Table of contents

Including data files

In this section you will:

  • Understand the importance of keeping large files out of your package.
  • Learn some alternative approaches.
  • Learn how to include small data files in your package.

Consider Alternatives

Never include large binary files in your Python package or git repository. Once committed, the file lives in git history forever. Git will become sluggish, because it is not designed to operate on large binary files, and your package will become an annoyingly large download.

Removing accidentally-committed files after the fact is possible but destructive, so it’s important to avoid committing large files in the first place.


  • Can you generate the file using code instead? This is a good approach for test data: generate the test data files as part of the test. Of course it’s important to test against real data from time to time, but for automated tests, simulated data is just fine. If you don’t understand your data well enough to simulate it accurately, you don’t know enough to write useful tests against it.
  • Can you write a Python function that fetches the data on demand from some public URL? This is the approach used by projects such as scikit-learn that need to download large datasets for their examples and tests.

If you use one these alternatives, add the names of the generated or downloaded files to the project’s .gitignore file, which is provided by the copier/cookiecutter template. This helps protect you against accidentally committing the file to git.

If the file in question is a text file and not very large (< 100 kB) than it’s reasonable to just bundle it with the package. If not, see the recommendation at the end.

How to Package Data Files

What’s the problem we are solving here? If your Python program needs to access a data file, the naïve solution is just to hard-code the path to that file.

from pathlib import Path

spacings_txt = Path("peak_spacings/LaB6.txt").read_text(encoding="utf-8")

But this is not a good solution because:

  • The data file won’t be included in the distribution: users who pip install your package will find it’s missing!
  • The path to the data file depends on the platform and on how the package is installed. We need Python to handle those details for us.
  • Your package might not even be installed on a file system, it might be in a zip file or database.

As an example, suppose we have text files with Bragg peak spacings of various crystalline structures, and we want to use these files in our Python package. Let’s put them in a new directory in our package, such as src/package/peak_spacings/.

# src/package/peak_spacings/LaB6.txt

# src/package/peak_spacings/Si.txt


To make these available to the Python loading mechanism, the easiest way is to add an in src/package/peak_spacing. This can be an empty file; it’s purpose is to tell Python that this can be loaded.

You’ll want to make sure your Python building backend is placing these files in the SDist and wheel. If you are using anything other than setuptools, this should be automatic.

Setuptools-specific instructions

There are two ways to include data files in setuptools. You can either list the package data explicitly:

# setup.cfg
package.peak_spacings =

Or, you can use automatic data inclusion (this is the default if you use pyproject.toml [project] config in Setuptools 61+). To enable this with setup.cfg:

include_package_data = True

But then you’ll need to also make sure the files are in the SDist, too:

include src/package/peak_spacings/*.txt

Finally, wherever we actually use the files in our scientific code, we can access them using importlib_resources. For users with Python >= 3.9 the standard library importlib.resources module can be used directly instead of relying on importlib_resources.

# from importlib import resources   # Python >= 3.9 only
import importlib_resources as resources

ref = resources.files("package.peak_spacings") / "LaB6.txt"

spacings_txt = ref.read_text(encoding="utf-8")

# If you have an API that requires an on-disk file, you can do this instead:
with resources.as_file(ref) as path:
    # Now path is guaranteed to live somewhere on disk
    with"utf-8") as f:
        spacings_txt =

Using the init

Instead of having an empty init, you can instead move the files(...) into the That would look like this:

import importlib_resources as resources

files = resources.files(__name__)
LaB6 = files / "LaB6.txt"
# Provide whatever is useful for your project here

Now, a user can simply import and use package.peakspacing.LaB6 and such directly.

Downloading larger files on demand

A common use case is that a project may have example notebooks or demo scripts which require data not distributed with the project itself. One approach in these cases is to provide a download script that the user can run to retrieve their data from a provided URL. There are free data hosting options such as Zenodo, or a data-specific repository on a service like GitHub or GitLab.

Some projects have multiple larger datasets used for examples or testing that can be automatically downloaded on demand to a local cache on first use in a way that is transparent to the user of the package. For example, the datasets under scipy.datasets do not live in the main SciPy repository, but instead are stored in independent repositories under the SciPy GitHub organization. A tool called Pooch is used to handle fetching these datasets from an external repository URL for the user the first time they are requested. Pooch takes care of comparing hash values of the downloaded data to verify its content and then caches the downloaded files for future reuse.

The scipy.datasets module of SciPy and module of scikit-image are two concrete examples of how to use Pooch in this way in a project. It is also possible to use Pooch in a simpler download script to just fetch a single file as in the following small example:

import pooch

file_path = pooch.retrieve(
    # URL to my data

On repeated runs of this command, the locally cached filename would be used instead of downloading the data again.