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Python path

When using PyClaw or other Python tools from Clawpack (e.g. the visualization tools in VisClaw or Python tools for working with topo and dtopo from GeoClaw), you need to be able to import various modules.

For a general discussion of importing Python modules, see the tutorial in the Python documentation: Python 2, Python 3.

Below are some hints in case you run into problems with import statements with modules not being found, or being imported from the wrong version of Clawpack (if you have more than one on your computer).

The script $CLAW/clawutil/src/python/clawutil/ may be useful in debugging paths. It prints out information on how various paths and environment variables are set. (Available starting in Version 5.4.0.)

Which version was imported?

Try the following in a Python (or IPython) shell:

>>> import clawpack
>>> clawpack.__file__

This should print out something like:


This shows where clawpack is being imported from. In this case the directory /Users/rjl/clawpack_src/clawpack-v5.3.1 is the directory normally referred to as $CLAW in this documentation. Within this directory, there is a subdirectory $CLAW/clawpack that contains a file, which is a standard Python way of indicating that the files in the directory should be handled as a Python package.

The directory $CLAW (top level of Clawpack code) must be in the Python search path in order for this import statement to work. The Python command import clawpack searches through all directories in this path looking for the first one that contains a subdirectory named clawpack containing a file, (or a file named, but in this case it should find the $CLAW/clawpack directory).

The directory $CLAW/clawpack also contains symbolic links to other directories within the Clawpack repository hierarchy that contain other Python modules. This allows you to do, for example:

>>> from clawpack import pyclaw
>>> pyclaw.__file__


If you examine this in bash, e.g. via:

$ ls -l $CLAW/clawpack/pyclaw

you should find that this is a symbolic link to the directory $CLAW/pyclaw/src/pyclaw, which is where you would find the actual source code for things in the pyclaw package.

These symbolic links are set up when you install clawpack (using pip install or more explicitly using e.g. python symlink-only).

Example: Suppose you want to examine the Python code for the Iplotclaw module of VisClaw (see Interactive plotting with Iplotclaw). You can figure out where this code is via:

>>> from clawpack.visclaw import Iplotclaw
>>> Iplotclaw.__file__

Alternatively, in IPython you could examine this code directly via:

In [1]: from clawpack.visclaw import Iplotclaw
In [2]: Iplotclaw??


To examine the Python search path, you can do:

>>> import sys
>>> sys.path

This should print out a list of strings. The first string in the list is probably the empty string, indicating that the current working directory should be searched first. The remaining strings are paths in your file system.

You should see that the directory referred to as $CLAW in this documentation is in the path.

If you have multiple versions of Clawpack on your computer and Python seems to be importing from the wrong place, check the path. Directories are searched in the order listed in sys.path.


If you used pip to install Clawpack (following Installation instructions (pip)), then the path to the installed version will may be added to the file easy-install.pth located in the site-packages directory. If you want to switch to a different version you may need to either use pip again, or remove this line from site-packages/easy-install.pth.

To find site-packages/easy-install.pth, use this these commands in Python:

>>> import site
>>> site.getusersitepackages()

this will tell you where the users’ site-packages directory is. If you installed using the –user flag in the pip install, then it is the easy-install.pth in this directory that contains the path.

If you installed without the –user flag, then then system-wide site-packages/easy-install.pth file has been modified. You can find the path to this via:

>>> import site
>>> site.getsitepackages()


If you have an environment variable PYTHONPATH set, the paths specified here may be searched before or after what is specified in the users’ site-packages/easy-install.pth, depending on how you set PYTHONPATH.

To see if this is set, in the bash shell you can do:


See Set environment variables for information on setting environment variables.