[Import-SIG] New PEP Draft: Import Engine

Greg Slodkowicz jergosh at gmail.com
Sun Jul 31 14:05:15 CEST 2011

Dear all,
The following is a result of a GSoC project I've been working on with
Nick and Brett. I wrote up a description of the proposed changes as a
short PEP draft. I'd appreciate any suggestions or criticism.

A sligthly more readable version is also available at

Title: Python Import Engine
Version: $Revision$
Last-Modified: $Date$
Author: Nick Coghlan <ncoghlan at gmail.com>, Greg Slodkowicz <jergosh at gmail.com>
Status: Draft
Type: Standards Track
Content-Type: text/x-rst
Created: 4-Jul-2011
Post-History: XXX


This PEP proposes incorporating an 'import engine' class which would
encapsulate all state related to importing modules into a single
object and provide an alternative to the built-in implementation of
the import statement, which is syntactic sugar for the
``__import__()`` method.  Currently the bulk of importing work is done
by means of module finders and loaders, and their interfaces would
require a simple change in order to work both the builtin import
functionality and importing via import engine objects.  In that sense,
this PEP constitutes a revision of finder and loader interfaces
described in PEP 302 [1]_.


Historically, any modification to the import functionality required
re-implementing ``__import__()`` entirely.  PEP 302 provides a major
improvement by introducing separation between imports of different
types of modules.  As a result, additional process-global state is
stored in the sys module.  This, along with earlier import-related
global state, comprises:

* sys.modules
* sys.path
* sys.path_hooks
* sys.meta_path
* sys.path_importer_cache
* the import lock (imp.lock_held()/acquire_lock()/release_lock())

Isolating this state would allow multiple import states to be
conveniently stored within a process. Placing the import functionality
in a self-contained object would allow subclassing to add additional
features (e.g. module import notifications or fine-grained control
over which modules can be imported).  The engine would also be
subclassed to make it possible to use the import engine API to
interact with the existing process-global state.


We propose introducing an ImportEngine class to encapsulate import
functionality. This includes the ``__import__()`` function which can
be used to as an alternative to the built-in ``__import__()`` when
desired and also ``import_module()``, equivalent to
``importlib.import_module()`` [3]_.

Since the new style finders and loaders should also have the option to
modify the global import state, we introduce a ``GlobalImportState``
class with an interface identical to ``ImportEngine`` but taking
advantage of the global state. This can be easily implemented using
class properties.

Design and Implementation


The proposed extension would consist of the following objects:


 ``__import__(self, name, globals={}, locals={}, fromlist=[], level=0)``
 Reimplementation of the builtin ``__import__()`` function.  The
import of a module will proceed using the state stored in the
ImportEngine instance rather than the global import state.  For full
documentation of ``__import__`` funtionality, see [2]_ .
``__import__()`` from ``ImportEngine`` and its subclasses can be used
to customise the behaviour of the ``import`` statement by replacing
``__builtin__.__import__`` with ``ImportEngine.__import__``.

``import_module(name, package=None)``
 A reimplementation of ``importlib.import_module()`` which uses the
import state stored in the ImportEngine instance. See [3]_ for a full

``from_engine(self, other)``
  Create a new import object from another ImportEngine instance.  The
new object is initialised with a copy of the state in ``other``.  When
called on ``engine.sysengine`` as ``other``, ``from_engine()`` can be
used to create an ImportEngine object with a **copy** of the global
import state.

 Convenience class to provide engine-like access to the global state.
Provides ``__import__()``, ``import_module()`` and ``from_engine()``
methods like ``ImportEngine`` but writes through to the global state
in ``sys``.

Global variables

 Instance of GlobalImportEngine provided for convenience (e. g. for
use by module finders and loaders).

Necessary changes to finder/loader interfaces:

``find_module`` (cls, fullname, path=None, **engine=None**)

``load module`` (cls, fullname, path=None, **engine=None**)

The only difference between 'new style' and PEP 302 compatible
finders/loaders is the presence of an additional ``engine`` parameter.
This is intended to specify an ImportEngine instance or subclass there
of.  This parameter is optional so that the 'new style' finders and
loaders can be made backwards compatible by falling back on
engine.sysengine with the following simple pattern:


 find_module(cls, fullname, path=None, engine=None)
   if not engine:
     engine = engine.sysengine


An implementation based on Brett Cannon's importlib has been developed
by Greg Slodkowicz as part of the 2011 Google Summer of Code. The code
repository is located at

Open Issues

The existing importlib implementation depends on several functions
from ``imp``, Python's builtin implementation of ``__import__``
located in *Python/import.c*. These functions are unaware of
ImportEngine and place the newly imported module in ``sys.modules``.
Naturally, this is a problem from the ImportEngine point of view.  The
offending methods are:

* imp.init_builtin()
* imp.load_dynamic()

However, since there can be only a single instance of each
builtin/dynamic module per process, they are essentially
process-global regardless of the way they are imported. Currently, the
simplest solution for supporting them in ImportEngine seems to have
new style loaders call the existing imp methods and then copy
appropriate references from ``sys.modules`` into the state inside the
import engine.

Similarly, ``imp.NullImporter`` implements a ``load_module`` method
which is incompatible with 'new style' loaders. Since the
``NullImporter`` class does next to nothing (i. e. always returns
None), it has been reimplemented in Python. The only way this could
cause problems would be explicitly checking if a module's importer is
an imp.NullImporter (which occurs only in some unittests).


.. [1] PEP 302, New Import Hooks, J van Rossum, Moore

.. [2] __import__() builtin function, The Python Standard Library documentation

.. [3] Importlib documentation, Cannon


This document has been placed in the public domain.

Best regards,

More information about the Import-SIG mailing list