Why I like modules to be in the Python standard library

September 15, 2010

Even when there may be perfectly good third party modules for something, I really want there to be a module for it in Python's standard library. Part of the reason is obviously how I find third party modules to be awkward, but another part of it is what I call the selection problem.

The selection problem is the problem of picking a third party module (sometimes even finding it, although pypi helps with that) and figuring out if it's any good. Simply figuring out the quality of a module is a bunch of work, and the amount of work multiplies drastically if there's several third party modules that all do what I want. Often, the only way I can really tell if a module is going to work well is to actually try using it. Generally this has to be in a real program (I find toy examples both frustrating to write and uninformative), which means that if I have picked poorly I may have wasted a bunch of time and effort. Even if I can rule out a module relatively early, I had to spend the time to read documentation or skim code or the like, and that time's all wasted.

(And frankly it's frustrating to run into near misses, modules that almost do what I need and almost work. Faced with this, it often at least feels easier to write something from scratch myself if what I want isn't too big.)

When a module has made it into the standard library, I don't have to go through all of this; I can just use the module, secure in the confidence that this is a good implementation of whatever it is that I want to do. Someone else has already gone through all of this quality assurance work, and if there were multiple implementations the Python people have probably either picked the best one or at least determined that they are more or less equivalent and so I am not missing anything very important by not looking at the other options.

(Yes, sometimes this confidence is misplaced. But generally it's at least close.)

Update: see also WhyInStandardLibraryII for additional comments on the time drain of the selection problem.

Written on 15 September 2010.
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