Modules

Modules in Julia are separate variable workspaces, i.e. they introduce a new global scope. They are delimited syntactically, inside module Name ... end. Modules allow you to create top-level definitions (aka global variables) without worrying about name conflicts when your code is used together with somebody else’s. Within a module, you can control which names from other modules are visible (via importing), and specify which of your names are intended to be public (via exporting).

The following example demonstrates the major features of modules. It is not meant to be run, but is shown for illustrative purposes:

module MyModule
using Lib

using BigLib: thing1, thing2

import Base.show

importall OtherLib

export MyType, foo

type MyType
    x
end

bar(x) = 2x
foo(a::MyType) = bar(a.x) + 1

show(io, a::MyType) = print(io, "MyType $(a.x)")
end

Note that the style is not to indent the body of the module, since that would typically lead to whole files being indented.

This module defines a type MyType, and two functions. Function foo and type MyType are exported, and so will be available for importing into other modules. Function bar is private to MyModule.

The statement using Lib means that a module called Lib will be available for resolving names as needed. When a global variable is encountered that has no definition in the current module, the system will search for it among variables exported by Lib and import it if it is found there. This means that all uses of that global within the current module will resolve to the definition of that variable in Lib.

The statement using BigLib: thing1, thing2 is a syntactic shortcut for using BigLib.thing1, BigLib.thing2.

The import keyword supports all the same syntax as using, but only operates on a single name at a time. It does not add modules to be searched the way using does. import also differs from using in that functions must be imported using import to be extended with new methods.

In MyModule above we wanted to add a method to the standard show function, so we had to write import Base.show. Functions whose names are only visible via using cannot be extended.

The keyword importall explicitly imports all names exported by the specified module, as if import were individually used on all of them.

Once a variable is made visible via using or import, a module may not create its own variable with the same name. Imported variables are read-only; assigning to a global variable always affects a variable owned by the current module, or else raises an error.

Summary of module usage

To load a module, two main keywords can be used: using and import. To understand their differences, consider the following example:

module MyModule

export x, y

x() = "x"
y() = "y"
p() = "p"

end

In this module we export the x and y functions (with the keyword export), and also have the non-exported function p. There are several different ways to load the Module and its inner functions into the current workspace:

Import Command What is brought into scope Available for method extension
using MyModule All exported names (x and y), MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p
using MyModule.x, MyModule.p x and p  
using MyModule: x, p x and p  
import MyModule MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p
import MyModule.x, MyModule.p x and p x and p
import MyModule: x, p x and p x and p
importall MyModule All exported names (x and y) x and y

Modules and files

Files and file names are mostly unrelated to modules; modules are associated only with module expressions. One can have multiple files per module, and multiple modules per file:

module Foo

include("file1.jl")
include("file2.jl")

end

Including the same code in different modules provides mixin-like behavior. One could use this to run the same code with different base definitions, for example testing code by running it with “safe” versions of some operators:

module Normal
include("mycode.jl")
end

module Testing
include("safe_operators.jl")
include("mycode.jl")
end

Standard modules

There are three important standard modules: Main, Core, and Base.

Main is the top-level module, and Julia starts with Main set as the current module. Variables defined at the prompt go in Main, and whos() lists variables in Main.

Core contains all identifiers considered “built in” to the language, i.e. part of the core language and not libraries. Every module implicitly specifies using Core, since you can’t do anything without those definitions.

Base is the standard library (the contents of base/). All modules implicitly contain using Base, since this is needed in the vast majority of cases.

Default top-level definitions and bare modules

In addition to using Base, modules also perform import Base.call by default, to facilitate adding constructors to new types. A new module also automatically contains a definition of the eval function, which evaluates expressions within the context of that module.

If these default definitions are not wanted, modules can be defined using the keyword baremodule instead (note: Core is still imported, as per above). In terms of baremodule, a standard module looks like this:

baremodule Mod

using Base

import Base.call

eval(x) = Core.eval(Mod, x)
eval(m,x) = Core.eval(m, x)

...

end

Relative and absolute module paths

Given the statement using Foo, the system looks for Foo within Main. If the module does not exist, the system attempts to require("Foo"), which typically results in loading code from an installed package.

However, some modules contain submodules, which means you sometimes need to access a module that is not directly available in Main. There are two ways to do this. The first is to use an absolute path, for example using Base.Sort. The second is to use a relative path, which makes it easier to import submodules of the current module or any of its enclosing modules:

module Parent

module Utils
...
end

using .Utils

...
end

Here module Parent contains a submodule Utils, and code in Parent wants the contents of Utils to be visible. This is done by starting the using path with a period. Adding more leading periods moves up additional levels in the module hierarchy. For example using ..Utils would look for Utils in Parent‘s enclosing module rather than in Parent itself.

Note that relative-import qualifiers are only valid in using and import statements.

Module file paths

The global variable LOAD_PATH contains the directories Julia searches for modules when calling require. It can be extended using push!:

push!(LOAD_PATH, "/Path/To/My/Module/")

Putting this statement in the file ~/.juliarc.jl will extend LOAD_PATH on every Julia startup. Alternatively, the module load path can be extended by defining the environment variable JULIA_LOAD_PATH.

Namespace miscellanea

If a name is qualified (e.g. Base.sin), then it can be accessed even if it is not exported. This is often useful when debugging.

Macro names are written with @ in import and export statements, e.g. import Mod.@mac. Macros in other modules can be invoked as Mod.@mac or @Mod.mac.

The syntax M.x = y does not work to assign a global in another module; global assignment is always module-local.

A variable can be “reserved” for the current module without assigning to it by declaring it as global x at the top level. This can be used to prevent name conflicts for globals initialized after load time.

Module initialization and precompilation

Large modules can take several second to load because executing all of the statements in a module often involves compiling a large amount of code. Julia provides the ability to create precompiled versions of modules to reduce this time.

There are two mechanisms that can achieve this: incremental compile and custom system image.

To create a custom system image that can be used when starting Julia with the -J option, recompile Julia after modifying the file base/userimg.jl to require the desired modules.

To create an incremental precompiled module file, add __precompile__() at the top of your module file (before the module starts). This will cause it to be automatically compiled the first time it is imported. Alternatively, you can manually call Base.compilecache(modulename). The resulting cache files will be stored in Base.LOAD_CACHE_PATH[1]. Subsequently, the module is automatically recompiled upon import whenever any of its dependencies change; dependencies are modules it imports, the Julia build, files it includes, or explicit dependencies declared by include_dependency(path) in the module file(s). Precompiling a module also recursively precompiles any modules that are imported therein. If you know that it is not safe to precompile your module (for the reasons described below), you should put __precompile__(false) in the module file to cause Base.compilecache to throw an error (and thereby prevent the module from being imported by any other precompiled module).

__precompile__() should not be used in a module unless all of its dependencies are also using __precompile__(). Failure to do so can result in a runtime error when loading the module.

In order to make your module work with precompilation, however, you may need to change your module to explicitly separate any initialization steps that must occur at runtime from steps that can occur at compile time. For this purpose, Julia allows you to define an __init__() function in your module that executes any initialization steps that must occur at runtime. This function will not be called during compilation (--output-* or __precompile__()). You may, of course, call it manually if necessary, but the default is to assume this function deals with computing state for the local machine, which does not need to be – or even should not be – captured in the compiled image. It will be called after the module is loaded into a process, including if it is being loaded into an incremental compile (--output-incremental=yes), but not if it is being loaded into a full-compilation process.

In particular, if you define a function __init__() in a module, then Julia will call __init__() immediately after the module is loaded (e.g., by import, using, or require) at runtime for the first time (i.e., __init__ is only called once, and only after all statements in the module have been executed). Because it is called after the module is fully imported, any submodules or other imported modules have their __init__ functions called before the __init__ of the enclosing module.

Two typical uses of __init__ are calling runtime initialization functions of external C libraries and initializing global constants that involve pointers returned by external libraries. For example, suppose that we are calling a C library libfoo that requires us to call a foo_init() initialization function at runtime. Suppose that we also want to define a global constant foo_data_ptr that holds the return value of a void *foo_data() function defined by libfoo — this constant must be initialized at runtime (not at compile time) because the pointer address will change from run to run. You could accomplish this by defining the following __init__ function in your module:

function __init__()
    ccall((:foo_init,:libfoo), Void, ())
    global const foo_data_ptr = ccall((:foo_data,:libfoo), Ptr{Void}, ())
end

Notice that it is perfectly possible to define a global inside a function like __init__; this is one of the advantages of using a dynamic language. Obviously, any other globals in your module that depends on foo_data_ptr would also have to be initialized in __init__.

Constants involving most Julia objects that are not produced by ccall do not need to be placed in __init__: their definitions can be precompiled and loaded from the cached module image. This includes complicated heap-allocated objects like arrays. However, any routine that returns a raw pointer value must be called at runtime for precompilation to work (Ptr objects will turn into null pointers unless they are hidden inside an isbits object). This includes the return values of the Julia functions cfunction and pointer.

Dictionary and set types, or in general anything that depends on the output of a hash(key) method, are a trickier case. In the common case where the keys are numbers, strings, symbols, ranges, Expr, or compositions of these types (via arrays, tuples, sets, pairs, etc.) they are safe to precompile. However, for a few other key types, such as Function or DataType and generic user-defined types where you haven’t defined a hash method, the fallback hash method depends on the memory address of the object (via its object_id) and hence may change from run to run. If you have one of these key types, or if you aren’t sure, to be safe you can initialize this dictionary from within your __init__ function. Alternatively, you can use the ObjectIdDict dictionary type, which is specially handled by precompilation so that it is safe to initialize at compile-time.

When using precompilation, it is important to keep a clear sense of the distinction between the compilation phase and the execution phase. In this mode, it will often be much more clearly apparent that Julia is a compiler which allows execution of arbitrary Julia code, not a standalone interpreter that also generates compiled code.

Other known potential failure scenarios include:

  1. Global counters (for example, for attempting to uniquely identify objects) Consider the following code snippet:

    type UniquedById
        myid::Int
        let counter = 0
            UniquedById() = new(counter += 1)
        end
    end
    

    while the intent of this code was to give every instance a unique id, the counter value is recorded at the end of compilation. All subsequent usages of this incrementally compiled module will start from that same counter value.

    Note that object_id (which works by hashing the memory pointer) has similar issues (see notes on Dict usage below).

    One alternative is to store both current_module() and the current counter value, however, it may be better to redesign the code to not depend on this global state.

  2. Associative collections (such as Dict and Set) need to be re-hashed in __init__. (In the future, a mechanism may be provided to register an initializer function.)

  3. Depending on compile-time side-effects persisting through load-time. Example include: modifying arrays or other variables in other Julia modules; maintaining handles to open files or devices; storing pointers to other system resources (including memory);

  4. Creating accidental “copies” of global state from another module, by referencing it directly instead of via its lookup path. For example, (in global scope):

    #mystdout = Base.STDOUT #= will not work correctly, since this will copy Base.STDOUT into this module =#
    # instead use accessor functions:
    getstdout() = Base.STDOUT #= best option =#
    # or move the assignment into the runtime:
    __init__() = global mystdout = Base.STDOUT #= also works =#
    

Several additional restrictions are placed on the operations that can be done while precompiling code to help the user avoid other wrong-behavior situations:

  1. Calling eval to cause a side-effect in another module. This will also cause a warning to be emitted when the incremental precompile flag is set.
  2. global const statements from local scope after __init__() has been started (see issue #12010 for plans to add an error for this)
  3. Replacing a module (or calling workspace()) is a runtime error while doing an incremental precompile.

A few other points to be aware of:

  1. No code reload / cache invalidation is performed after changes are made to the source files themselves, (including by Pkg.update), and no cleanup is done after Pkg.rm
  2. The memory sharing behavior of a reshaped array is disregarded by precompilation (each view gets its own copy)
  3. Expecting the filesystem to be unchanged between compile-time and runtime e.g. @__FILE__/source_path() to find resources at runtime, or the BinDeps @checked_lib macro. Sometimes this is unavoidable. However, when possible, it can be good practice to copy resources into the module at compile-time so they won’t need to be found at runtime.
  4. WeakRef objects and finalizers are not currently handled properly by the serializer (this will be fixed in an upcoming release).