I’ve read the documentation on egg entry points in Pylons and on the Peak pages, and I still don’t really understand. Could someone explain them to me?

An “entry point” is typically a function (or other callable function-like object) that a developer or user of your Python package might want to use, though a non-callable object can be supplied as an entry point as well (as correctly pointed out in the comments!).

The most popular kind of entry point is the console_scripts entry point, which points to a function that you want made available as a command-line tool to whoever installs your package. This goes into your setup.py script like:

entry_points={
    'console_scripts': [
        'cursive = cursive.tools.cmd:cursive_command',
    ],
},

I have a package I’ve just deployed called cursive.tools, and I wanted it to make available a “cursive” command that someone could run from the command line, like:

$ cursive --help
usage: cursive ...

The way to do this is define a function, like maybe a cursive_command function in the file cursive/tools/cmd.py that looks like:

def cursive_command():
    args = sys.argv[1:]
    if len(args) < 1:
        print "usage: ..."

and so forth; it should assume that it’s been called from the command line, parse the arguments that the user has provided, and … well, do whatever the command is designed to do.

Install the docutils package for a great example of entry-point use: it will install something like a half-dozen useful commands for converting Python documentation to other formats.

EntryPoints provide a persistent, filesystem-based object name registration and name-based direct object import mechanism (implemented by the setuptools package).

They associate names of Python objects with free-form identifiers. So any other code using the same Python installation and knowing the identifier can access an object with the associated name, no matter where the object is defined. The associated names can be any names existing in a Python module; for example name of a class, function or variable. The entry point mechanism does not care what the name refers to, as long as it is importable.

As an example, let’s use (the name of) a function, and an imaginary python module with a fully-qualified name ‘myns.mypkg.mymodule’:

def the_function():
   "function whose name is 'the_function', in 'mymodule' module"
   print "hello from the_function"

Entry points are registered via an entry points declaration in setup.py. To register the_function under entrypoint called ‘my_ep_func’:

    entry_points = {
        'my_ep_group_id': [
            'my_ep_func = myns.mypkg.mymodule:the_function'
        ]
    },

As the example shows, entry points are grouped; there’s corresponding API to look up all entry points belonging to a group (example below).

Upon a package installation (ie. running ‘python setup.py install’), the above declaration is parsed by setuptools. It then writes the parsed information in special file. After that, the pkg_resources API (part of setuptools) can be used to look up the entry point and access the object(s) with the associated name(s):

import pkg_resources

named_objects = {}
for ep in pkg_resources.iter_entry_points(group='my_ep_group_id'):
   named_objects.update({ep.name: ep.load()})

Here, setuptools read the entry point information that was written in special files. It found the entry point, imported the module (myns.mypkg.mymodule), and retrieved the_function defined there, upon call to pkg_resources.load().

Calling the_function would then be simple:

>>> named_objects['my_ep_func']()
hello from the_function

Thus, while perhaps a bit difficult to grasp at first, the entry point mechanism is actually quite simple to use. It provides an useful tool for pluggable Python software development.

From abstract point of view, entry points are used to create a system-wide registry of Python callables that implement certain interfaces. There are APIs in pkg_resources to see which entry points are advertised by a given package as well as APIs to determine which packages advertise a certain entry point.

Entry points are useful for allowing one package do use plugins that are in another package. For instance, Ian Bicking’s Paste project uses entry points extensively. In this case, you can write a package that advertises its WSGI application factory using the entry point paste.app_factory.

Another use for entry points is enumerating all the packages on the system that provide some plugin functionality. The TurboGears web framework uses the python.templating.engines entry point to look up templating libraries that are installed and available.