How to Import Python Files from Subdirectories

When developing larger Python projects, it is common to organize code into different directories or subdirectories to maintain a clean and structured project layout. However, when you split your code into subdirectories, you may encounter difficulties in importing Python files between these directories. In this article, we will explore various methods to import Python files from subdirectories, providing you with a comprehensive guide to manage your project efficiently.

Understanding Python Modules and Packages

In Python, modules and packages are essential concepts that form the building blocks of code organization and reusability. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components:

Modules in Python

A module in Python is simply a file containing Python definitions, functions, classes, and variables. It serves as a container for related code, allowing you to break your program into smaller, manageable pieces. Modules promote code reuse and maintainability by encapsulating specific functionalities and separating concerns.

When you create a module, you define functions, classes, and variables within it. Other Python scripts or modules can then import these defined entities and utilize them in their own context. This promotes a modular approach to development, making it easier to collaborate, maintain, and extend projects.

To create a module, you need to save your Python code in a separate file with a .py extension. For example, if you have a module named “my_module,” you can import its functions like this:

# Importing a function from the "my_module" module
from my_module import my_function

Packages in Python

Packages are directories that contain one or more Python modules. The presence of a special file called in a directory indicates that it is a Python package. This file can be empty or can contain initialization code for the package.

For example:


Packages provide a hierarchical organization of modules, helping you structure your project into logical components. This is especially useful for larger projects where codebases can become complex. By grouping related modules into packages, you create a well-organized project layout.

A package can have also subpackages, and each level of the package hierarchy is separated by dots (.). This dot notation allows you to access modules and submodules within the package structure.

For example:

|-- subpackage/

1. Using Absolute Imports

The most straightforward way to import Python files from subdirectories is by using absolute imports. With absolute imports, you specify the full path from the top-level package or module to the target file you want to import.

Suppose you have the following project structure:

|-- subdirectory/

To import from, you can use the following import statement:

from subdirectory.sub_module import some_function

The advantage of using absolute imports is that they are unambiguous and work consistently across different parts of your project.

2. Using Relative Imports

Another way to import files from subdirectories is by using relative imports. Relative imports specify the location of the target file relative to the location of the current file.

In the above project structure, if you want to import from another module within the same subdirectory, you can use a relative import like this:

from .sub_module import some_function

The dot . represents the current package, and you can use multiple dots to traverse up the directory hierarchy.

However, there are some important points to keep in mind when using relative imports:

  • Relative imports only work inside packages. They are not valid in a script that is directly executed.
  • Python 3 disallows implicit relative imports, so you need to be explicit about relative imports using the dot notation.

3. Modifying sys.path

In some cases, you may encounter scenarios where absolute or relative imports don’t suit your needs. One alternative approach is to modify the sys.path list to include the subdirectory path manually.

import sys

from sub_module import some_function

By adding the subdirectory path to sys.path, you can import modules as if they were in the same directory.

4. Using the file

In Python, the file is a significant component when working with packages. It resides within a package directory and serves a crucial role in defining the behavior and characteristics of the package. Let’s explore the role of the file and how it can be leveraged effectively in your Python projects.

The Purpose of File

The file is executed when a package is imported. Its primary purpose is to initialize the package and define what is accessible when the package is imported. Without this file, Python would treat the directory as a simple folder rather than a package.

While the file can be empty, it often contains code that sets up the package’s environment, including importing specific modules or subpackages that should be exposed when the package is imported. This makes it a powerful tool for customizing the behavior of your packages and controlling what is visible to the outside world.

Importing Modules from

One of the most common use cases of the file is to import modules or subpackages into the package’s namespace. This way, when you import the package, certain modules or functionalities become directly accessible.

For example, suppose you have the following package structure:

|-- subpackage/

In the file of my_package, you can import modules like this:

# my_package/
from .module1 import function_from_module1
from .subpackage import submodule1

Now, when you import my_package in your code, you can directly access function_from_module1 and submodule1:

import my_package


Advanced Package Initialization

The file can contain more advanced code to set up the package’s environment or perform necessary tasks during package import. This could include configuring package-wide settings, checking for required dependencies, or handling version checks.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the file is executed every time the package is imported. Therefore, it is recommended to keep the initialization code lightweight and avoid time-consuming operations.

Dynamic Imports (Further Reading)

Dynamic Imports refer to the ability of a programming language, such as Python, to import modules or files at runtime, allowing developers to load and use code dynamically, based on specific conditions or user input.

It is out the scope of this article to discuss this here, but if you are interested, you can read our tutorial on dynamic imports with Python.


Importing Python files from subdirectories is a fundamental aspect of structuring and organizing larger projects. Whether you prefer absolute imports, relative imports, modifying sys.path, or utilizing the file, each approach has its advantages and is applicable in different scenarios.

As you develop more extensive projects, understanding and mastering these import methods will help you create maintainable, modular, and efficient Python codebases. Choose the method that best suits your project’s needs and maintain a structured directory layout to ensure a smooth development experience.

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