Every time I go back to Rust, I have to figure out how the module system works again. Here are some of my notes comparing it to Python’s module system.

These notes are for Rust 2018.


A crate is a build target in Rust. A crate can either be a library or a binary. It can be built with cargo build.

In Python, libraries are called “packages”. Binaries are an entirely heterogenous concept, typically installed by configuring entry points. Such a binary doesn’t even need to be Python code (for example, it can be a shell script instead).


A package in Rust consists of up to one library crate and any number of binary crates. (It’s required that there be at least one library or binary crate.)

In Python, a single “distribution package” (i.e. one that you can pip install) can contain multiple “import packages” (i.e. one that you can import), while Rust allows at most one import package per distribution package.

File layout

Crate roots

Python places __init__.py at the root of a package to indicate that it’s importable as a package. Similarly, Rust conventionally puts lib.rs at the root of a crate as the library crate root. (Unlike Python, the name can be re-configured, but lib.rs is the default.)

In Python, __main__.py corresponds to the main entry point for the module when run with python -m. Rust conventionally puts main.rs as a binary crate root. (This can also be renamed, which is probably desirable if you have more than one binary.)

Module lookups

In Python, all modules are available by importing them via their filesystem path name. For example, import foo.bar first looks for a foo/ directory on the PYTHONPATH. Then it looks for a bar/ package or a bar.py module underneath the foo/ directory.

In Rust, modules also correspond to their paths on the filesystem (by default; you can use the path attribute to change this behavior). However, they are not immediately use-able just because the corresponding file is present! They must be declared with a mod foo; declaration in the crate root file (e.g. lib.rs).

Nested modules

In Python, a nested module foo.bar is implemented either by foo/bar.py or foo/bar/__init__.py. You can’t use both. If you want to have sub-modules of foo.bar, you’ll place additional modules or packages under foo/bar/.

A statement like from foo.bar import qux could either be importing a symbol declared in foo/bar/__init__.py or the module foo/bar/qux.py. Some developers choose to explicitly re-export the public interface of bar in __init__.py for clarity, and prefix sub-modules with underscores (e.g. _qux.py instead of qux.py).

In Rust, you use foo/bar.rs to declare members of the namespace foo::bar. If you also want to have sub-namespaces of bar (e.g. foo::bar::qux), then you additionally create the bar/ directory alongside bar.rs. To access a sub-namespace qux inside bar.rs, the line mod qux; must be added to bar.rs. (This is similar to how we have to add mod foo; at the top-level lib.rs.)

To re-export the namespace and make it available to all users outside of bar, it should be changed to pub mod qux;.

The main take-away is that Rust requires the explicit re-exporting of nested modules using mod at each step of the hierarchy, while Python does not.