[Python-3000] PEP to change how the main module is delineated

Brett Cannon brett at python.org
Mon Apr 23 03:45:18 CEST 2007

This PEP is to change the ``if __name__ == "__main__": ...`` idiom to
``if __name__ == sys.main: ...``  so that you at least have a chance
to execute module in a package that use relative imports.

Ran this PEP past python-ideas.  Stopped the discussion there when too
many new ideas were being proposed.  =)  I have listed all of them in
the Rejected Ideas section, although if overwhelming support for one
comes forward the PEP can shift to one of them.


Title: Delineation of the main module
Version: $Revision: 52916 $
Last-Modified: $Date: 2006-12-04 11:59:42 -0800 (Mon, 04 Dec 2006) $
Author: Brett Cannon
Status: Draft
Type: Standards Track
Content-Type: text/x-rst
Created: XXX-Apr-2007


Because of how name resolution works for relative imports in a world
where PEP 328 is implemented, the ability to execute modules within a
package ceases being possible.  This failing stems from the fact that
the module being executed as the "main" module replaces its
``__name__`` attribute with ``"__main__"`` instead of leaving it as
the absolute name of the module.  This breaks import's ability
to resolve relative imports from the main module into absolute names.

In order to resolve this issue, this PEP proposes to change how the
main module is delineated.  By leaving the ``__name__`` attribute in
a module alone and setting ``sys.main`` to the name of the main
module this will allow at least some instances of executing a module
within a package that uses relative imports.

This PEP does not address the idea of introducing a module-level
function that is automatically executed like PEP 299 proposes.

The Problem

With the introduction of PEP 328, relative imports became dependent on
the ``__name__`` attribute of the module performing the import.  This
is because the use of dots in a relative import are used to strip away
parts of the calling module's name to calculate where in the package
hierarchy an import should fall (prior to PEP 328 relative
imports could fail and would fall back on absolute imports which had a
chance of succeeding).

For instance, consider the import ``from .. import spam`` made from the
``bacon.ham.beans`` module (``bacon.ham.beans`` is not a package
itself, i.e., does not define ``__path__``).  Name resolution of the
relative import takes the caller's name (``bacon.ham.beans``), splits
on dots, and then slices off the last n parts based on the level
(which is 2).  In this example both ``ham`` and ``beans`` are dropped
and ``spam`` is joined with what is left (``bacon``).  This leads to
the proper import of the module ``bacon.spam``.

This reliance on the ``__name__`` attribute of a module when handling
relative imports becomes an issue when executing a script within a
package.  Because the executing script has its name set to
``'__main__'``, import cannot resolve any relative imports, leading to
an ``ImportError``.

For example, assume we have a package named ``bacon`` with an
``__init__.py`` file containing::

  from . import spam

Also create a module named ``spam`` within the ``bacon`` package (it
can be an empty file).  Now if you try to execute the ``bacon``
package (either through ``python bacon/__init__.py`` or
``python -m bacon``) you will get an ``ImportError`` about trying to
do a relative import from within a non-package.  Obviously the import
is valid, but because of the setting of ``__name__`` to ``'__main__'``
import thinks that ``bacon/__init__.py`` is not in a package since no
dots exist in ``__name__``.  To see how the algorithm works in more
detail, see ``importlib.Import._resolve_name()`` in the sandbox

Currently a work-around is to remove all relative imports in the
module being executed and make them absolute.  This is unfortunate,
though, as one should not be required to use a specific type of
resource in order to make a module in a package be able to be

The Solution

The solution to the problem is to not change the value of ``__name__``
in modules.  But there still needs to be a way to let executing code
know it is being executed as a script.  This is handled with a new
attribute in the ``sys`` module named ``main``.

When a module is being executed as a script, ``sys.main`` will be set
to the name of the module.  This changes the current idiom of::

  if __name__ == '__main__':


  import sys
  if __name__ == sys.main:

The newly proposed solution does introduce an added line of
boilerplate which is a module import.  But as the solution does not
introduce a new built-in or module attribute (as discussed in
`Rejected Ideas`_) it has been deemed worth the extra line.

Another issue with the proposed solution (which also applies to all
rejected ideas as well) is that it does not directly solve the problem
of discovering the name of a file.  Consider ``python bacon/spam.py``.
By the file name alone it is not obvious whether ``bacon`` is a
package.  In order to properly find this out both the current
direction must exist on ``sys.path`` as well as ``bacon/__init__.py``

But this is the simple example.  Consider ``python ../spam.py``.  From
the file name alone it is not at all clear if ``spam.py`` is in a
package or not.  One possible solution is to find out what the
absolute name of ``..``, check if a file named ``__init__.py`` exists,
and then look if the directory is on ``sys.path``.  If it is not, then
continue to walk up the directory until no more ``__init__.py`` files
are found or the directory is found on ``sys.path``.

This could potentially be an expensive process.  If the package depth
happens to be deep then it could require a large amount of disk access
to discover where the package is anchored on ``sys.path``, if at all.
The stat calls alone can be expensive if the file system the executed
script is on is something like NFS.

Because of these issues, only when the ``-m`` command-line argument
(introduced by PEP 338) is used will ``__name__`` be set.  Otherwise
the fallback semantics of setting ``__name__`` to ``"__main__"`` will
occur.  ``sys.main`` will still be set to the proper value,
regardless of what ``__name__`` is set to.


When the ``-m`` option is used, ``sys.main`` will be set to the
argument passed in.  ``sys.argv`` will be adjusted as it is currently.
Then the equivalent of ``__import__(self.main)`` will occur.  This
differs from current semantics as the ``runpy`` module fetches the
code object for the file specified by the module name in order to
explicitly set ``__name__`` and other attributes.  This is no longer
needed as import can perform its normal operation in this situation.

If a file name is specified, then ``sys.main`` will be set to
``"__main__"``.  The specified file will then be read and have a code
object created and then be executed with ``__name__`` set to
``"__main__"``.  This mirrors current semantics.

Transition Plan

In order for Python 2.6 to be able to support both the current
semantics and the proposed semantics, ``sys.main`` will always be set
to ``"__main__"``.  Otherwise no change will occur for Python 2.6.
This unfortunately means that no benefit from this change will occur
in Python 2.6, but it maximizes compatibility for code that is to
work as much as possible with 2.6 and 3.0.

To help transition to the new idiom, 2to3 [#2to3]_ will gain a rule to
transform the current ``if __name__ == '__main__': ...`` idiom to the
new one.  This will not help with code that checks ``__name__``
outside of the idiom, though.

Rejected Ideas

``__main__`` built-in

A counter-proposal to introduce a built-in named ``__main__``.
The value of the built-in would be the name of the module being
executed (just like the proposed ``sys.main``).  This would lead to a
new idiom of::

  if __name__ == __main__:

A drawback is that the syntactic difference is subtle; the dropping
of quotes around "__main__".  Some believe that for existing Python
programmers bugs will be introduced where the quotation marks will be
put on by accident.  But one could argue that the bug would be
discovered quickly through testing as it is a very shallow bug.

While the name of built-in could obviously be different (e.g.,
``main``) the other drawback is that it introduces a new built-in.
With a simple solution such as ``sys.main`` being possible without
adding another built-in to Python, this proposal was rejected.

``__main__`` module attribute

Another proposal was to add a ``__main__`` attribute to every module.
For the one that was executing as the main module, the attribute would
have a true value while all other modules had a false value.  This has
a nice consequence of simplify the main module idiom to::

  if __main__:

The drawback was the introduction of a new module attribute.  It also
required more integration with the import machinery than the proposed

Use ``__file__`` instead of ``__name__``

Any of the proposals could be changed to use the ``__file__``
attribute on modules instead of ``__name__``, including the current
semantics.  The problem with this is that with the proposed solutions
there is the issue of modules having no ``__file__`` attribute defined
or having the same value as other modules.

The problem that comes up with the current semantics is you still have
to try to resolve the file path to a module name for the import to

Special string subclass for ``__name__`` that overrides ``__eq__``

One proposal was to define a subclass of ``str`` that overrode the
``__eq__`` method so that it would compare equal to ``"__main__"`` as
well as the actual name of the module.  In all other respects the
subclass would be the same as ``str``.

This was rejected as it seemed like too much of a hack.


.. [#2to3]  2to3 tool
    (http://svn.python.org/view/sandbox/trunk/2to3/) [ViewVC]

.. [#importlib] importlib


This document has been placed in the public domain.

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