When I first encountered Python’s pathlib module for path manipulation, I brushed it aside assuming it to be just an OOP way of doing what os.path already does quite well. The official doc also dubs it as the Object-oriented filesystem paths. However, back in 2019 when this ticket confirmed that Django was replacing os.path with pathlib, I got curious.

The os.path module has always been the de facto standard for working with paths in Python. But the API can feel massive as it performs a plethora of other loosely coupled system related jobs. I’ve to look things up constantly even to perform some of the most basic tasks like joining multiple paths, listing all the files in a folder having a particular extension, opening multiple files in a directory etc. The pathlib module can do nearly everything that os.path offers and comes with some additional cherries on top.

Problem with Python’s Path Handling

Traditionally, Python has represented file paths as regular text strings. So far, using paths as strings with os.path module has been adequate although a bit cumbersome . However, paths are not actually strings and this has necessitated the usage of multiple modules to provide disparate functionalities that are scattered all around the standard library, including libraries like os, glob, and shutil. The following code uses three modules just to copy multiple python files from current directory to another directory called src.

from glob import glob
import os
import shutil

for fname in glob("*.py"):
    new_path = os.path.join("src", fname)
    shutil.copy(fname, new_path)

The above pattern can get complicated fairly quickly and you have to know or look for specific modules and methods in a large search space to perform your path manipulations. Let’s have a look at a few more examples of performing the same tasks using os.path and pathlib modules.

Joining & Creating New Paths

Say you want to achieve the following goals:

  • There is a file named file.txt in your current directory and you want to create the path for another file named file_another.txt in the same directory

  • Then you want to save the absolute path of file_another.txt in a new variable.

Let’s see how you’d usually do this via the os module.

from os.path import abspath, dirname, join

file_path = abspath("./file.txt")
base_dir = dirname(file_path)
file_another_path = join(base_dir, "file_another.txt")

The variables file_path, base_dir, file_another_path look like this on my machine:

print("file_path:", file_path)
print("base_dir:", base_dir)
print("file_another_path:", file_another_path)
>>> file_path: /home/rednafi/code/demo/file.txt
>>> base_dir: /home/rednafi/code/demo
>>> file_another_path: /home/rednafi/code/demo/file_another.txt

You can use the usual string methods to transform the paths but generally, that’s not a good idea. So, instead of joining two paths with + like regular strings, you should use os.path.join() to join the components of a path. This is because different operating systems do not define paths in the same way. Windows uses "\" while Mac and *nix based OSes use "/" as a separator. Joining with os.path.join() ensures correct path separator on the corresponding operating system. Pathlib module uses "/" operator overloading and make this a little less painful.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("file.txt").resolve()
base_dir = file_path.parent
file_another_path = base_dir / "another_file.txt"

print("file_path:", file_path)
print("base_dir:", base_dir)
print("file_another_path:", file_another_path)
>>> file_path: /home/rednafi/code/demo/file.txt
>>> base_dir: /home/rednafi/code/demo
>>> file_another_path: /home/rednafi/code/demo/file_another.txt

The resolve method finds out the absolute path of the file. From there you can use the parent method to find out the base directory and add the another_file.txt accordingly.

Making Directories & Renaming Files

Here’s a piece of code that:

  • Tries to make a src/stuff/ directory when it already exists
  • Renames a file in the src directory called .config to .stuffconfig:
import os
import os.path

os.makedirs(os.path.join("src", "stuff"), exist_ok=True)
os.rename("src/.config", "src/.stuffconfig")

Here is the same thing done using the pathlib module:

from pathlib import Path

Path("src/stuff").mkdir(parents=True, exist_ok=True)
Path("src/.config").rename("src/.stuffconfig")
>>> PosixPath('src/.stuffconfig')

Notice the output where the renamed file path is printed. It’s not a simple string, rather a PosixPath object that indicates the type of host system (Linux in this case). You can almost always use stringified path values and the Path objects interchangeably.

Listing Specific Types of Files in a Directory

Let’s say you want to recursively visit nested directories and list .py files in a directroy called source. The directory looks like this:

src/
├── stuff
│   ├── __init__.py
│   └── submodule.py
├── .stuffconfig
├── somefiles.tar.gz
└── module.py

Usually, glob module is used to resolve this kind of situation:

from glob import glob

top_level_py_files = glob("src/*.py")
all_py_files = glob("src/**/*.py", recursive=True)

print(top_level_py_files)
print(all_py_files)
>>> ['src/module.py']
>>> ['src/module.py', 'src/stuff/__init__.py', 'src/stuff/submodule.py']

The above approach works perfectly. However, if you don’t want to use another module just for a single job, pathlib has embedded glob and rglob methods. You can entirely ignore glob and achieve the same result in the following way:

from pathlib import Path

top_level_py_files = Path("src").glob("*.py")
all_py_files = Path("src").rglob("*.py")

print(list(top_level_py_files))
print(list(all_py_files))

This will also print the same as before:

>>> [PosixPath('src/module.py')]
>>> [PosixPath('src/module.py'),
    PosixPath('src/stuff/__init__.py'),
    PosixPath('src/stuff/submodule.py')]

By default, both Path.glob and Path.rglob returns a generator object. Calling list on them gives you the desired result. Notice how rglob method can discover the desired files without you having to mention the directory structure with wildcards explicitly. Pretty neat, huh?

Opening Multiple Files & Reading their Contents

Now let’s open the .py files and read their contents that you recursively discovered in the previous example.

from glob import glob

contents = []
for fname in glob("src/**/*.py", recursive=True):
    with open(fname, "r") as f:
        contents.append(f.read())

print(contents)
>>> ['from contextlib ...']

The pathlib implementation is almost identical as above.

from pathlib import Path

contents = []
for fname in Path("src").rglob("*.py"):
    with open(fname, "r") as f:
        contents.append(f.read())

print(contents)
>>> ['from contextlib import ...']

You can also cook up a more robust implementation with generator comprehension and context manager.

from contextlib import ExitStack
from pathlib import Path

# ExitStack ensures all files are properly closed after o/p
with ExitStack() as stack:
    streams = (
        stack.enter_context(open(fname, "r")) for fname in Path("src").rglob("*.py")
    )
    contents = [f.read() for f in streams]

print(contents)
>>> ['from contextlib import ...']

Anatomy of the Pathlib Module

Primarily, pathlib has two high-level components, pure path and concrete path. Pure paths are absolute Path objects that can be instantiated regardless of the host operating system. On the other hand, to instantiate a concrete path, you need to be on the specific type of host expected by the class. These two high level components are made out of six individual classes internally coupled by inheritance. They are:

  1. PurePath (Useful when you want to work with windows path on a Linux machine)
  2. PurePosixPath (Subclass of PurePath)
  3. PureWindowsPath (Subclass of PurePath)
  4. Path (Concrete path object, most of the time, you’ll be dealing with this one)
  5. PosixPath (Concrete posix path, subclass of Path)
  6. WindowsPath (Concrete windows path, subclass of Path)

This UML diagram from the official docs does a better job at explaining the internal relationships between the component classes.

Unless you are doing cross platform path manipulation, most of the time you’ll be working with the concrete Path object. So I’ll focus on the methods and properties of Path class only.

Operators

Instead of using os.path.join you can use / operator to create child paths.

from pathlib import Path

base_dir = Path("src")
child_dir = base_dir / "stuff"
file_path = child_dir / "__init__.py"

print(file_path)
>>> PosixPath('src/stuff/__init__.py')

Attributes & Methods

The following tree shows an inexhaustive list of attributes and methods that are associated with Path object. I have cherry picked some of the attributes and methods that I use most of the time while doing path manipulation. Head over to the official docs for a more detailed list. We’ll linearly traverse through the tree and provide necessary examples to grasp their usage.

Path
│
├── Attributes
│       ├── parts
│       ├── parent & parents
│       ├── name
│       ├── suffix & suffixes
│       └── stem
│
│  
└── Methods
        ├── joinpath(*other)
        ├── cwd()
        ├── home()
        ├── exists()
        ├── expanduser()
        ├── glob()
        ├── rglob(pattern)
        ├── is_dir()
        ├── is_file()
        ├── is_absolute()
        ├── iterdir()
        ├── mkdir(mode=0o777, parents=False, exist_ok=False)
        ├── open(mode='r', buffering=-1, encoding=None, errors=None, newline=None)
        ├── rename(target)
        ├── replace(target)
        ├── resolve(strict=False)
        └── rmdir()

Let’s dive into their usage one by one. For all the examples, We’ll be using the previously seen directory structure.

src/
├── stuff
│   ├── __init__.py
│   └── submodule.py
├── .stuffconfig
├── somefile.tar.gz
└── module.py

Path.parts

Returns a tuple containing individual components of a path.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/__init__.py")
file_path.parts
>>> ('src', 'stuff', '__init__.py')

Path.parents & Path.parent

Path.parents returns an immutable sequence containing the all logical ancestors of the path. While Path.parent returns the immediate predecessor of the path.

file_path = Path("src/stuff/__init__.py")

for parent in file_path.parents:
    print(parent)
>>> src/stuff
... src
... .
file_path.parent
>>> PosixPath('src/stuff')

Path.name

Returns the last component of a path as string. Usually used to extract file name from a path.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/module.py")
file_path.name
>>> 'module.py'

Path.suffixes & Path.suffix

Path.suffixes returns a list of extensions of the final component. Path.suffix only returns the last extension.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/somefile.tar.gz")
file_path.suffixes
>>> ['.tar', '.gz']
file_path.suffix
>>>'.gz'

Path.stem

Returns the final path component without the suffix.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/somefile.tar.gz")
file_path.stem
>>> 'somefile.tar'

Path.is_absolute

Checks if a path is absolute or not. Return boolean value.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/somefile.tar.gz")
file_path.is_absolute()
>>> False

Path.joinpath(*other)

This method is used to combine multiple components into a complete path. This can be used as an alternative to "/" operator for joining path components.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src").joinpath("stuff").joinpath("__init__.py")
file_path
>>> PosixPath('src/stuff/__init__.py')

Path.cwd()

Returns the current working directory.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/somefile.tar.gz")
file_path.cwd()
>>> PosixPath('/home/rednafi/code/demo')

Path.home()

Returns home directory.

from pathlib import Path

Path.home()
>>> PosixPath('/home/rednafi')

Path.exists()

Checks if a path exists or not. Returns boolean value.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/thisisabsent.py")
file_path.exists()
>>> False

Path.expanduser()

Returns a new path with expanded ~ symbol.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("~/code/demo/src/stuff/somefile.tar.gz")
file_path.expanduser()
>>> PosixPath('/home/rednafi/code/demo/src/stuff/somefile.tar.gz')

Path.glob()

Globs and yields all file paths matching a specific pattern. Let’s discover all the files in src/stuff/ directory that have .py extension.

from pathlib import Path

dir_path = Path("src/stuff/")
file_paths = dir_path.glob("*.py")

print(list(file_paths))
>>> [PosixPath('src/stuff/__init__.py'), PosixPath('src/stuff/submodule.py')]

Path.rglob(pattern)

This is like Path.glob method but matches the file pattern recursively.

from pathlib import Path

dir_path = Path("src")
file_paths = dir_path.rglob("*.py")

print(list(file_paths))
>>> [PosixPath('src/module.py'),
    PosixPath('src/stuff/__init__.py'),
    PosixPath('src/stuff/submodule.py')]

Path.is_dir()

Checks if a path points to a directory or not. Returns boolean value.

from pathlib import Path

dir_path = Path("src/stuff/")
dir_path.is_dir()
>>> True

Path.is_file()

Checks if a path points to a file. Returns boolean value.

from pathlib import Path

dir_path = Path("src/stuff/")
dir_path.is_file()
>>> False

Path.is_absolute()

Checks if a path is absolute or relative. Returns boolean value.

from pathlib import Path

dir_path = Path("src/stuff/")
dir_path.is_absolute()
>>> False

Path.iterdir()

When the path points to a directory, this yields the content path objects.

from pathlib import Path

base_path = Path("src")
contents = [content for content in base_path.iterdir()]

print(contents)
>>> [PosixPath('src/stuff'),
     PosixPath('src/module.py'),
     PosixPath('src/.stuffconfig')]

Path.mkdir(mode=0o777, parents=False, exist_ok=False)

Creates a new directory at this given path.

Parameters:

  • mode:(str) Posix permissions (mimicking the POSIX mkdir -p command)

  • parents:(boolean) If parents is True, any missing parents of this path are created as needed. Otherwise, if the parent is absent, FileNotFoundError is raised.

  • exist_ok: (boolean) If False, FileExistsError is raised if the target directory already exists. If True, FileExistsError is ignored.

from pathlib import Path

dir_path = Path("src/other/side")
dir_path.mkdir(parents=True)

Path.open(mode=’r’, buffering=-1, encoding=None, errors=None, newline=None)

This is same as the built in open function.

from pathlib import Path

with Path("src/module.py") as f:
    contents = open(f, "r")
    for line in contents:
        print(line)
>>> from contextlib import contextmanager
... from time import time
... .....

Path.rename(target)

Renames this file or directory to the given target and returns a new Path instance pointing to target. This will raise FileNotFoundError if the file is not found.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/submodule.py")
file_path.rename(file_path.parent / "anothermodule.py")
>>> PosixPath('src/stuff/anothermodule.py')

Path.replace(target)

Replaces a file or directory to the given target. Returns the new path instance.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff/anothermodule.py")
file_path.replace(file_path.parent / "Dockerfile")
>>> PosixPath('src/stuff/Dockerfile')

Path.resolve(strict=False)

Make the path absolute, resolving any symlinks. A new path object is returned. If strict is True and the path doesn’t exist, FileNotFoundError will be raised.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/./stuff/Dockerfile")
file_path.resolve()
>>> PosixPath('/home/rednafi/code/demo/src/stuff/Dockerfile')

Path.rmdir()

Removes a path pointing to a file or directory. The directory must be empty, otherwise, OSError is raised.

from pathlib import Path

file_path = Path("src/stuff")
file_path.rmdir()

So, Should You Use It?

Pathlib was introduced in python 3.4. However, if you are working with python 3.5 or earlier, in some special cases, you might have to convert pathlib.Path objects to regular strings. But since python 3.6, Path objects work almost everywhere you are using stringified paths. Also, the Path object nicely abstracts away the complexity that arises while working with paths in different operating systems.

The ability to manipulate paths in an OO way and not having to rummage through the massive os or shutil module can make path manipulation a lot less painful.

Remarks

All the pieces of codes in the blog were written and tested with python 3.8 on a machine running Ubuntu 18.04.

References

  1. pathlib — Object-oriented filesystem paths
  2. Python 3’s pathlib Module: Taming the File System
  3. Why you should be using pathlib