main blocks

All about that crazy looking `if __name__=="__main__":` thing that you see in some Python code

Learning about the if __name__=="__main__": block

In order to make your Python code as reusable as possible, it is considered a good practice in Python to put almost everything except function defintions (defs) and import statements inside a special if statement with the funny looking condition shown in the example below.


(On some keyboards, you may see a tiny blank between the underscores, while other other keyboards you don’t see that. It shouldn’t matter.)

if __name__=="__main__":
   print("This is where all the code goes, except for")
   print("function definitions, import statements and")
   print("initialization of global variables")

The reason why: when you do this, it makes it easier to import the code you write into another file and resuse all of your function definitions, even if you do NOT want to reuse the “main” code for your program.

An example to illustrate what we are talking about

As an example, consider the two Python files below, with names as shown in the comments:


def milesToKm(miles):
   return 1.609344 * miles
print("10 miles = ",milesToKm(10)," kilometers")

def kmToMiles(km):
   return km / 1.609344;
if __name__=="__main__":
   print("10 km = ",kmToMiles(10)," miles")

Both of these programs work fine—see the output below.

========= RESTART: /Users/pconrad/cs8/main_block_example/ =========
10 miles =  16.09344  kilometers
========= RESTART: /Users/pconrad/cs8/main_block_example/ =========
10 km =  6.2137119223733395  miles

Now, suppose we needed these functions in a third program called that’s in the same directory (folder) as and

Rather that copying and pasting the function definitions, we could just import them, like this:


import convert1
import convert2

print("20 miles = ",convert1.milesToKm(20)," kilometers")
print("20 km = ",convert2.kmToMiles(20)," miles")

pconrad$ ls

Great! As long as all three files (convert1.py1, and are in the same directory, as shown here by the output of the Unix ls command at right), we can reuse our functions and not have to duplicate code.

But there is a problem. When we run the program, we get an extra line of output we don’t want: </div>

======== RESTART: /Users/pconrad/cs8/main_block_example/ ========
10 miles =  16.09344  kilometers
20 miles =  32.18688  kilometers
20 km =  12.427423844746679  miles

Where did the pesky line of output 10 miles = 16.09344 kilometers come from? It came from doing import

But, we didn’t see that when we did import What’s the difference?

The difference is that funny looking if test inside

It is helping us by preventing the print statements in from being run when the file is imported.
By contrast, in, the print statements are just “right there”, which means they get run every time the file is run directly (e.g. from the “Run Module” command in idle3) AND when the file is imported via import convert1. This is undesirable.

So, the solution is change convert1.py1 so that apart from import and def, all code goes inside the if __name__=="__main__": block (or just “main block”, for short.) If we do that (not shown), the result of running will be what we want:

======== RESTART: /Users/pconrad/cs8/main_block_example/ ========
20 miles =  32.18688  kilometers
20 km =  12.427423844746679  miles

We have reused the resuable parts (the function defintions) from the and programs, without having any of the side effects of their original output.

Summary of what the main block is for:

The main block (set up via if __name__=="__main__": ) inside a file such as prevents code inside of from being run when is imported, e.g. via import myCode. The code in the main block is only carried out when the file is executed directly (e.g. via “Run Module” in idle3).

Other example of when a file is “directly executed” (and the main block is run) include these:

  • Running with the python3 unix command, e.g. python3
  • Running with a shebang (visit that link for more info).

The stuff under this funny looking if test is skipped any time your import your Python file (e.g. if this file is ` In this article, we’ll discuss how you do this and why you do it.


Put all your code in a Python program inside a main block except for:

  • import statements
  • function definitions (anything starting with “def”)
  • initialization of global variables (if you are using them)
  • class declarations (which you probably won’t use in CMPSC 8).

Here’s how it looks:

if __name__=="__main__":
   # code starts here
   # and is all indented
   print("this is a placeholder for your code")

Make sure you type that line with the if exactly as shown:

  • The variable __name__ must be exactly two underscore characters, followed by exactly this: name, followed by exactly two underscore characters.
  • The string "__main__" must be exactly two underscore characters, followed by exactly this: main, followed by exactly two underscore characters.
  • It must be exactly two equals signs: ==
  • The only part that can vary is whether you use single or double quotes. '__main__' or "__main__" are both ok.