Working with files and directories in Python

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I often have a difficult time finding the appropriate functions to work with files and directories in Python. I think one reason is because the Library Reference puts seemingly related functions in two different places: 11 File and Directory Access and 14.1.4 Files and Directories.

Section 11, File and Directory Access contains documentation for useful functions such as os.path.exists which checks if a path exists, glob.glob which is useful for matching filenames using the Unix-style * and ? wildcards, and shutil.copy which is similary to the Unix cp command.

This section includes a total of 11 subsections for modules related to file and directory access, but it does not contain basic commands such as os.chdir, os.listdir, or os.rename. These functions are documented in Section 14.1.4, Files and Directories, instead.

Here is a summary of some of the functions I find useful. Check the documentation for more complete and detailed information.

11 File and Directory Access
  • os.path module:
    • exists - checks if a path or file exists
      import os.path
      print os.path.exists("c:/Windows")
    • isfile and isdir - test if the path is a file or directory, respectively.
      import os.path
      print os.path.isfile("c:/Windows")
      print os.path.isdir("c:/Windows")
    • getmtime - returns the modification time of a path
      import os.path
      import time
      mtime = os.path.getmtime("c:/Windows")
      print time.gmtime(mtime)
      (2008, 4, 2, 15, 58, 39, 2, 93, 0)
  • glob module:
    • glob: returns a list of paths matching a Unix-style glob pattern.
      import glob
      print glob.glob("c:/windows/*.bmp")
      ['c:/windows\\Blue Lace 16.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Coffee Bean.bmp', 'c:/windows\\default.bmp', 'c:/windows\\FeatherTexture.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Gone Fishing.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Greenstone.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Prairie Wind.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Rhododendron.bmp', 'c:/windows\\River Sumida.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Santa Fe Stucco.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Soap Bubbles.bmp', 'c:/windows\\winnt.bmp', 'c:/windows\\winnt256.bmp', 'c:/windows\\Zapotec.bmp']
  • shutil module:
    • copy - similar to Unix cp
    • copy2 - similar to Unix cp -p
    • copytree - similar to Unix cp -r
    • rmtree - similar to Unix rm -r
14 Generic Operating System Services - > 14.1 os --- Miscellaneous operating system interfaces -> 14.1.4 Files and Directories
  • chdir - change the current working directory
  • getcwd - return a string representing the current working directory
  • listdir - return a list of the names of the entries in the directory.
  • makedir - create a directory
  • remove - remove a file (this is identical to unlink)
  • rename - rename the file or directory
  • walk - walks a directory tree (see my os.walk example)

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