Repository Structure and Python

It's Important.

Just as Code Style, API Design, and Automation are essential for a healthy development cycle, Repository structure is a crucial part of your project's architecture.

When a potential user or contributor lands on your repository's page, they see a few things:

  • Project Name
  • Project Description
  • Bunch O' Files

Only when they scroll below the fold will the user see your project's README.

If your repo is a massive dump of files or a nested mess of directories, they might look elsewhere before even reading your beautiful documentation.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Of course, first impressions aren't everything. You and your colleagues will spend countless hours working with this repository, eventually becoming intimately familiar with every nook and cranny. The layout of it is important.

Sample Repository

tl;dr: This is what I recommend.

This repository is available on GitHub.


Let's get into some specifics.

The Actual Module

Location: ./sample/ or ./ 
Purpose:  The code of interest.

Your module package is the core focus of the repository. It should not be tucked away:


If your module consists of only a single file, you can place it directly in the root of your repository:


Your library does not belong in an ambiguous src or python subdirectory.


Location: ./LICENSE 
Purpose:  Lawyering up.

This is arguably the most important part of your repository, aside from the source code itself. The full license text and copyright claims should exist in this file.

No excuses.

Location: ./ 
Purpose:  Package and distribution management.

If your module package is at the root of your repository, this should obviously be at the root as well.

Requirements File

Location: ./requirements.txt 
Purpose:  Development dependencies.

A Pip requirements file should be placed at the root of the repository. It should specify the dependencies required to contribute to the project: testing, building, and generating documentation.

If your project has no development dependencies, or you prefer development environment setup via, this file may be unnecessary.


Location: ./docs/ 
Purpose:  Package reference documentation.

There is little reason for this to exist elsewhere.

Test Suite

Location: ./ or ./tests 
Purpose:  Package integration and unit tests.

Starting out, a small test suite will often exist in a single file:


Once a test suite grows, you can move your tests to a directory, like so:


Obviously, these test modules must import your packaged module to test it. You can do this a few ways:

  • Expect the package to be installed in site-packages.
  • Use a simple (but explicit) path modification to resolve the package properly.

I highly recommend the latter. Requiring a developer to run develop to test an actively changing codebase also requires them to have an isolated environment setup for each instance of the codebase.

To give the individual tests import context, create a tests/ file:

import os
import sys
sys.path.insert(0, os.path.abspath('..'))

import sample

Then, within the individual test modules, import the module like so:

from .context import sample

This will always work as expected, regardless of installation method.

Some people will assert that you should distribute your tests within your module itself -- I disagree. It often increases complexity for your users; many test suites often require additional dependencies and runtime contexts.


Location: ./Makefile 
Purpose:  Generic management tasks.

If you look at most of my projects or any Pocoo project, you'll notice a Makefile laying around. Why? These projects aren't written in C... In short, make is a incredibly useful tool for defining generic and platform agnostic tasks for your project.

Sample Makefile:

pip install -r requirements.txt

py.test tests

Other generic management scripts (e.g. or belong at the root of the repository as well.

Regarding Django Applications

I've noticed a new trend in Django applications since the release of Django 1.4. Many developers are structuring their repositories poorly due to the new bundled application templates.

How? Well, they go to their bare and fresh repository and run the following, as they always have:

$ start-project samplesite

The resulting repository structure looks like this:


Don't do this.

Repetitive paths are confusing for both your tools and your developers. Unnecessary nesting doesn't help anybody (unless they're nostalgic for monolithic SVN repos).

Let's do it properly:

$ start-project samplesite .

Note the ".".

The resulting structure: