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Dynamic, Lazy, and Weak Imports with the Importing Toolkit

NEW in 1.10: @whenImported can now be used as a decorator for lazy imports

Need to import an object when all you've got is its name? Need to lazily import modules, such that they don't actually get loaded until you use them? Want to have some code in a module that only gets run if another module is imported? Then you need the "Importing" toolkit.

Installing the toolkit (using "easy_install Importing" or " install") allows you to access the peak.util.imports module. This module was previously bundled for years inside of the general PEAK distribution, but is now available as a standalone module for your convenience.

The "Importing" toolkit does not install or use any special import hooks, and is compatible with zipfile imports, py2exe, etc. Lazy and weak imports should be compatible with almost any import hooks or hacks, as long as they have reasonable support for the reload() builtin. The dynamic import utilities, however, require only that __import__() work correctly, and so should work anywhere that normal Python imports work.

NOTE: The 1.9.2 release uses a new version of setuptools (0.6b3) that fixes a previous problem with .pth files on Windows with the Importing egg. See more info on how to fix your existing installation, if you experienced this problem with a previous version.

Python 2.3 users: If you are using weak or lazy importing with zipfiles (e.g. eggs) you must have Python 2.3.5. Lesser versions of 2.3 have a bug in the reload() implementation which prevents correct operation of weak and lazy imports for modules that are inside zipfiles.

Table of Contents

You may access any of the following APIs by importing them from peak.util.imports:

Dynamic Imports

Sometimes you need to get an object based on a name that you don't know until runtime. You could kludge something together with exec or __import__, but if you need to be able to reference nested classes, class methods, or other object attributes, and want to handle packages correctly, you will want to use one of these routines.

All of these routines accept an optional globalDict parameter to allow relative importing; see the section on Relative/Absolute Importing below for details.

importString(name [, globalDict])

Import an item specified by a string

Example Usage:

attribute1 = importString('some.module:attribute1')
attribute2 = importString('other.module:nested.attribute2')

importString() imports an object from a module, according to an import specification string: a dot-delimited path to an object in the Python package namespace. For example, the string "some.module.attribute" is equivalent to the result of from some.module import attribute.

For readability of import strings, it's sometimes helpful to use a : to separate a module name from items it contains. It's optional, though, as importString() will convert the : to a . internally anyway.

importObject(name_or_object [, globalDict])

Convert a possible string specifier to an object

If name_or_object is a string or unicode object, this routine will import it using importString(). Otherwise, the passed-in object is returned.

This routine is useful for APIs that want to accept either a (non-string) object, or a string designating the object to be used. They can simply call importObject() on their input without needing to inspect it.

importSequence(string_or_sequence [, globalDict])

Convert a string or sequence to a list of objects.

If string_or_sequence is a string or unicode object, it is treated as a comma-separated list of names to import using importString(), and a list of imported objects is returned. (Whitespace around the commas is permitted.)

If string_or_sequence is not a string but is iterable, this returns a list created by calling importObject() on each element of the sequence.

importSuite(name_or_sequence [, globalDict])

Convert a string or sequence to a unittest.TestSuite

This routine is identical to importSequence() except that a unittest.TestSuite is returned instead of a list.

Relative/Absolute Importing

All of the above routines take an optional globalDict second argument in order to support imports relative to a given package (in which case the passed-in globalDict should be a module dictionary in the desired package). These routines do not support Python 2.5 relative import syntax. All imports done by these routines are absolute, unless you specify a globalDict (in which case they are relative to the module the globalDict came from, falling back to absolute if there is no relative match).

Lazy Imports

Sometimes you may want to import a module that isn't needed right away. A common solution is to put the import inside of a function, so that it doesn't occur until the function is called. However, this is slow, increases startup time, and it can be a bit harder to tell what's going on. So the Importing toolkit provides a way to access a module lazily, such that it can be "imported" in top level code, but not actually loaded until the module is used in some way. (And unlike many other lazy importing tools for Python, this API can be applied to any Python module and does not interfere with normal imports of the targeted module(s), whether they are lazily loaded before or after the normal imports.)


Return module moduleName, but with its contents loaded "on demand"

This function returns sys.modules[moduleName], if present. Otherwise it creates a LazyModule object for the specified module, caches it in 'sys.modules', and returns it.

LazyModule is a subclass of the standard Python "module" type, that remains empty until an attempt is made to access one of its attributes. At that moment, the module is loaded into memory, and any hooks that were defined via whenImported() (See the "Weak" Imports section below) are invoked.

Note that calling lazyModule() with the name of a non-existent or unimportable module will delay the ImportError until the moment that an access is attempted. The ImportError will be repeated every time an attribute access is attempted on the broken module, until the problem is corrected.

Example usage:

sdist = lazyModule('distutils.command.sdist')

This is roughly equivalent to import distutils.command.sdist as sdist, except that the real import doesn't take place until/unless you try to access some attribute of the sdist object -- unless of course the module was already imported before the above line was executed.

"Weak" Imports

Sometimes you have code in a module that's only needed to support some third-party module, that your user(s) may or may not be using. A common approach to solving this problem is to try importing the third-party module, but this may import it unnecessarily, if the program never ends up actually using the module.

So the Importing toolkit offers a solution by combining lazy module loading with the ability to have a callback run whenever a named module is actually used. The registered callback can be used to import additional support code, register adapters or services or generic functions, or do whatever else might be needed to add support when the optional third-party module is imported. But the callback will be invoked only as soon as the third-party module is used (i.e. any of its attributes are accessed), and not a moment before.


Call func(module) when module named moduleName is first used

moduleName must be a fully qualified (i.e. absolute) module name.

If the named module has already been loaded, the decorated function is called immediately. If the named module is not yet loaded, the decorated function is registered as a callback that will be invoked when the named module is actually used.

In either case, the decorated function will be passed one argument: the module object named by moduleName. It must not allow any unhandled exceptions to escape, or it may prevent other registered callbacks from running.

Using this function implies a possible lazy import of the specified module, and lazy importing means that any ImportError will be deferred until the module is actually used.

(Note: in older versions of the Importing toolkit, this function actually took a second argument: the callback to be registered or called. If you use it in this fashion, the return value is not the decorated function, but is instead the module object or lazy module object named by moduleName.)

Deprecated Features

For backward-compatibility with PEAK's experimental "module inheritance" feature, peak.util.imports has some limited support for logical module paths, in the joinPath() function and the optional relativePath argument to lazyModule(). There is also a getModuleHooks() function that is used by the "module inheritance" system.

Please do not use any of these API features, as I would like to remove them or make them private as soon as the "module inheritance" feature is removed from PEAK proper.

Mailing List

Please direct questions regarding this package to the PEAK mailing list; see for details.

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