Build Status Coverage


Figure out what implicit imports a Julia module is relying on, in order to make them explicit.


  • implicit import: a name x available in a module due to using XYZ for some package or module XYZ. This name has not been explicitly imported; rather, it is simply available since it is exported by XYZ.
  • explicit import: a name x available in a module due to using XYZ: x or import XYZ: x for some package or module XYZ.


Relying on implicit imports can be problematic, as Base or another package can start exporting that name as well, resulting in a clash. This is a tricky situation because adding a new feature to Base (or a package) and exporting it is not considered a breaking change to its API, but it can cause working code to stop working due to these clashes.

If you've even seen a warning like:

WARNING: both X and Y export "foo"; uses of it in module MyPackage must be qualified

Then this is the kind of clash at issue. When this occurs, the name foo won't point to either package's name, since it is ambiguous which one it should be. However, if the package code is relying on the name foo existing, then there's trouble.

One fix, as the warning suggests, is to qualify the use foo by writing e.g. X.foo or Y.foo. Another option is to explicitly import it, by writing using X: foo instead of just using X.

There are various takes on how problematic this issue is, to what extent this occurs in practice, and to what extent it is worth mitigating. See julia#42080 for some discussion on this.

Personally, I don't think this is always a huge issue, and that it's basically fine for packages to use implicit imports if that is their preferred style and they understand the risk. But I do think this issue is somewhat a "hole" in the semver system as it applies to Julia packages, and I wanted to create some tooling to make it easier to mitigate the issue for package authors who would prefer to not rely on implicit imports.

Implementation status

ExplicitImports.jl has been used successfully on several codebases, but I would still not describe it as fully mature. That said, it should be ready for use; please file issues if problems arise.

See the API docs for the available functionality, including:

  • functionality to help convert implicit imports to explicit exports
  • functionality to warn about "stale" (unused) explicit imports
  • functionality to add to package tests to ensure all imports continue to be explicit (and non-stale)


julia> using ExplicitImports

julia> print_explicit_imports(ExplicitImports)
WARNING: both JuliaSyntax and Base export "parse"; uses of it in module ExplicitImports must be qualified
Module ExplicitImports is relying on implicit imports for 7 names. These could be explicitly imported as follows:

using AbstractTrees: AbstractTrees, Leaves, TreeCursor, children, nodevalue
using JuliaSyntax: JuliaSyntax, @K_str

Note: the WARNING is more or less harmless; the way this package is written, it will happen any time there is a clash, even if that clash is not realized in your code. I cannot figure out how to suppress it.

You can also pass show_locations=true for more details:

julia> print_explicit_imports(ExplicitImports; show_locations=true)
Module ExplicitImports is relying on implicit imports for 6 names. These could be explicitly imported as follows:

using AbstractTrees: AbstractTrees # used at /Users/eph/ExplicitImports/src/parse_utilities.jl:51:10
using AbstractTrees: Leaves # used at /Users/eph/ExplicitImports/src/get_names_used.jl:225:17
using AbstractTrees: TreeCursor # used at /Users/eph/ExplicitImports/src/parse_utilities.jl:107:18
using AbstractTrees: children # used at /Users/eph/ExplicitImports/src/get_names_used.jl:161:26
using AbstractTrees: nodevalue # used at /Users/eph/ExplicitImports/src/parse_utilities.jl:96:34
using JuliaSyntax: JuliaSyntax # used at /Users/eph/ExplicitImports/src/parse_utilities.jl:103:15

Note the paths of course will differ depending on the location of the code on your system.

This can be handy for debugging; if you find that in fact ExplicitImports thinks a local variable is a global from another module, please file an issue and include the code snippet!


Some tricky scoping situations are not handled correctly

These can likely all be fixed by improving the code in src/get_names_used.jl, so they aren't inherent limitations of this approach, but since we are re-implementing Julia's scoping rules on top of the parse tree, for fully accurate results we need to handle each situation correctly, which takes a lot of work.

Known issues:

  • global and local keywords are currently ignored
  • multi-argument include calls are ignored
  • In Julia, include adds the included code at top-level in the module in which it is called. Here, when include is called within a local scope, all of the code being included is treated as being within that local scope.
  • quoted code (e.g. when building Julia expressions programmatically) may be analyzed incorrectly

The consequence of these issues is that ExplicitImports may misunderstand whether or not a particular name refers to a local variable or a global one, and thus whether or not some particular implicitly-available name (exported by some module) is in fact being used. This could cause it to suggest an unnecessary explicit import, fail to suggest an explicit import, or to falsely claim that an explicit import is stale.

Hopefully these situations are somewhat rare, because even if ExplicitExports misunderstands the scoping for one usage of a name, it may correctly parse the scoping of it in another usage in the same module, and could end up drawing the correct conclusion anyway.

Additionally, the testing-oriented functions check_no_implicit_imports and check_no_stale_explicit_imports have the ability to filter out problematic names or modules, to allow manual intervention in cases in which ExplicitImports gets it wrong.

Cannot recurse through dynamic include statements

These are include in which the argument is not a string literal. For example, the package MathOptInterface.jl currently includes the following code in it's Test module:

for file in readdir(@__DIR__)
    if startswith(file, "test_") && endswith(file, ".jl")

This is problematic for ExplicitImports.jl; unless we really use a full-blown interpreter (which I do think could be a viable strategy[1]), we can't really execute this code to know what files are being included. Thus being unable to traverse dynamic includes is essentially an inherent limitation of the approach used in this package.

The consequence of missing files is that the any names used or imports made in those files are totally missed. Even if we did take a strategy like "scan the package src directory for Julia code, and analyze all those files", without understanding includes, we wouldn't understand which files belong to which modules, making this analysis useless.

However, we do at least detect this situation, so we can know which modules are affected by the missing information, and (by default) refuse to make claims about them. For example, running print_explicit_imports on this module gives:

julia> print_explicit_imports(MathOptInterface.Test, pkgdir(MathOptInterface))
Module MathOptInterface.Test could not be accurately analyzed, likely due to dynamic `include` statements. You can pass `strict=false` to attempt to get (possibly inaccurate) results anyway.

Module MathOptInterface.Test._BaseTest could not be accurately analyzed, likely due to dynamic `include` statements. You can pass `strict=false` to attempt to get (possibly inaccurate) results anyway.

Note here we need to pass pkgdir(MathOptInterface) as the second argument, as pathof(MathOptInterface.Test) === nothing and we would get a FileNotFoundException.

If we do pass strict=false, in this case we get

julia> print_explicit_imports(MathOptInterface.Test, pkgdir(MathOptInterface); strict=false)
Module MathOptInterface.Test is not relying on any implicit imports.

Module MathOptInterface.Test._BaseTest is not relying on any implicit imports.

However, we can't really be sure there isn't a reliance on implicit imports present in the files that we weren't able to scan (or perhaps some stale explicit imports made in those files, or perhaps usages of names explicitly imported in the files we could scan, which would prove those explicit imports are in fact not stale).

Need to load the package/module

This implementation relies on Base.which to introspect which module any given name comes from, and therefore we need to load the module, not just inspect its source code. We can't solely use the source code because implicit imports are implicit – which is part of the criticism of them in the first place, that the source file alone does not tell you where the names come from.

In particular, this means it is hard to convert implicit imports to explicit as a formatting pass, for example.

Given a running language server, however, I think it should be possible to query that for the information needed.

Documentation Index

  • 1An alternate implementation using an AbstractInterpreter (like JET does) might solve this issue (at the cost of increased complexity), and possibly get some handling of tricky scoping situations "for free".