contextlib2 — Updated utilities for context management

This module provides backports of features in the latest version of the standard library’s contextlib module to earlier Python versions. It also serves as a real world proving ground for potential future enhancements to that module.

Like contextlib, this module provides utilities for common tasks involving the with statement.

Additions Relative to the Standard Library

This module is primarily a backport of the Python 3.2 version of contextlib to earlier releases. However, it is also a proving ground for new features not yet part of the standard library. Those new features are currently:

API Reference


This function is a decorator that can be used to define a factory function for with statement context managers, without needing to create a class or separate __enter__() and __exit__() methods.

A simple example (this is not recommended as a real way of generating HTML!):

from contextlib import contextmanager

def tag(name):
    print("<%s>" % name)
    print("</%s>" % name)

>>> with tag("h1"):
...    print("foo")

The function being decorated must return a generator-iterator when called. This iterator must yield exactly one value, which will be bound to the targets in the with statement’s as clause, if any.

At the point where the generator yields, the block nested in the with statement is executed. The generator is then resumed after the block is exited. If an unhandled exception occurs in the block, it is reraised inside the generator at the point where the yield occurred. Thus, you can use a try...except...finally statement to trap the error (if any), or ensure that some cleanup takes place. If an exception is trapped merely in order to log it or to perform some action (rather than to suppress it entirely), the generator must reraise that exception. Otherwise the generator context manager will indicate to the with statement that the exception has been handled, and execution will resume with the statement immediately following the with statement.

contextmanager() uses ContextDecorator so the context managers it creates can be used as decorators as well as in with statements. When used as a decorator, a new generator instance is implicitly created on each function call (this allows the otherwise “one-shot” context managers created by contextmanager() to meet the requirement that context managers support multiple invocations in order to be used as decorators).


Return a context manager that closes thing upon completion of the block. This is basically equivalent to:

from contextlib import contextmanager

def closing(thing):
        yield thing

And lets you write code like this:

from contextlib import closing
from urllib.request import urlopen

with closing(urlopen('')) as page:
    for line in page:

without needing to explicitly close page. Even if an error occurs, page.close() will be called when the with block is exited.

class ContextDecorator

A base class that enables a context manager to also be used as a decorator.

Context managers inheriting from ContextDecorator have to implement __enter__() and __exit__() as normal. __exit__() retains its optional exception handling even when used as a decorator.

ContextDecorator is used by contextmanager(), so you get this functionality automatically.

Example of ContextDecorator:

from contextlib import ContextDecorator

class mycontext(ContextDecorator):
    def __enter__(self):
        return self

    def __exit__(self, *exc):
        return False

>>> @mycontext()
... def function():
...     print('The bit in the middle')
>>> function()
The bit in the middle

>>> with mycontext():
...     print('The bit in the middle')
The bit in the middle

This change is just syntactic sugar for any construct of the following form:

def f():
    with cm():
        # Do stuff

ContextDecorator lets you instead write:

def f():
    # Do stuff

It makes it clear that the cm applies to the whole function, rather than just a piece of it (and saving an indentation level is nice, too).

Existing context managers that already have a base class can be extended by using ContextDecorator as a mixin class:

from contextlib import ContextDecorator

class mycontext(ContextBaseClass, ContextDecorator):
    def __enter__(self):
        return self

    def __exit__(self, *exc):
        return False

This method is invoked each time a call is made to a decorated function. The default implementation just returns self.

As the decorated function must be able to be called multiple times, the underlying context manager must normally support use in multiple with statements (preferably in a thread-safe manner). If this is not the case, then the context manager must define this method and return a new copy of the context manager on each invocation.

This may involve keeping a copy of the original arguments used to first initialise the context manager.

Changed in version 0.1: Made the standard library’s private refresh_cm() API public

class ExitStack

A context manager that is designed to make it easy to programmatically combine other context managers and cleanup functions, especially those that are optional or otherwise driven by input data.

For example, a set of files may easily be handled in a single with statement as follows:

with ExitStack() as stack:
    files = [stack.enter_context(open(fname)) for fname in filenames]
    # All opened files will automatically be closed at the end of
    # the with statement, even if attempts to open files later
    # in the list throw an exception

Each instance maintains a stack of registered callbacks that are called in reverse order when the instance is closed (either explicitly or implicitly at the end of a with statement). Note that callbacks are not invoked implicitly when the context stack instance is garbage collected.

Since registered callbacks are invoked in the reverse order of registration, this ends up behaving as if multiple nested with statements had been used with the registered set of callbacks. This even extends to exception handling - if an inner callback suppresses or replaces an exception, then outer callbacks will be passed arguments based on that updated state.


Enters a new context manager and adds its __exit__() method to the callback stack. The return value is the result of the context manager’s own __enter__() method.

These context managers may suppress exceptions just as they normally would if used directly as part of a with statement.


Directly accepts a callback with the same signature as a context manager’s __exit__() method and adds it to the callback stack.

By returning true values, these callbacks can suppress exceptions the same way context manager __exit__() methods can.

This method also accepts any object with an __exit__ method, and will register that method as the callback. This is mainly useful to cover part of an __enter__() implementation with a context manager’s own __exit__() method.

callback(callback, *args, **kwds)

Accepts an arbitrary callback function and arguments and adds it to the callback stack.

Unlike the other methods, callbacks added this way cannot suppress exceptions (as they are never passed the exception details).


Transfers the callback stack to a fresh instance and returns it. No callbacks are invoked by this operation - instead, they will now be invoked when the new stack is closed (either explicitly or implicitly).

For example, a group of files can be opened as an “all or nothing” operation as follows:

with ExitStack() as stack:
    files = [stack.enter_context(open(fname)) for fname in filenames]
    close_files = stack.pop_all().close
    # If opening any file fails, all previously opened files will be
    # closed automatically. If all files are opened successfully,
    # they will remain open even after the with statement ends.
    # close_files() can then be invoked explicitly to close them all

Immediately unwinds the callback stack, invoking callbacks in the reverse order of registration. For any context managers and exit callbacks registered, the arguments passed in will indicate that no exception occurred.

New in version 0.4: New API for contextlib2, not available in standard library

class ContextStack

An earlier incarnation of the ExitStack interface. This class is deprecated and should no longer be used.

Changed in version 0.4: Deprecated in favour of ExitStack

New in version 0.2: New API for contextlib2, not available in standard library

Examples and Recipes

This section describes some examples and recipes for making effective use of the tools provided by contextlib2. Some of them may also work with contextlib in sufficiently recent versions of Python. When this is the case, it is noted at the end of the example.

Using a context manager as a function decorator

ContextDecorator makes it possible to use a context manager in both an ordinary with statement and also as a function decorator. The ContextDecorator.refresh_cm() method even makes it possible to use otherwise single use context managers (such as those created by contextmanager()) that way.

For example, it is sometimes useful to wrap functions or groups of statements with a logger that can track the time of entry and time of exit. Rather than writing both a function decorator and a context manager for the task, contextmanager() provides both capabilities in a single definition:

from contextlib2 import contextmanager
import logging


def track_entry_and_exit(name):'Entering: {}'.format(name))
    yield'Exiting: {}'.format(name))

This can be used as both a context manager:

with track_entry_and_exit('widget loader'):
    print('Some time consuming activity goes here')

And also as a function decorator:

@track_entry_and_exit('widget loader')
def activity():
    print('Some time consuming activity goes here')

Note that there is one additional limitation when using context managers as function decorators: there’s no way to access the return value of __enter__(). If that value is needed, then it is still necessary to use an explicit with statement.

This example should also work with contextlib in Python 3.2.1 or later.

Cleaning up in an __enter__ implementation

As noted in the documentation of ExitStack.push(), this method can be useful in cleaning up an already allocated resource if later steps in the __enter__() implementation fail.

Here’s an example of doing this for a context manager that accepts resource acquisition and release functions, along with an optional validation function, and maps them to the context management protocol:

from contextlib2 import ExitStack

class ResourceManager(object):

    def __init__(self, acquire_resource, release_resource, check_resource_ok=None):
        self.acquire_resource = acquire_resource
        self.release_resource = release_resource
        self.check_resource_ok = check_resource_ok

    def __enter__(self):
        resource = self.acquire_resource()
        if self.check_resource_ok is not None:
            with ExitStack() as stack:
                if not self.check_resource_ok(resource):
                    msg = "Failed validation for {!r}"
                    raise RuntimeError(msg.format(resource))
                # The validation check passed and didn't raise an exception
                # Accordingly, we want to keep the resource, and pass it
                # back to our caller
        return resource

    def __exit__(self, *exc_details):
        # We don't need to duplicate any of our resource release logic

Replacing any use of try-finally and flag variables

A pattern you will sometimes see is a try-finally statement with a flag variable to indicate whether or not the body of the finally clause should be executed. In its simplest form (that can’t already be handled just by using an except clause instead), it looks something like this:

cleanup_needed = True
    result = perform_operation()
    if result:
        cleanup_needed = False
    if cleanup_needed:

As with any try statement based code, this can cause problems for development and review, because the setup code and the cleanup code can end up being separated by arbitrarily long sections of code.

ExitStack makes it possible to instead register a callback for execution at the end of a with statement, and then later decide to skip executing that callback:

from contextlib2 import ExitStack

with ExitStack() as stack:
    result = perform_operation()
    if result:

This allows the intended cleanup up behaviour to be made explicit up front, rather than requiring a separate flag variable.

If you find yourself using this pattern a lot, it can be simplified even further by means of a small helper class:

from contextlib2 import ExitStack

class Callback(ExitStack):
    def __init__(self, callback, *args, **kwds):
        super(Callback, self).__init__()
        self.callback(callback, *args, **kwds)

    def cancel(self):

with Callback(cleanup_resources) as cb:
    result = perform_operation()
    if result:

If the resource cleanup isn’t already neatly bundled into a standalone function, then it is still possible to use the decorator form of ExitStack.callback() to declare the resource cleanup in advance:

from contextlib2 import ExitStack

with ExitStack() as stack:
    def cleanup_resources():
    result = perform_operation()
    if result:

Due to the way the decorator protocol works, a callback function declared this way cannot take any parameters. Instead, any resources to be released must be accessed as closure variables

Obtaining the Module

This module can be installed directly from the Python Package Index with pip:

pip install contextlib2

Alternatively, you can download and unpack it manually from the contextlib2 PyPI page.

There are no operating system or distribution specific versions of this module - it is a pure Python module that should work on all platforms.

Supported Python versions are currently 2.7 and 3.2+.

Development and Support

contextlib2 is developed and maintained on BitBucket. Problems and suggested improvements can be posted to the issue tracker.

Release History

0.4.0 (2012-05-05)

  • Issue #8: Replace ContextStack with ExitStack (old ContextStack API retained for backwards compatibility)
  • Fall back to unittest2 if unittest is missing required functionality

0.3.1 (2012-01-17)

  • Issue #7: Add so PyPI package contains all relevant files

0.3 (2012-01-04)

  • Issue #5: ContextStack.register no longer pointlessly returns the wrapped function
  • Issue #2: Add examples and recipes section to docs
  • Issue #3: ContextStack.register_exit() now accepts objects with __exit__ attributes in addition to accepting exit callbacks directly
  • Issue #1: Add ContextStack.preserve() to move all registered callbacks to a new ContextStack object
  • Wrapped callbacks now expose __wrapped__ (for direct callbacks) or __self__ (for context manager methods) attributes to aid in introspection
  • Moved version number to a VERSION.txt file (read by both docs and
  • Added NEWS.rst (and incorporated into documentation)

0.2 (2011-12-15)

  • Renamed CleanupManager to ContextStack (hopefully before anyone started using the module for anything, since I didn’t alias the old name at all)

0.1 (2011-12-13)

Indices and tables