How to guard against bugs like this one?

kj at
Tue Feb 2 03:34:07 CET 2010

I just spent about 1-1/2 hours tracking down a bug.

An innocuous little script, let's call it, only 10 lines
long, and whose output should have been, at most two lines, was
quickly dumping tens of megabytes of non-printable characters to
my screen (aka gobbledygook), and in the process was messing up my
terminal *royally*.  Here's

import sys
import psycopg2
connection_params = "dbname='%s' user='%s' password='%s'" % tuple(sys.argv[1:])
conn = psycopg2.connect(connection_params)
cur = conn.cursor()
cur.execute('SELECT * FROM version;')
print '\n'.join(x[-1] for x in cur.fetchall())

(Of course, is pretty useless; I reduced the original,
more useful, script to this to help me debug it.)

Through a *lot* of trial an error I finally discovered that the
root cause of the problem was the fact that, in the same directory
as, there is *another* innocuous little script, totally
unrelated, whose name happens to be  (This second script
is one I wrote as part of a little Python tutorial I put together
months ago, and is not much more of a script than;
it's baby-steps for the absolute beginner.  But apparently, it has
a killer name!  I had completely forgotten about it.)

Both scripts live in a directory filled with *hundreds* little
one-off scripts like the two of them.  I'll call this directory
myscripts in what follows. 

It turns out that imports psycopg2, as you can see, and
apparently psycopg2 (or something imported by psycopg2) tries to
import some standard Python module called numbers; instead it ends
up importing the innocent myscript/, resulting in *absolute

(This is no mere Python "wart"; this is a suppurating chancre, and
the fact that it remains unfixed is a neverending source of puzzlement
for me.)

How can the average Python programmer guard against this sort of
time-devouring bug in the future (while remaining a Python programmer)?
The only solution I can think of is to avoid like the plague the
basenames of all the 200 or so /usr/lib/pythonX.XX/{,c} files,
and *pray* that whatever name one chooses for one's script does
not suddenly pop up in the appropriate /usr/lib/pythonX.XX directory
of a future release.

What else can one do?  Let's see, one should put every script in its
own directory, thereby containing the damage.

Anything else?

Any suggestion would be appreciated.



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