Why warnings is mysterious

Saturday 27 October 2018

I recently went through a process I’ve done many times before: I tried to configure the Python warnings module, and was mystified. I set the PYTHONWARNINGS environment variable, and it doesn’t do what it seems like it should. I read the docs again, I think I understand what they are telling me, but the code isn’t doing what it seems like it should be doing. Frustrating.

I had some time today to dig into it, and now I understand better. The docs are misleading and/or incomplete. The module is not designed for maximum utility. Let me explain.

Here’s what the docs tell you: PYTHONWARNINGS (or the -W command-line option) is a comma-separated list of filters. Each filter is a 5-tuple of fields separated by colons. The third and fourth fields are of interest here, they are category and module.

Let’s start with module: it’s the module that caused the warning. The docs say it is a regular expression. This is false! Internally, this string is used as part of a regex match operation, but first it is escaped, so if you include an asterisk in your setting, you will be trying to match module names that have a literal asterisk in them, which is impossible.

OK, so the module string is a literal string, not a regex, but the escaped string is being used as part of re.match, so it should be possible to suppress warnings from an entire package (like backports.*) just by specifying “backports”, right? Nope! After being escaped, a $ is added to the end, so your literal string must be an exact match on the entire module name. Sigh.

Just to add to the confusion, the docs have long included this example, which isn’t even a sensible regex, never mind that regexes aren’t usable here:

error:::mymodule[.*]    # Convert warnings to errors in "mymodule"
                        # and any subpackages of "mymodule"

These concerns about the regex behavior are the topic of bpo 34624, BTW.

On to category: this is actually the class of warning exception being used, so you can say (for example) DeprecationWarning here. In my case, I wanted to suppress the deprecation warnings that pytest raises. Pytest helpfully uses a base class, pytest.PytestDeprecationWarning, so I used that as the category. But this causes an error message at startup:

Invalid -W option ignored: invalid module name: ‘pytest’

Huh? pytest is an importable module! Nope: these category names are imported early in the startup sequence, before your real sys.path is built, so you cannot name third-party modules here...!

There are probably other things about warnings that confuse people. These are the ones I uncovered today after a long rage-fueled debugging session. An important developer skill is an irrational belief that things can be understood, and be made to make sense. Another is knowing when to give up and just accept the confusion. This morning I fully embraced the first.

In my case, I was trying to suppress warnings reported while running tests with pytest. Pytest has its own setting for warnings filters, and it uses its own copy of the warnings.py code for reading them, so that the regexes are not escaped! This is very useful, but could also add to the mystery, since the pytest docs don’t mention the difference.

And since pytest interprets its settings after sys.path has been configured, I can use third-party warning categories there. So this works perfectly:

filterwarnings =

It’s very satisfying to have some mysteries solved.


> This is very useful, but could also add to the mystery, since the pytest docs don’t mention the difference.

This has been fixed. :)

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