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Chapter 28. Modules

A module allows us to group Python classes, functions and global variables. Modules are one level of composition of a large program from discrete components. The modules we design in one context can often be reused to solve other problems.

In the section called “Module Semantics” we describe the basic semantics of modules. In the section called “Module Definition” we describe how to define a module. We'll show how to use a module with the import statement in the section called “Module Use: The import Statement”. A module must be found on the search path, we'll briefly talk about ways to control this in the section called “Finding Modules: The Path”.

There are number of variations on the import statement; we'll look at these in the section called “Variations on An import Theme”. We'll also look at the exec statement in the section called “The exec Statement”. This chapter ends with some style notes in the section called “Style Notes”.

Module Semantics

A module is a file that contains Python programming. A module can be brought into another program via the import statement, or it can be executed directly as the main script of an application program. There are two purposes for modules; some files may do both.

  • A library module is expected to contain definitions of classes, functions and module variables. If it does anything beyond this, it is generally hard to understand and harder to use properly.
  • A script (or application or “main” module) does the useful work of an application. It will have up to three disctinct elements: imports of any modules on which it depeds, main function definitions, a script that does the real work. It generally uses library modules.

Modules give us a larger-scale structure to our programs. We see the following levels of Python programming:

  • The individual statement. A statement makes a specific state change by changing the value of a variable. State changes are what advance our program from its initial state to the desired ending state.

  • Multiple statements are combined in a function. Functions are designed to be an indivisible, atomic unit of work. Functions can be easily combined with other functions, but never taken apart. Functions may be as simple as a single statement. While functions could be complex, it's important that they be easily understood, and this limits their complexity. A well-chosen function name helps to clarify the processing.

  • Multiple functions and related data are used to define a class of objects. To be useful, a class must have a narrowly defined set of responsibilities. These responsibilities are characterized by the class attributes and behaviors.

  • Multiple closely-related classes, functions and variables are combined into modules. The module name is the file name. A module should provide a closely related set of classes and functions. Sometimes, a module will package a set of closely related functions.

  • Optionally, modules can be combined into packages. The directory structure defines the packages and their constituent modules. Additionally, packages contain some additional files that Python uses to locate all of the elements of the package.

  • The user-oriented application program depend on modules (or packages).

The application — the functionality that the user perceives — is usually the top-most “executable” script that does the useful work. The relationship between shell commands (or desktop icons, or web links) that a user sees and the packaging of components that implement those commands can be murky. For example, a single application file may have multiple aliases, making it appear like independed commands. A single script can process multiple command-line options.

The application-level view, since it is presented to the user, must focused on usability: the shell commands or icons the user sees. The design of modules and packages sould be focused on maintenance and adaptability. The modules are the files that you, the developer, must use to keep the software understandable.

Components: Class and Module. A class is a container for attributes, method functions, and nested class definitions. Similarly, a module can also contain attributes, functions and class definitions.

A module is different from a class in several ways. First, a module is a physical file; it is the unit of software construction and configuration management. A class is defined within a file. Additionally, a class definition allows us to create a number of class instances, or objects. A module, on other hand, can only have a single instance. Python will only import a module one time; any additional requests to import a module have no effect. Any variables defined by the module, similarly, will only have a single instance.

Beyond this technical distinction, we generally understand modules to be the big, easy-to-understand components out of which are applications are built. A class is a finer-grained piece of functionality, which usually captures a small, very tightly bound collection of attribute and operations.

  Published under the terms of the Open Publication License Design by Interspire