Python Files and IO

title: Files and IO

Files and IO

File is a named location on disk to store related information. It is used to permanently store data in non-volatile memory (e.g. hard disk). Since, random access memory (RAM) is volatile which loses its data when computer is turned off, we use files for future use of the data.

When we want to read from or write to a file we need to open it first. When we are done, it needs to be closed, so that resources that are tied with the file are freed.

Hence, in Python, a file operation takes place in the following order:
1) Open a file
2) Read or write (perform operation)
3) Close the file

Python has many ways of input and output operations. Some of the output operations can be printing a text, console logs and even output a text or spreadsheet file.

Output to Screen

Python provides the simplest way to produce output to the screen.

print "Python is a powerful language.","It is easy to learn." (Python 2.x) print("Python is a powerful language.","It is easy to learn.") (Python 3.x)


Python is a powerful language.It is easy to learn.

Input from User

There are two ways to take input from a user. raw_input([prompt]) Used to read one line from standard input and returns it as a string

str = raw_input("Enter your name: ") print "Welcome ", str


Enter your name: John Doe Welcome John Doe

input(prompt) Similar functionality to raw_input(), but assumes the input is a valid Python expression

str = input("Enter input: ") print "Input: ", str


Enter input: [x*5 for x in range(2,10,2)] Input: [10,20,30,40]

Interacting with Files in Python

Using Python, files can be easily opened, read, written and closed. With the available functions :

  1. open()
  2. read()
  3. write()
  4. close()


file1 = open("foo.txt", "r+") # Opens the file with read permission. file1.write("Python is a powerful language.It is easy to learn.") # Writes data into the file. data = # Reads first 15 characters in the file. print "First 15 characters are:\n", data # Prints output file1.close() # Closes the opened file.


First 15 characters are: Python is a pow

Opening Files

The python method open() can be used to return a file object. It is most commonly used with two arguments which are the file name and the mode of access. The mode of access is used to describe the way the file is accessed or used.

The most commonly used modes are ‘w’ which is for writing into the file and ‘r’ which is used for reading the file while ‘r+’ is used to read and write the file. ‘a’ is the mode that is used for appending text into the file. The mode argument is also optional and will be assumed to be ‘r’ if it is ommitted.

A file has to be closed after the input and output operation has been completed to free up any resources.

Sample code to open a text file:

file = open('hello_world.txt','w') file.write('Hello World!') file.close()
Using with

An alternative to using the open() function in standalone is to make use of the with statement to open a file. This is considered best practice as it allows the Python framework to manage the context of opening the file, and will autmoatically perform any required resource cleanup.

This is adventageous in the fact that it takes the onus off the programmer to close every file that is opened, and that the file will still be closed even if an exception was encountered during an IO operation.

When using the with statement is important to note that access to the file will only available within the scope of the with block.

To open a file using the with statement the with keyword is entered, followed by the call to open(file). Following this the variable used as a handle to the open file is declared after the as keyword. Once the programs execution returns from this block, the file will be closed automatically.

Sample code to open a text file using the with statement:

with open('hello_world.txt', 'w') as f: f.write('Hello World!')

Reading files

There are many ways of reading a file. Reading a file fh is only possible if file is opened in read mode, the following are the options: read file as a single string read n number of characters

fh.readline(): read one line and end with \n

fh.readlines(): read file as a list of strings and end with '\n'

More Information:

Python Documentation – IO
Automate the Boring Stuff
Tutorials Point – Python IO
8 PEP 343: The ‘with’ statement

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