I’ve been making a lot of python projects lately, simply due to the fact that they have fast turnaround time, so I feel like I’m getting something done.

I don’t want to be called mean names by people on the internet on the way I structure my projects/have bad code smell, so I read the hitchhiker’s guide. This is what I found.

Top Level

At the top level, we should only have the following:


setup.py describes things like name, version, packages. If you want your project to be indexed on PyPI, then you need a unique name field.

An example of metadata in your setup.py:

import sys, os
    from setuptools import setup
except ImportError:
    from distutils.core import setup

      description='this is a package',

Why do we have distutils OR setuptools? Here’s the history:

Distutils is still the standard tool for packaging in Python. It is included in the standard library (Python 2 and Python 3.0 to 3.3). It is useful for simple Python distributions, but lacks features. It introduces the distutils Python package that can be imported in your setup.py script.

Setuptools was developed to overcome Distutils’ limitations, and is not included in the standard library. It introduced a command-line utility called easy_install. It also introduced the setuptools Python package that can be imported in your setup.py script, and the pkg_resources Python package that can be imported in your code to locate data files installed with a distribution. One of its gotchas is that it monkey-patches the distutils Python package. It should work well with pip. The latest version was released in July 2013.


Sometimes you’ll see a makefile for python development, and you might ask:

Why? Python doesn’t require compiling…

And you’re right, but makefiles do more than just “make”. It’s easier to type:

$make test


$py.test tests if you’re using the py.test package, or $python tests/test.py.

Plus, you wrap that abstraction into your makefile so you don’t need to know how you’re testing.


We have 2 options: either use sys.path.append, sys.path.insert(0, ...), or python setup.py develop and insert the package into site-packages, which should be in your $PYTHONPATH.

I like to do the sys library way. It means that your code does not depend on the environment that you’re running on. What if you don’t even have a site-packages?

Absolute import

import os
import sys
sys.path.insert(0, os.path.abspath(os.path.join(os.path.dirname(__file__), '..')))
from .module import core


Relative import

import os
import sys
sys.path.insert(0, '..')))
from .module import core


Python’s import keyword uses dots to go 1 directory down.

import library.plugin.foo

Is equivalent to this file structure:

    - plugin
        - foo.py

One thing that I did before, that you should never do, is this:

from foo import *

This obfuscates the namescope; we don’t know whether a function f() is a part of our standard library, something we implemented in this current python file, or in foo.py. That’s 3 places to look at if you get a bug!

What is a package?

Simple: it’s a directory with an __init__.py file in it. It’s used to gather all package definitions within it.

If you import library.plugin.foo, it will look at __init__.py in library, then execute all of its statements, and then __init__.py in plugin, and then finally look for a file called foo.py, where it will add all of its names to scope.

The issue with adding too much code to __init__.py is that if you have a deep directory structure, you need to call __init__.py many times. This will slow down imports. Thus, the standard solution is to minimize your code in __init__.py, as much as possible.