So far, most of my python projects have consisted of single files, only importing external packages. Now that I’m more focused on test-driven development and developing my skills in a more structured way, I find I’m splitting up my logic between multiple files. This requires relative imports within and between the packages and modules I write. Last week, I realised I didn’t know how to properly, Pythonically, import stuff from another file.

Relative imports in Python weren’t directly obvious to me and looking at the number of questions on StackExchange about this topic, I don’t seem to be the only one. Most of these questions are rather old and the answers often involve changing sys.path, the PYTHONPATH, or using other seemingly clunky methods. I explored a number of different options that seemed to make sense to me as well as suggestions I found on StackExchange. In doing this, I ran into some import intricacies that I’d like to share.

Suppose, I have the following directory structure and want to test’s spam_is_food in


def spam_is_food():
    return 1

import unittest

class TestFood(unittest.TestCase):
    def test_if_spam_is_food(self):
        self.assertEqual(spam_is_food(), 1)

Even though both modules are in the same package, sample_function needs to be imported in order for it to be found by the test case. Below is a list of the suggestions from StackExchange and other things I tried, with my commentary on it.

  • Using import food and calling spam_is_food() regularly does not work. This feels the most intuitive.
  • Using import food as f and then calling f.spam_is_food works (test succeeds), but PyCharm complains that there’s no module food. This feels a bit clunky, but it can prevent potential naming conflicts between packages.
  • Using from food import spam_is_food works, but PyCharm complains about unresolved references for both food and spam_is_food. Python seems to recognise that the module is there, but I’m not sure why PyCharm is complaining about it. Since both files are in the same package, I would expect this to work like a charm.
  • Using from pythonpackage import food and calling spam_is_food does not work, and that’s a shame given that the above option does work.
  • Using from pythonpackage import food as f and calling f.spam_is_food works without complaints from PyCharm. This is the most clunky of the five and doesn’t make me happy.

Having tried all this, I decided to refine my search queries. Lo and behold, I finally found pep-328 which contains Guido’s Decision on relative imports, and I think it provides a good middle-ground solution. So, the correct way to import spam_is_food from in this structure is to: from .food import spam_is_food.

Further Reading

Here, I’m only scratching the surface of Python’s import system. There’s a lot to learn about modules, packages and namespaces, so I’ve included some further reading that I will explore: