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 Python3 documentation.

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.)

Sample output:

$ python $CLAW/clawutil/src/python/clawutil/

`import clawpack` imports from:

The CLAW environment variable is set to:
The PYTHONPATH environment variable is not set

The following directories on sys.path might contain clawpack,
and are searched in this order:

The following easy-install.pth files list clawpack:
        (points to /Users/rjl/clawpack_src/clawpack-v5.5.0)

Beware if there seems to be a conflict (e.g. between where the CLAW environment variable points and where Python imports from). See below for more about sys.path and easy-install.pth files.

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-v5.5.0 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).


Up to version 5.5.0, 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__


Starting in Version 5.6.0, symbolic links in $CLAW/clawpack have been eliminated. Instead $CLAW/clawpack/ includes a dictionary of subpackages with the relative path indicated in this file:

>>> import clawpack
>>> clawpack._subpackages
{'forestclaw': 'pyclaw/src', 'amrclaw': 'amrclaw/src/python', 'riemann': 'riemann',
 'pyclaw': 'pyclaw/src', 'classic': 'classic/src/python', 'visclaw': 'visclaw/src/python',
'clawutil': 'clawutil/src/python', 'petclaw': 'pyclaw/src', 'geoclaw': 'geoclaw/src/python'}

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 pip install instructions), 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, or execute pip uninstall clawpack.

The command is useful for determining where the site-packages/easy-install.pth is located.

More generally, 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 install Clawpack with pip, then you do not need to include it in environment variable PYTHONPATH.

Setting the environment variable PYTHONPATH is often considered bad practice in the Python community and can lead to problems, see for example PYTHONPATH Considered Harmful.

In spite of the possible drawbacks, some Clawpack developers often use PYTHONPATH to switch versions without difficulty, particularly when using one of the Options for installing Clawpack Fortran codes rather than pip.

If you do wish to use it, you should set PYTHONPATH to point to the top level of the clawpack directory for the code you wish to use. Then use the utility to check that this is where Clawpack is imported from, and there is not an easy-install.pth file generated by pip that points to a different location.

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. See also Hence trying to use PYTHONPATH if you have also used pip to install a different version of Clawpack can lead to confusion.

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


or use the utility to report this, along with any other possibly conflicting easy-install.pth files.

See Set environment variables for information on setting environment variables.