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Using Package Data in Python Projects with Setuptools

When creating a Python project, you may want to include a number of non-Python files in the project that the code can then access at runtime, such as templates, images, and data. These files are called package data [1], and they are included in & accessed from your project as follows.

Including Package Data in Projects


The following section only pertains to projects built with setuptools. Users of flit, Poetry, and other tools must consult their respective backend’s documentation to see how to include package data.

The first requirement for being able to include package data in your package [2] is for the files to be located somewhere inside the actual package directory. If your project is a single-file .py module, you must convert it to a directory/package layout before you can store package data in it.

Once your package data is inside the package, you must tell setuptools to include the files in both the project’s wheel (so that the files will be installed when your package is installed) and sdist (so that the files can be included in the wheel when building from an sdist). There are two different major ways to do this: a blanket “include all” method that uses a file and a fine-grained method that configures one package & subpackage at time via the file.

Including Package Data via

There are two steps to this method:

  1. Create or edit your project’s file with the proper commands to tell setuptools to include all of your package data file in the project’s sdists. See the Python Packaging User Guide for information on how to do this.

    In the simplest case — in which you want all non-Python files in your package to be treated as package data — you can simply include your entire package in your sdist with the command “graft packagename” (or “graft src” if you’re using a src/ layout). If you use this command, you should also follow it with “global-exclude *.py[cod]” so that compiled Python bytecode files are not included in the sdist.

  2. In your, pass include_package_data=True to the setup() function. If you are placing your project configuration in setup.cfg instead, set include_package_data = True in the [options] section of setup.cfg.

    Doing this tells setuptools that any non-Python files found inside your package that are included in the sdist should also be included in the wheel.

Including Package Data via

This method allows you to specify package data file patterns on a per-package basis through the package_data argument to setup(). package_data must be a dict mapping package or subpackage names (or the empty string, to specify all packages & subpackages) to lists of glob patterns indicating which files within those packages to include in the sdist and wheel.

A sample package_data looks like this:

    # If any package or subpackage contains *.txt or *.rst files, include
    # them:
    "": ["*.txt", "*.rst"],
    # Include any *.msg files found in the "hello" package (but not in its
    # subpackages):
    "hello": ["*.msg"],
    # Include any *.csv files found in the "hello.utils" package:
    "hello.utils": ["*.csv"],
    # Include any *.dat files found in the "data" subdirectory of the
    # "mypkg" package:
    "mypkg": ["data/*.dat"],

If you are placing your project configuration in setup.cfg, you must instead specify package_data via an [options.package_data] section in which the keys are the package & subpackage names — using * instead of the empty string to signify all packages — and the values are comma-separated glob patterns. The above sample translates to setup.cfg as follows:

# If any package or subpackage contains *.txt or *.rst files, include them:
* = *.txt, *.rst
# Include any *.msg files found in the "hello" package (but not in its
# subpackages):
hello = *.msg
# Include any *.csv files found in the "hello.utils" package:
hello.utils = *.csv
# Include any *.dat files found in the "data" subdirectory of the "mypkg"
# package:
mypkg = data/*.dat

Note that glob patterns only select files located directly within the given package (or in the given subdirectory of the package, if the pattern includes a directory path); e.g., "hello": ["*.msg"] selects *.msg files in the hello package but not in any of its subpackages. To select files in subpackages, you must either include an entry for each subpackage or else use the empty string key (or asterisk key in setup.cfg) to specify a pattern for all packages & subpackages.

If a pattern contains any directory components, the forward slash (/) must be used as the directory separator, even on Windows.

If a package data file is located in a directory that does not have an file (say, a data/ directory inside package.subpackage), that directory does not count as a package, and the file must be listed in package_data in the form "package.subpackage": ["data/PATTERN"].


If you use both include_package_data and package_data, files specified with package_data will not be automatically included in sdists; you must instead list them in your

Excluding Package Data via

The exclude_package_data argument to setup() can be used in conjunction with either of the above methods to prevent one or more files from being treated as package data. exclude_package_data takes a dict with the same structure as package_data, and any matched files are excluded from wheels. Matched files are also excluded from sdists if they are not already matched by the project’s

In a setup.cfg, exclude_package_data becomes an [options.exclude_package_data] section whose contents have the same structure as [options.package_data].

Including Package Data via Setuptools Plugins

As an alternative to the above methods, you can use a plugin for setuptools that automatically recognizes & includes package data in sdists & wheels, usually based on what files in the project directory are under verson control. One example of such a plugin is setuptools_scm, which automatically finds all files under version control in a Git or Mercurial repository and augments the project’s (if any) with the found files. This eliminates the need to write a manually (unless there are files under version control that you want to exclude from sdists or wheels), though you still need to set include_package_data to True for files in your package directory to be included in wheels.

Accessing Package Data at Runtime

There have been multiple ways to access package data over the years, from pkg_resourcesResourceManager API to pkgutil.get_data(), but the most recent and currently-recommended way is with the importlib-resources package.

Installing & Importing importlib-resources

There are two versions of importlib-resources available:

Development of the PyPI version tends to be ahead of whatever’s in the latest Python version. In particular, the new files()-based API described here was only introduced in version 1.1.0 of the PyPI project and was only added to the Python standard library in Python 3.9. In order to be guaranteed a version of importlib-resources that supports this API, you should add the following to your project’s install_requires:

importlib-resources>=1.1.0; python_version < '3.9'

and import importlib-resources in your code as follows:

import sys

if sys.version_info < (3, 9):
    # importlib.resources either doesn't exist or lacks the files()
    # function, so use the PyPI version:
    import importlib_resources
    # importlib.resources has files(), so use that:
    import importlib.resources as importlib_resources

The importlib-resources API

To access a package data file in your project, start by calling importlib_resources.files() on the name of your package:

pkg = importlib_resources.files("packagename")
# The argument can optionally refer to a subpackage in the form
# "packagename.subpackage".

This gives you a Traversable object that acts like a limited pathlib.Path object for traversing package data files. To refer to a data.csv file in a data/ directory in your package, write:

pkg_data_file = pkg / "data" / "data.csv"

So now that we’ve got a reference to the package data file, how do we get anything out of it?

  • To open the file for reading, call the open() method:

    with as fp:
        # Do things with fp
  • To get the file’s contents as bytes, call the read_bytes() method:

    b = pkg_data_file.read_bytes()
  • To get the file’s contents as a str, call the read_text() method, optionally with an encoding argument:

    s = pkg_data_file.read_text(encoding="utf-8")
  • To get the path to the file, call importlib_resources.as_file() on it and use the return value as a context manager:

    with importlib_resources.as_file(pkg_data_file) as path:
        # Do things with the pathlib.Path object that is `path`

    The use of context managers allows importlib-resources to support packages stored in zipfiles; when a path is requested for a package data file in a zipfile, the library can extract the file to a temporary location at the start of the with block and remove it at the end of the block.

  • To iterate through a directory (either a package or a non-package directory), use the iterdir() method. You can test whether a resource is a directory or a file with the is_dir() and is_file() methods, and you can get a resource’s basename via the name property:

    for entry in (pkg / "data").iterdir():
        if entry.is_dir():
            print(, "DIR")
            print(, "FILE")


[1]Specifically, package data files are files that are stored in a Python project’s package directory next to the Python source files. An alternative to package data is data files, which are files installed elsewhere on the file system. This article only deals with the former.
[2]Throughout this article, the term “package” is used in the sense of a directory of .py files and other packages (a.k.a. an “import package”), not in the sense of a “distribution package” (i.e, an sdist or wheel).