Chapter 8 - Working with Files¶
This chapter introduces the topic of reading and writing data to files on your hard drive. You will find that reading and writing files in Python is very easy to do. Let’s get started!
How to Read a File¶
Python has a builtin function called open that we can use to open a file for reading. Create a text file name “test.txt” with the following contents:
This is a test file line 2 line 3 this line intentionally left blank
Here are a couple of examples that show how to use open for reading:
handle = open("test.txt") handle = open(r"C:\Users\mike\py101book\data\test.txt", "r")
The first example will open a file named test.txt in read-only mode. This is the default mode of the open function. Note that we didn’t pass a fully qualified path to the file that we wanted to open in the first example. Python will automatically look in the folder that the script is running in for test.txt. If it doesn’t find it, then you will receive an IOError.
The second example does show a fully qualified path to the file, but you’ll notice that it begins with an “r”. This means that we want Python to treat the string as a raw string. Let’s take a moment to see the difference between specifying a raw string versus a regular string:
>>> print("C:\Users\mike\py101book\data\test.txt") C:\Users\mike\py101book\data est.txt >>> print(r"C:\Users\mike\py101book\data\test.txt") C:\Users\mike\py101book\data\test.txt
As you can see, when we don’t specify it as a raw string, we get an invalid path. Why does this happen? Well, as you might recall from the strings chapter, there are certain special characters that need to be escaped, such as “n” or “t”. In this case, we see there’s a “t” (i.e. a tab), so the string obediently adds a tab to our path and screws it up for us.
The second argument in the second example is also an “r”. This tells open that we want to open the file in read-only mode. In other words, it does the same thing as the first example, but it’s more explicit. Now let’s actually read the file!
Put the following lines into a Python script and save it in the same location as your test.txt file:
handle = open("test.txt", "r") data = handle.read() print(data) handle.close()
If you run this, it will open the file and read the entire file as a string into the data variable. Then we print that data and close the file handle. You should always close a file handle as you never know when another program will want to access it. Closing the file will also help save memory and prevent strange bugs in your programs. You can tell Python to just read a line at a time, to read all the lines into a Python list or to read the file in chunks. The last option is very handy when you are dealing with really large files and you don’t want to read the whole thing in, which might fill up the PC’s memory.
Let’s spend some time looking at different ways to read files.
handle = open("test.txt", "r") data = handle.readline() # read just one line print(data) handle.close()
If you run this example, it will only read the first line of your text file and print it out. That’s not too useful, so let’s try the file handle’s readlines() method:
handle = open("test.txt", "r") data = handle.readlines() # read ALL the lines! print(data) handle.close()
After running this code, you will see a Python list printed to the screen because that’s what the readlines method returns: a list! Let’s take a moment to learn how to read a file in smaller chunks.
How To Read Files Piece by Piece¶
The easiest way to read a file in chunks is to use a loop. First we will learn how to read a file line by line and then we will learn how to read it a kilobyte at a time. We will use a for loop for our first example:
handle = open("test.txt", "r") for line in handle: print(line) handle.close()
Here we open up a read-only file handle and then we use a for loop to iterate over it. You will find that you can iterate over all kinds of objects in Python (strings, lists, tuples, keys in a dictionary, etc). That was pretty simple, right? Now let’s do it in chunks!
handle = open("test.txt", "r") while True: data = handle.read(1024) print(data) if not data: break
In this example, we use Python’s while loop to read a kilobyte of the file at a time. As you probably know, a kilobyte is 1024 bytes or characters. Now let’s pretend that we want to read a binary file, like a PDF.
How to Read a Binary File¶
Reading a binary file is very easy. All you need to do is change the file mode:
handle = open("test.pdf", "rb")
So this time we changed the file mode to rb, which means read-binary. You will find that you may need to read binary files when you download PDFs from the internet or transfer files from PC to PC.
Writing Files in Python¶
If you have been following along, you can probably guess what the file-mode flag is for writing files: “w” and “wb” for write-mode and write-binary-mode. Let’s take a look at a simple example, shall we?
CAUTION: When using “w” or “wb” modes, if the file already exists, it will be overwritten with no warning! You can check if a file exists before you open it by using Python’s os module. See the os.path.exists section in Chapter 16.
handle = open("test.txt", "w") handle.write("This is a test!") handle.close()
That was easy! All we did here was change the file mode to “w” and we called the file handle’s write method to write some text to the file. The file handle also has a writelines method that will accept a list of strings that the handle will then write to disk in order.
Using the with Operator¶
Python has a neat little builtin called with which you can use to simplify reading and writing files. The with operator creates what is known as a context manager in Python that will automatically close the file for you when you are done processing it. Let’s see how this works:
with open("test.txt") as file_handler: for line in file_handler: print(line)
The syntax for the with operator is a little strange, but you’ll pick it up pretty quickly. Basically what we’re doing is replacing:
handle = open("test.txt")
with open("test.txt") as file_handler:
You can do all the usual file I/O operations that you would normally do as long as you are within the with code block. Once you leave that code block, the file handle will close and you won’t be able to use it any more. Yes, you read that correctly. You no longer have to close the file handle explicitly as the with operator does it automatically! See if you can change some of the earlier examples from this chapter so that they use the with method too.
Sometimes when you are working with files, bad things happen. The file is locked because some other process is using it or you have some kind of permission error. When this happens, an IOError will probably occur. In this section, we will look at how to catch errors the normal way and how to catch them using the with operator. Hint: the idea is basically the same in both!
try: file_handler = open("test.txt") for line in file_handler: print(line) except IOError: print("An IOError has occurred!") finally: file_handler.close()
In the example above, we wrap the usual code inside of a try/except construct. If an error occurs, we print out a message to the screen. Note that we also make sure we close the file using the finally statement. Now we’re ready to look at how we would do this same thing using with:
try: with open("test.txt") as file_handler: for line in file_handler: print(line) except IOError: print("An IOError has occurred!")
As you might have guessed, we just wrapped the with block in the same way as we did in the previous example. The difference here is that we do not need the finally statement as the context manager handles that for us.
At this point you should be pretty well versed in dealing with files in Python. Now you know how to read and write files using the older style and the newer with style. You will most likely see both styles in the wild. In the next chapter, we will learn how to import other modules that come with Python. This will allow us to create programs using pre-built modules. Let’s get started!