/Julia 1.2


Modules in Julia are separate variable workspaces, i.e. they introduce a new global scope. They are delimited syntactically, inside module Name ... end. Modules allow you to create top-level definitions (aka global variables) without worrying about name conflicts when your code is used together with somebody else's. Within a module, you can control which names from other modules are visible (via importing), and specify which of your names are intended to be public (via exporting).

The following example demonstrates the major features of modules. It is not meant to be run, but is shown for illustrative purposes:

module MyModule
using Lib

using BigLib: thing1, thing2

import Base.show

export MyType, foo

struct MyType

bar(x) = 2x
foo(a::MyType) = bar(a.x) + 1

show(io::IO, a::MyType) = print(io, "MyType $(a.x)")

Note that the style is not to indent the body of the module, since that would typically lead to whole files being indented.

This module defines a type MyType, and two functions. Function foo and type MyType are exported, and so will be available for importing into other modules. Function bar is private to MyModule.

The statement using Lib means that a module called Lib will be available for resolving names as needed. When a global variable is encountered that has no definition in the current module, the system will search for it among variables exported by Lib and import it if it is found there. This means that all uses of that global within the current module will resolve to the definition of that variable in Lib.

The statement using BigLib: thing1, thing2 brings just the identifiers thing1 and thing2 into scope from module BigLib. If these names refer to functions, adding methods to them will not be allowed (you may only "use" them, not extend them).

The import keyword supports the same syntax as using, but only operates on a single name at a time. It does not add modules to be searched the way using does. import also differs from using in that functions imported using import can be extended with new methods.

In MyModule above we wanted to add a method to the standard show function, so we had to write import Base.show. Functions whose names are only visible via using cannot be extended.

Once a variable is made visible via using or import, a module may not create its own variable with the same name. Imported variables are read-only; assigning to a global variable always affects a variable owned by the current module, or else raises an error.

Summary of module usage

To load a module, two main keywords can be used: using and import. To understand their differences, consider the following example:

module MyModule

export x, y

x() = "x"
y() = "y"
p() = "p"


In this module we export the x and y functions (with the keyword export), and also have the non-exported function p. There are several different ways to load the Module and its inner functions into the current workspace:

Import Command What is brought into scope Available for method extension
using MyModule All exported names (x and y), MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p
using MyModule: x, p x and p
import MyModule MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p MyModule.x, MyModule.y and MyModule.p
import MyModule.x, MyModule.p x and p x and p
import MyModule: x, p x and p x and p

Modules and files

Files and file names are mostly unrelated to modules; modules are associated only with module expressions. One can have multiple files per module, and multiple modules per file:

module Foo



Including the same code in different modules provides mixin-like behavior. One could use this to run the same code with different base definitions, for example testing code by running it with "safe" versions of some operators:

module Normal

module Testing

Standard modules

There are three important standard modules:

  • Core contains all functionality "built into" the language.
  • Base contains basic functionality that is useful in almost all cases.
  • Main is the top-level module and the current module, when Julia is started.

Default top-level definitions and bare modules

In addition to using Base, modules also automatically contain definitions of the eval and include functions, which evaluate expressions/files within the global scope of that module.

If these default definitions are not wanted, modules can be defined using the keyword baremodule instead (note: Core is still imported, as per above). In terms of baremodule, a standard module looks like this:

baremodule Mod

using Base

eval(x) = Core.eval(Mod, x)
include(p) = Base.include(Mod, p)



Relative and absolute module paths

Given the statement using Foo, the system consults an internal table of top-level modules to look for one named Foo. If the module does not exist, the system attempts to require(:Foo), which typically results in loading code from an installed package.

However, some modules contain submodules, which means you sometimes need to access a non-top-level module. There are two ways to do this. The first is to use an absolute path, for example using Base.Sort. The second is to use a relative path, which makes it easier to import submodules of the current module or any of its enclosing modules:

module Parent

module Utils

using .Utils


Here module Parent contains a submodule Utils, and code in Parent wants the contents of Utils to be visible. This is done by starting the using path with a period. Adding more leading periods moves up additional levels in the module hierarchy. For example using ..Utils would look for Utils in Parent's enclosing module rather than in Parent itself.

Note that relative-import qualifiers are only valid in using and import statements.

Namespace miscellanea

If a name is qualified (e.g. Base.sin), then it can be accessed even if it is not exported. This is often useful when debugging. It can also have methods added to it by using the qualified name as the function name. However, due to syntactic ambiguities that arise, if you wish to add methods to a function in a different module whose name contains only symbols, such as an operator, Base.+ for example, you must use Base.:+ to refer to it. If the operator is more than one character in length you must surround it in brackets, such as: Base.:(==).

Macro names are written with @ in import and export statements, e.g. import Mod.@mac. Macros in other modules can be invoked as Mod.@mac or @Mod.mac.

The syntax M.x = y does not work to assign a global in another module; global assignment is always module-local.

A variable name can be "reserved" without assigning to it by declaring it as global x. This prevents name conflicts for globals initialized after load time.

Module initialization and precompilation

Large modules can take several seconds to load because executing all of the statements in a module often involves compiling a large amount of code. Julia creates precompiled caches of the module to reduce this time.

The incremental precompiled module file are created and used automatically when using import or using to load a module. This will cause it to be automatically compiled the first time it is imported. Alternatively, you can manually call Base.compilecache(modulename). The resulting cache files will be stored in DEPOT_PATH[1]/compiled/. Subsequently, the module is automatically recompiled upon using or import whenever any of its dependencies change; dependencies are modules it imports, the Julia build, files it includes, or explicit dependencies declared by include_dependency(path) in the module file(s).

For file dependencies, a change is determined by examining whether the modification time (mtime) of each file loaded by include or added explicitly by include_dependency is unchanged, or equal to the modification time truncated to the nearest second (to accommodate systems that can't copy mtime with sub-second accuracy). It also takes into account whether the path to the file chosen by the search logic in require matches the path that had created the precompile file. It also takes into account the set of dependencies already loaded into the current process and won't recompile those modules, even if their files change or disappear, in order to avoid creating incompatibilities between the running system and the precompile cache.

If you know that a module is not safe to precompile your module (for example, for one of the reasons described below), you should put __precompile__(false) in the module file (typically placed at the top). This will cause Base.compilecache to throw an error, and will cause using / import to load it directly into the current process and skip the precompile and caching. This also thereby prevents the module from being imported by any other precompiled module.

You may need to be aware of certain behaviors inherent in the creation of incremental shared libraries which may require care when writing your module. For example, external state is not preserved. To accommodate this, explicitly separate any initialization steps that must occur at runtime from steps that can occur at compile time. For this purpose, Julia allows you to define an __init__() function in your module that executes any initialization steps that must occur at runtime. This function will not be called during compilation (--output-*). Effectively, you can assume it will be run exactly once in the lifetime of the code. You may, of course, call it manually if necessary, but the default is to assume this function deals with computing state for the local machine, which does not need to be – or even should not be – captured in the compiled image. It will be called after the module is loaded into a process, including if it is being loaded into an incremental compile (--output-incremental=yes), but not if it is being loaded into a full-compilation process.

In particular, if you define a function __init__() in a module, then Julia will call __init__() immediately after the module is loaded (e.g., by import, using, or require) at runtime for the first time (i.e., __init__ is only called once, and only after all statements in the module have been executed). Because it is called after the module is fully imported, any submodules or other imported modules have their __init__ functions called before the __init__ of the enclosing module.

Two typical uses of __init__ are calling runtime initialization functions of external C libraries and initializing global constants that involve pointers returned by external libraries. For example, suppose that we are calling a C library libfoo that requires us to call a foo_init() initialization function at runtime. Suppose that we also want to define a global constant foo_data_ptr that holds the return value of a void *foo_data() function defined by libfoo – this constant must be initialized at runtime (not at compile time) because the pointer address will change from run to run. You could accomplish this by defining the following __init__ function in your module:

const foo_data_ptr = Ref{Ptr{Cvoid}}(0)
function __init__()
    ccall((:foo_init, :libfoo), Cvoid, ())
    foo_data_ptr[] = ccall((:foo_data, :libfoo), Ptr{Cvoid}, ())

Notice that it is perfectly possible to define a global inside a function like __init__; this is one of the advantages of using a dynamic language. But by making it a constant at global scope, we can ensure that the type is known to the compiler and allow it to generate better optimized code. Obviously, any other globals in your module that depends on foo_data_ptr would also have to be initialized in __init__.

Constants involving most Julia objects that are not produced by ccall do not need to be placed in __init__: their definitions can be precompiled and loaded from the cached module image. This includes complicated heap-allocated objects like arrays. However, any routine that returns a raw pointer value must be called at runtime for precompilation to work (Ptr objects will turn into null pointers unless they are hidden inside an isbits object). This includes the return values of the Julia functions cfunction and pointer.

Dictionary and set types, or in general anything that depends on the output of a hash(key) method, are a trickier case. In the common case where the keys are numbers, strings, symbols, ranges, Expr, or compositions of these types (via arrays, tuples, sets, pairs, etc.) they are safe to precompile. However, for a few other key types, such as Function or DataType and generic user-defined types where you haven't defined a hash method, the fallback hash method depends on the memory address of the object (via its objectid) and hence may change from run to run. If you have one of these key types, or if you aren't sure, to be safe you can initialize this dictionary from within your __init__ function. Alternatively, you can use the IdDict dictionary type, which is specially handled by precompilation so that it is safe to initialize at compile-time.

When using precompilation, it is important to keep a clear sense of the distinction between the compilation phase and the execution phase. In this mode, it will often be much more clearly apparent that Julia is a compiler which allows execution of arbitrary Julia code, not a standalone interpreter that also generates compiled code.

Other known potential failure scenarios include:

  1. Global counters (for example, for attempting to uniquely identify objects). Consider the following code snippet:

    mutable struct UniquedById
        let counter = 0
            UniquedById() = new(counter += 1)

    while the intent of this code was to give every instance a unique id, the counter value is recorded at the end of compilation. All subsequent usages of this incrementally compiled module will start from that same counter value.

    Note that objectid (which works by hashing the memory pointer) has similar issues (see notes on Dict usage below).

    One alternative is to use a macro to capture @__MODULE__ and store it alone with the current counter value, however, it may be better to redesign the code to not depend on this global state.

  2. Associative collections (such as Dict and Set) need to be re-hashed in __init__. (In the future, a mechanism may be provided to register an initializer function.)

  3. Depending on compile-time side-effects persisting through load-time. Example include: modifying arrays or other variables in other Julia modules; maintaining handles to open files or devices; storing pointers to other system resources (including memory);

  4. Creating accidental "copies" of global state from another module, by referencing it directly instead of via its lookup path. For example, (in global scope):

    #mystdout = Base.stdout #= will not work correctly, since this will copy Base.stdout into this module =#
    # instead use accessor functions:
    getstdout() = Base.stdout #= best option =#
    # or move the assignment into the runtime:
    __init__() = global mystdout = Base.stdout #= also works =#

Several additional restrictions are placed on the operations that can be done while precompiling code to help the user avoid other wrong-behavior situations:

  1. Calling eval to cause a side-effect in another module. This will also cause a warning to be emitted when the incremental precompile flag is set.
  2. global const statements from local scope after __init__() has been started (see issue #12010 for plans to add an error for this)
  3. Replacing a module is a runtime error while doing an incremental precompile.

A few other points to be aware of:

  1. No code reload / cache invalidation is performed after changes are made to the source files themselves, (including by Pkg.update), and no cleanup is done after Pkg.rm
  2. The memory sharing behavior of a reshaped array is disregarded by precompilation (each view gets its own copy)
  3. Expecting the filesystem to be unchanged between compile-time and runtime e.g. @__FILE__/source_path() to find resources at runtime, or the BinDeps @checked_lib macro. Sometimes this is unavoidable. However, when possible, it can be good practice to copy resources into the module at compile-time so they won't need to be found at runtime.
  4. WeakRef objects and finalizers are not currently handled properly by the serializer (this will be fixed in an upcoming release).
  5. It is usually best to avoid capturing references to instances of internal metadata objects such as Method, MethodInstance, MethodTable, TypeMapLevel, TypeMapEntry and fields of those objects, as this can confuse the serializer and may not lead to the outcome you desire. It is not necessarily an error to do this, but you simply need to be prepared that the system will try to copy some of these and to create a single unique instance of others.

It is sometimes helpful during module development to turn off incremental precompilation. The command line flag --compiled-modules={yes|no} enables you to toggle module precompilation on and off. When Julia is started with --compiled-modules=no the serialized modules in the compile cache are ignored when loading modules and module dependencies. Base.compilecache can still be called manually. The state of this command line flag is passed to Pkg.build to disable automatic precompilation triggering when installing, updating, and explicitly building packages.

© 2009–2019 Jeff Bezanson, Stefan Karpinski, Viral B. Shah, and other contributors
Licensed under the MIT License.