpreter starts: Top Level Components
  • What’s the __main__ module: __main__– Top-level code environment


Nothing, because Python precompiles your script into a PYC file and launches that.

However, if some kind of exception occurs, you may get a slightly misleading explanation, because line X may have different code than before you started the script.


No, the result will not reflect the changes once saved. The result will not change when running regular python files. You will have to save your changes and re-run your program.


This is a fun question. The answer is that “it depends”.

Consider the following code:

"Example script showing bad things you can do with python."

import os

print('this is a good script')
with open(__file__, 'w') as fdesc:
    fdesc.write('print("this is a bad script")')

import bad

Try saving the above as “/tmp/bad.py” then do “cd /tmp” and finally “python3 bad.py” and see what happens.

On my ubuntu 20 system I see the output:

this is a good script
this is a bad script

So again, the answer to your question is “it depends”. If you don’t do anything funky then the script is in memory and you are fine. But python is a pretty dynamic language so there are a variety of ways to modify your “script” and have it affect the output.

If you aren’t trying to do anything funky, then probably one of the things to watch out for are imports inside functions.

Below is another example which illustrates the idea (save as “/tmp/modify.py” and do “cd /tmp” and then “python3 modify.py” to run). The fiddle function defined below simulates you modifying the script while it is running (if desired, you could remove the fiddle function, put in a time.sleep(300) at the second to last line, and modify the file yourself).

The point is that since the show function is doing an import inside the function instead of at the top of the module, the import won’t happen until the function is called. If you have modified the script before you call show, then your modified version of the script will be used.

If you are seeing surprising or unexpected behavior from modifying a running script, I would suggest looking for import statements inside functions. There are sometimes good reasons to do that sort of thing so you will see it in people’s code as well as some libraries from time to time.

Below is the demonstration of how an import inside a function can cause strange effects. You can try this as is vs commenting out the call to the fiddle function to see the effect of modifying a script while it is running.

"Example showing import in a function"

import time

def yell(msg):
    "Yell a msg"
    return f'#{msg}#'
def show(msg):
    "Print a message nicely"
    import modify

def fiddle():
    orig = open(__file__).read()
    with open(__file__, 'w') as fdesc:
        modified = orig.replace('{' + 'msg' + '}', '{msg.upper()}')

show('What do you think?')