Handling file and directory Paths

There are two main modules in Python that deal with path manipulation. One is the os.path module and the other is the pathlib module.

os.path VS pathlib

The `pathlib` module was added in Python 3.4, offering an object-oriented way to handle file system paths.

Linux and Windows Paths

On Windows, paths are written using backslashes (\) as the separator between folder names. On Unix based operating system such as macOS, Linux, and BSDs, the forward slash (/) is used as the path separator. Joining paths can be a headache if your code needs to work on different platforms.

Fortunately, Python provides easy ways to handle this. We will showcase how to deal with both, os.path.join and pathlib.Path.joinpath

Using os.path.join on Windows:

>>> import os

>>> os.path.join('usr', 'bin', 'spam')
# 'usr\\bin\\spam'

And using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path

>>> print(Path('usr').joinpath('bin').joinpath('spam'))
# usr/bin/spam

pathlib also provides a shortcut to joinpath using the / operator:

>>> from pathlib import Path

>>> print(Path('usr') / 'bin' / 'spam')
# usr/bin/spam

Notice the path separator is different between Windows and Unix based operating system, that’s why you want to use one of the above methods instead of adding strings together to join paths together.

Joining paths is helpful if you need to create different file paths under the same directory.

Using os.path.join on Windows:

>>> my_files = ['accounts.txt', 'details.csv', 'invite.docx']

>>> for filename in my_files:
...     print(os.path.join('C:\\Users\\asweigart', filename))
...
# C:\Users\asweigart\accounts.txt
# C:\Users\asweigart\details.csv
# C:\Users\asweigart\invite.docx

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> my_files = ['accounts.txt', 'details.csv', 'invite.docx']
>>> home = Path.home()
>>> for filename in my_files:
...     print(home / filename)
...
# /home/asweigart/accounts.txt
# /home/asweigart/details.csv
# /home/asweigart/invite.docx

The current working directory

Using os on Windows:

>>> import os

>>> os.getcwd()
# 'C:\\Python34'
>>> os.chdir('C:\\Windows\\System32')

>>> os.getcwd()
# 'C:\\Windows\\System32'

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> from os import chdir

>>> print(Path.cwd())
# /home/asweigart

>>> chdir('/usr/lib/python3.6')
>>> print(Path.cwd())
# /usr/lib/python3.6

Creating new folders

Using os on Windows:

>>> import os
>>> os.makedirs('C:\\delicious\\walnut\\waffles')

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> cwd = Path.cwd()
>>> (cwd / 'delicious' / 'walnut' / 'waffles').mkdir()
# Traceback (most recent call last):
#   File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
#   File "/usr/lib/python3.6/pathlib.py", line 1226, in mkdir
#     self._accessor.mkdir(self, mode)
#   File "/usr/lib/python3.6/pathlib.py", line 387, in wrapped
#     return strfunc(str(pathobj), *args)
# FileNotFoundError: [Errno 2] No such file or directory: '/home/asweigart/delicious/walnut/waffles'

Oh no, we got a nasty error! The reason is that the ‘delicious’ directory does not exist, so we cannot make the ‘walnut’ and the ‘waffles’ directories under it. To fix this, do:

>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> cwd = Path.cwd()
>>> (cwd / 'delicious' / 'walnut' / 'waffles').mkdir(parents=True)

And all is good :)

Absolute vs. Relative paths

There are two ways to specify a file path.

  • An absolute path, which always begins with the root folder
  • A relative path, which is relative to the program’s current working directory

There are also the dot (.) and dot-dot (..) folders. These are not real folders, but special names that can be used in a path. A single period (“dot”) for a folder name is shorthand for “this directory.” Two periods (“dot-dot”) means “the parent folder.”

Handling Absolute paths

To see if a path is an absolute path:

Using os.path on *nix:

>>> import os
>>> os.path.isabs('/')
# True

>>> os.path.isabs('..')
# False

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> Path('/').is_absolute()
# True

>>> Path('..').is_absolute()
# False

You can extract an absolute path with both os.path and pathlib

Using os.path on *nix:

>>> import os
>>> os.getcwd()
'/home/asweigart'

>>> os.path.abspath('..')
'/home'

Using pathlib on *nix:

from pathlib import Path
print(Path.cwd())
# /home/asweigart

print(Path('..').resolve())
# /home

Handling Relative paths

You can get a relative path from a starting path to another path.

Using os.path on *nix:

>>> import os
>>> os.path.relpath('/etc/passwd', '/')
# 'etc/passwd'

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path
>>> print(Path('/etc/passwd').relative_to('/'))
# etc/passwd

Path and File validity

Checking if a file/directory exists

Using os.path on *nix:

>>> import os

>>> os.path.exists('.')
# True

>>> os.path.exists('setup.py')
# True

>>> os.path.exists('/etc')
# True

>>> os.path.exists('nonexistentfile')
# False

Using pathlib on *nix:

from pathlib import Path

>>> Path('.').exists()
# True

>>> Path('setup.py').exists()
# True

>>> Path('/etc').exists()
# True

>>> Path('nonexistentfile').exists()
# False

Checking if a path is a file

Using os.path on *nix:

>>> import os

>>> os.path.isfile('setup.py')
# True

>>> os.path.isfile('/home')
# False

>>> os.path.isfile('nonexistentfile')
# False

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path

>>> Path('setup.py').is_file()
# True

>>> Path('/home').is_file()
# False

>>> Path('nonexistentfile').is_file()
# False

Checking if a path is a directory

Using os.path on *nix:

>>> import os

>>> os.path.isdir('/')
# True

>>> os.path.isdir('setup.py')
# False

>>> os.path.isdir('/spam')
# False

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path

>>> Path('/').is_dir()
# True

>>> Path('setup.py').is_dir()
# False

>>> Path('/spam').is_dir()
# False

Getting a file’s size in bytes

Using os.path on Windows:

>>> import os

>>> os.path.getsize('C:\\Windows\\System32\\calc.exe')
# 776192

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path

>>> stat = Path('/bin/python3.6').stat()
>>> print(stat) # stat contains some other information about the file as well
# os.stat_result(st_mode=33261, st_ino=141087, st_dev=2051, st_nlink=2, st_uid=0,
# --snip--
# st_gid=0, st_size=10024, st_atime=1517725562, st_mtime=1515119809, st_ctime=1517261276)

>>> print(stat.st_size) # size in bytes
# 10024

Listing directories

Listing directory contents using os.listdir on Windows:

>>> import os

>>> os.listdir('C:\\Windows\\System32')
# ['0409', '12520437.cpx', '12520850.cpx', '5U877.ax', 'aaclient.dll',
# --snip--
# 'xwtpdui.dll', 'xwtpw32.dll', 'zh-CN', 'zh-HK', 'zh-TW', 'zipfldr.dll']

Listing directory contents using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path

>>> for f in Path('/usr/bin').iterdir():
...     print(f)
...
# ...
# /usr/bin/tiff2rgba
# /usr/bin/iconv
# /usr/bin/ldd
# /usr/bin/cache_restore
# /usr/bin/udiskie
# /usr/bin/unix2dos
# /usr/bin/t1reencode
# /usr/bin/epstopdf
# /usr/bin/idle3
# ...

Directory file sizes

WARNING

Directories themselves also have a size! So, you might want to check for whether a path is a file or directory using the methods in the methods discussed in the above section.

Using os.path.getsize() and os.listdir() together on Windows:

>>> import os
>>> total_size = 0

>>> for filename in os.listdir('C:\\Windows\\System32'):
...     total_size = total_size + os.path.getsize(os.path.join('C:\\Windows\\System32', filename))
...
>>> print(total_size)
# 1117846456

Using pathlib on *nix:

>>> from pathlib import Path

>>> total_size = 0
>>> for sub_path in Path('/usr/bin').iterdir():
...     total_size += sub_path.stat().st_size
...
>>> print(total_size)
# 1903178911

Copying files and folders

The shutil module provides functions for copying files, as well as entire folders.

>>> import shutil, os

>>> os.chdir('C:\\')
>>> shutil.copy('C:\\spam.txt', 'C:\\delicious')
# C:\\delicious\\spam.txt'

>>> shutil.copy('eggs.txt', 'C:\\delicious\\eggs2.txt')
# 'C:\\delicious\\eggs2.txt'

While shutil.copy() will copy a single file, shutil.copytree() will copy an entire folder and every folder and file contained in it:

>>> import shutil, os

>>> os.chdir('C:\\')
>>> shutil.copytree('C:\\bacon', 'C:\\bacon_backup')
# 'C:\\bacon_backup'

Moving and Renaming

>>> import shutil

>>> shutil.move('C:\\bacon.txt', 'C:\\eggs')
# 'C:\\eggs\\bacon.txt'

The destination path can also specify a filename. In the following example, the source file is moved and renamed:

>>> shutil.move('C:\\bacon.txt', 'C:\\eggs\\new_bacon.txt')
# 'C:\\eggs\\new_bacon.txt'

If there is no eggs folder, then move() will rename bacon.txt to a file named eggs:

>>> shutil.move('C:\\bacon.txt', 'C:\\eggs')
# 'C:\\eggs'

Deleting files and folders

  • Calling os.unlink(path) or Path.unlink() will delete the file at path.

  • Calling os.rmdir(path) or Path.rmdir() will delete the folder at path. This folder must be empty of any files or folders.

  • Calling shutil.rmtree(path) will remove the folder at path, and all files and folders it contains will also be deleted.

Walking a Directory Tree

>>> import os
>>>
>>> for folder_name, subfolders, filenames in os.walk('C:\\delicious'):
...     print(f'The current folder is {folder_name}')
...     for subfolder in subfolders:
...         print('SUBFOLDER OF {folder_name}: {subfolder}')
...     for filename in filenames:
...         print('FILE INSIDE {folder_name}: filename{filename}')
...     print('')
...
# The current folder is C:\delicious
# SUBFOLDER OF C:\delicious: cats
# SUBFOLDER OF C:\delicious: walnut
# FILE INSIDE C:\delicious: spam.txt

# The current folder is C:\delicious\cats
# FILE INSIDE C:\delicious\cats: catnames.txt
# FILE INSIDE C:\delicious\cats: zophie.jpg

# The current folder is C:\delicious\walnut
# SUBFOLDER OF C:\delicious\walnut: waffles

# The current folder is C:\delicious\walnut\waffles
# FILE INSIDE C:\delicious\walnut\waffles: butter.txt

Pathlib vs Os Module

`pathlib` provides a lot more functionality than the ones listed above, like getting file name, getting file extension, reading/writing a file without manually opening it, etc. See the official documentation if you intend to know more.

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