[Python-Dev] Relative Package Imports

Tim Peters tim_one@email.msn.com
Sat, 11 Sep 1999 16:29:58 -0400

> I'd much rather use absolute package names for anything that's not in
> the same directory as the current module.

[M.-A. Lemburg]
> Of course, you could do everything with absolute names, but then
> the package author would dictate the complete absolute path which
> is not always desirable since it can cause name collisions such
> as DateTime in mxDateTime and Zope or Queue in mxQueue (to be
> released) and Mark's win32 stuff.
> As more and more packages appear, we run into this problem more
> and more often.

I never understand package complaints.  Maybe it's the imprecision of the
language people use, or maybe because it's because people don't give fully
fleshed-out examples.  Whatever, in the end, I never have any idea what the
complaint is, or in what way the solution is "solving" anything.

In the above, "absolute" doesn't appear to mean "absolute" in any
OS-sensible sense.  So what does it really mean?  Does it mean the same
things to Guido and MAL?

In MAL's hint of examples, I don't see any problem.  If mxDateTime unpacks
itself into a directory named DateTime, then *of course* it's going to
collide with other packages that want to do likewise.  Install it into
mxDateTime instead, and take "absolute" to mean "any module that wants an
mxDateTime service and does not itself live directly in mxDateTime/ must
import the desired module via a path beginning 'mxDateTime.'", and
everything looks straightforward to me (and that outcome makes me infer that
this is thus probably what Guido has in mind too).  Similarly for
win32.Queue vs mxQueue.Queue vs the Queue in the std library (it *would* be
good to have an explicit way to say "std library" -- "Lib." comes to mind).

> I could then make all my packages self-contained and
> distribute them in two forms without having to change
> a single line for the added support:
> 1. under the new 'mx' package, e.g. mx.DateTime
> 2. for backward compatibility under 'DateTime'

Ah, so that's what this is about.  I vote screw #2.  Releasing it that way
was a mistake.  Better to live with the brief & finite pain of repairing it
than complicating Python to cover up for it.

> Another major advantage is that I could take any other
> self-contained package and install it under absolute paths
> of my choice, e.g. put Zope under org.zope.core, Python under
> org.python.core etc., without harming their functionality
> or having to dive deep into their import structures to fix
> them manually.

I view that not as an advantage but as harmful complication.  Zope etc add
great value to a Python installation, and when I write a killer app full of
"import zope.this" and "import zope.that", I don't want the possibility that
it's not going to work on my client's machine just because their sysadmin
installed Zope into some silly site-specific path named after his soon-to-be
ex-girlfriend <wink>.  I don't want a way to work around him doing that,
either:  I don't want him to be able to screw me to begin with.

> To further enhance this mechanism I would like to have an
> alias mechanism in import, pickle et al. so that changes
> in the package structures become manageable without user
> intervention: pickles are a major problem whenever import
> structures change because they store absolute module names.

This is a different issue, and may have merits of its own.  WRT the relative
import scheme, its advantage seems to lie in providing a way to partially
recover from the damage the new scheme causes <0.5 wink>.

As is, the package name used by a release is part of its published
interface.  You can't change it without causing pain, any more than you can
make incompatible changes to public class methods or input-output behavior.
In return, package clients are uniform, simple and portable, making life
easiest for the people who know least.  The burden is on package authors to
choose names wisely, and that's where the burden should be.

if-100-pkgs-all-want-their-own-queue-they-already-can-ly y'rs  - tim