python - What does if __name__ == “__main__”: do?


What does the if __name__ == "__main__": do?

# Threading example
import time, thread

def myfunction(string, sleeptime, lock, *args):
    while 1:
        lock.acquire()
        time.sleep(sleeptime)
        lock.release()
        time.sleep(sleeptime)
if __name__ == "__main__":
    lock = thread.allocate_lock()
    thread.start_new_thread(myfunction, ("Thread #: 1", 2, lock))
    thread.start_new_thread(myfunction, ("Thread #: 2", 2, lock))

Answers


When the Python interpreter reads a source file, it executes all of the code found in it.

Before executing the code, it will define a few special variables. For example, if the python interpreter is running that module (the source file) as the main program, it sets the special __name__ variable to have a value "__main__". If this file is being imported from another module, __name__ will be set to the module's name.

In the case of your script, let's assume that it's executing as the main function, e.g. you said something like

python threading_example.py

on the command line. After setting up the special variables, it will execute the import statement and load those modules. It will then evaluate the def block, creating a function object and creating a variable called myfunction that points to the function object. It will then read the if statement and see that __name__ does equal "__main__", so it will execute the block shown there.

One reason for doing this is that sometimes you write a module (a .py file) where it can be executed directly. Alternatively, it can also be imported and used in another module. By doing the main check, you can have that code only execute when you want to run the module as a program and not have it execute when someone just wants to import your module and call your functions themselves.

See this page for some extra details.




When your script is run by passing it as a command to the Python interpreter,

python myscript.py

all of the code that is at indentation level 0 gets executed. Functions and classes that are defined are, well, defined, but none of their code gets run. Unlike other languages, there's no main() function that gets run automatically - the main() function is implicitly all the code at the top level.

In this case, the top-level code is an if block. __name__ is a built-in variable which evaluates to the name of the current module. However, if a module is being run directly (as in myscript.py above), then __name__ instead is set to the string "__main__". Thus, you can test whether your script is being run directly or being imported by something else by testing

if __name__ == "__main__":
    ...

If your script is being imported into another module, its various function and class definitions will be imported and its top-level code will be executed, but the code in the then-body of the if clause above won't get run as the condition is not met. As a basic example, consider the following two scripts:

# file one.py
def func():
    print("func() in one.py")

print("top-level in one.py")

if __name__ == "__main__":
    print("one.py is being run directly")
else:
    print("one.py is being imported into another module")
# file two.py
import one

print("top-level in two.py")
one.func()

if __name__ == "__main__":
    print("two.py is being run directly")
else:
    print("two.py is being imported into another module")

Now, if you invoke the interpreter as

python one.py

The output will be

top-level in one.py
one.py is being run directly

If you run two.py instead:

python two.py

You get

top-level in one.py
one.py is being imported into another module
top-level in two.py
func() in one.py
two.py is being run directly

Thus, when module one gets loaded, its __name__ equals "one" instead of __main__.




The simplest explanation for the __name__ variable (imho) is the following:

Create the following files.

# a.py
import b

and

# b.py
print "Hello World from %s!" % __name__

if __name__ == '__main__':
    print "Hello World again from %s!" % __name__

Running them will get you this output:

$ python a.py
Hello World from b!

As you can see, when a module is imported, Python sets globals()['__name__'] in this module to the module's name.

$ python b.py
Hello World from __main__!
Hello World again from __main__!

As you can see, when a file is executed, Python sets globals()['__name__'] in this file to "__main__".




Why use def main()?

Without the main sentinel, the code would be executed even if the script were imported as a module.




Everyone else has already answered it, but I think I still have something else to add.

Reasons to have that if statement calling main() (in no particular order):

  • Other languages (like C and Java) have a main() function that is called when the program is executed. Using this if, we can make Python behave like them, which feels more familiar for many people.

  • Code will be cleaner, easier to read, and better organized. (yeah, I know this is subjective)

  • It will be possible to import that python code as a module without nasty side-effects.

    • This means it will be possible to run tests against that code.

    • This means we can import that code into an interactive python shell and test/debug/run it.

  • Variables inside def main are local, while those outside it are global. This may introduce a few bugs and unexpected behaviors.

But, you are not required to write a main() function and call it inside an if statement.

I myself usually start writing small throwaway scripts without any kind of function. If the script grows big enough, or if I feel putting all that code inside a function will benefit me, then I refactor the code and do it. This also happens when I write bash scripts.

Even if you put code inside the main function, you are not required to write it exactly as that. A neat variation could be:

import sys

def main(argv):
    # My code here
    pass

if __name__ == "__main__":
    main(sys.argv)

This means you can call main() from other scripts (or interactive shell) passing custom parameters. This might be useful in unit tests, or when batch-processing. But remember that the code above will require parsing of argv, thus maybe it would be better to use a different call that pass parameters already parsed.

In an object-oriented application I've written, the code looked like this:

class MyApplication(something):
    # My code here

if __name__ == "__main__":
    app = MyApplication()
    app.run()

So, feel free to write the code that better suits you. :)




if the content of foo.py

print __name__
if __name__ == '__main__':
    print 'XXXX'

A file foo.py can be used in two ways.

  • imported in another file : import foo

In this case __name__ is foo, the code section does not get executed and does not print XXXX.

  • executed directly : python foo.py

When it is executed directly, __name__ is same as __main__ and the code in that section is executed and prints XXXX

One of the use of this functionality to write various kind of unit tests within the same module.




Understanding the main method of python

The Python approach to "main" is almost unique to the language(*).

The semantics are a bit subtle. The __name__ identifier is bound to the name of any module as it's being imported. However, when a file is being executed then __name__ is set to "__main__" (the literal string: __main__).

This is almost always used to separate the portion of code which should be executed from the portions of code which define functionality. So Python code often contains a line like:

#!/usr/bin/env python
from __future__ import print_function
import this, that, other, stuff
class SomeObject(object):
    pass

def some_function(*args,**kwargs):
    pass

if __name__ == '__main__':
    print("This only executes when %s is executed rather than imported" % __file__)

Using this convention one can have a file define classes and functions for use in other programs, and also include code to evaluate only when the file is called as a standalone script.

It's important to understand that all of the code above the if __name__ line is being executed, evaluated, in both cases. It's evaluated by the interpreter when the file is imported or when it's executed. If you put a print statement before the if __name__ line then it will print output every time any other code attempts to import that as a module. (Of course, this would be anti-social. Don't do that).

I, personally, like these semantics. It encourages programmers to separate functionality (definitions) from function (execution) and encourages re-use.

Ideally almost every Python module can do something useful if called from the command line. In many cases this is used for managing unit tests. If a particular file defines functionality which is only useful in the context of other components of a system then one can still use __name__ == "__main__" to isolate a block of code which calls a suite of unit tests that apply to this module.

(If you're not going to have any such functionality nor unit tests than it's best to ensure that the file mode is NOT executable).

Summary: if __name__ == '__main__': has two primary use cases:

  • Allow a module to provide functionality for import into other code while also providing useful semantics as a standalone script (a command line wrapper around the functionality)
  • Allow a module to define a suite of unit tests which are stored with (in the same file as) the code to be tested and which can be executed independently of the rest of the codebase.

It's fairly common to def main(*args) and have if __name__ == '__main__': simply call main(*sys.argv[1:]) if you want to define main in a manner that's similar to some other programming languages. If your .py file is primarily intended to be used as a module in other code then you might def test_module() and calling test_module() in your `if name == 'main:' suite.

  • (Ruby also implements a similar feature if __file__ == $0).



In Python, execution does NOT have to begin at main. The first line of "executable code" is executed first.

def main():
    print("main code")

def meth1():
    print("meth1")

meth1()
if __name__ == "__main__":main() ## with if

Output -

meth1
main code

More on main() - http://ibiblio.org/g2swap/byteofpython/read/module-name.html

A module's __name__

Every module has a name and statements in a module can find out the name of its module. This is especially handy in one particular situation - As mentioned previously, when a module is imported for the first time, the main block in that module is run. What if we want to run the block only if the program was used by itself and not when it was imported from another module? This can be achieved using the name attribute of the module.

Using a module's __name__

#!/usr/bin/python
# Filename: using_name.py

if __name__ == '__main__':
    print 'This program is being run by itself'
else:
    print 'I am being imported from another module'

Output -

$ python using_name.py
This program is being run by itself
$ python
>>> import using_name
I am being imported from another module
>>>

How It Works -

Every Python module has it's __name__ defined and if this is __main__, it implies that the module is being run standalone by the user and we can do corresponding appropriate actions.




Python does not have a defined entry point like Java, C, C++, etc. Rather it simply executes a source file line-by-line. The if statement allows you to create a main function which will be executed if your file is loaded as the "Main" module rather than as a library in another module.




What's the point of a main function and/or __name__ == “__main__” check in Python?

Having all substantial Python code live inside a function (i.e., not at module top level) is a crucial performance optimization as well as an important factor in good organization of code (the Python compiler can optimize access to local variables in a function much better than it can optimize "local" variables which are actually a module's globals, since the semantics of the latter are more demanding).

Making the call to the function conditional on the current module being run as the "main script" (rather than imported from another module) makes for potential reusability of nuggets of functionality contained in the module (since other modules may import it and just call the appropriate functions or classes), and even more importantly it supports solid unit testing (where all sort of mock-ups and fakes for external subsystems may generally need to be set up before the module's functionality is exercised and tested).




This allows a python script to be imported or run standalone is a sane way.

If you run a python file directly, the __name__ variable will contain __main__. If you import the script that will not be the case. Normally, if you import the script you want to call functions or reference classes from the file.

If you did not have this check, any code that was not in a class or function would run when you import.




The sole purpose of this, assuming it is in main.py, is so other files can import main to include classes and functions that are in your "main" program, but without running the source code.

Without this condition, code that is in the global scope will be executed when it is imported by other scripts.