Tutorial: Extensions (Xontribs)

Take a deep breath and prepare for some serious Show & Tell; it’s time to learn about xonsh extensions!


Xontributions, or xontribs, are a set of tools and conventions for extending the functionality of xonsh beyond what is provided by default. This allows 3rd party developers and users to improve their xonsh experience without having to go through the xonsh development and release cycle.

Many tools and libraries have extension capabilities. Here are some that we took inspiration from for xonsh:

  • Sphinx: Extensions are just Python modules, bundles some extensions with the main package, interface is a list of string names.
  • Oh My Zsh: Centralized registry, autoloading, and for a shell.
  • ESLint: Ability to use language package manager to install/remove extensions.


Xontribs are modules written in either xonsh (*.xsh) or Python (*.py). Normally, these are stored and found in an implicit namespace package called xontrib. However, xontribs may be placed in any package or directory that is on the $PYTHONPATH.

If a module is in the xontrib namespace package, it can be referred to just by its module name. If a module is in any other package, then it must be referred to by its full package path, separated by . like you would in an import statement. Of course, a module in xontrib may be referred to with the full xontrib.myext. But just calling it myext is a lot shorter and one of the main advantages of placing an extension in the xontrib namespace package.

Here is a sample file system layout and what the xontrib names would be:

|- xontrib/
   |- javert.xsh     # "javert", because in xontrib
   |- your.py        # "your",
   |- eyes/
      |- __init__.py
      |- scream.xsh  # "eyes.scream", because eyes is in xontrib
|- mypkg/
   |- __init__.py    # a regular package with an init file
   |- other.py       # not a xontrib
   |- show.py        # "mypkg.show", full module name
   |- tell.xsh       # "mypkg.tell", full module name
   |- subpkg/
      |- __init__.py
      |- done.py     # "mypkg.subpkg.done", full module name

You can also use cookiecutter with the xontrib template to easily create the layout for your xontrib package.

Loading Xontribs

Xontribs may be loaded in a few different ways: from the config file, dynamically at runtime with the xontrib command, or by importing the module normally. Since these extensions are just Python modules, by default, they cannot be unloaded (easily).


When a xontrib is loaded from a config file or via the xontrib command, its public variables are placed in the current execution context unless __all__ is defined, just like in regular Python modules.

Loading xontribs in the config file is as simple as adding a list of string xontrib names to the top-level "xontribs" key. For example, the following would load the "mpl" and "example" xontribs.

{"xontribs": ["mpl", "example"]}

Extensions may also be loaded via the xontrib command, which is a xonsh default alias. This command may be run from anywhere in a xonshrc file or at any point after xonsh has started up. Loading is the default action of the xontrib command. Thus the following methods for loading via this command are equivalent:

xontrib myext mpl mypkg.show
xontrib load myext mpl mypkg.show

Loading the same xontrib multiple times does not have any effect after the first. Xontribs are simply Python modules, and therefore follow the same caching rules. So by the same token, you can also import them normally. Of course, you have to use the full module name to import a xontrib:

import xontrib.mpl
from xontrib import myext
from mypkg.show import *

Listing Known Xontribs

In addition to loading extensions, the xontrib command also allows you to list the known xontribs. This command will report whether known xontribs are installed and if they are loaded in the current session. To display this information, pass the list action to the xontrib command:

>>> xontrib list
mpl     installed      not-loaded
myext   not-installed  not-loaded

By default, this will display information for all known xontribs. However, you can restrict this to a set of names passed in on the command line.

>>> xontrib list mpl
mpl     installed      not-loaded

For programmatic access, you may also have this command print a JSON formatted string:

>>> xontrib list --json mpl
{"mpl": {"loaded": false, "installed": true}}

Authoring Xontribs

Writing a xontrib is as easy as writing a xonsh or Python file and sticking it in a directory named xontrib/. However, please do not place an __init__.py in the xontrib/ directory. It is an implicit namespace package and should not have one. See PEP 420 for more details.


Do not place an __init__.py in the xontrib/ directory!

If you plan on using *.xsh files in you xontrib, then you’ll have to add some hooks to distutils, setuptools, pip, etc. to install these files. Try adding entries like the following entries to your setup() call in your setup.py:

    from setuptools import setup
except ImportError:
    from distutils.core import setup

      packages=[..., 'xontrib'],
      package_dir={..., 'xontrib': 'xontrib'},
      package_data={..., 'xontrib': ['*.xsh']},

Something similar can be done for any non-xontrib package or sub-package that needs to distribute *.xsh files.

Tell Us About Your Xontrib!

We request that you register your xontrib with us. We think that this is a good idea, in general, because then:

  • Your xontrib will show up as an extension the xonsh website,
  • It will appear in the xontrib list command, and
  • It will show up in xonfig wizard.

All of this let’s users know that your xontrib is out there, ready to be used. Of course, your under no obligation to register your xontrib. Users will still be able to load your xontrib, as long as they have it installed.

To register a xontrib, add an entry to the xontribs.json file in the main xonsh repository. A pull request is probably best, but if you are having trouble figuring it out please contact one of the xonsh devs with the relevant information. This is a JSON file with two top-level keys: "xontribs" and "packages".

The "xontribs" key is a list of dictionaries that describes the xontrib module itself. Such entries have the following structure:

{"xontribs": [
 {"name": "xontrib-name",
  "package": "package-name",
  "url": "http://example.com/api/xontrib",
  "description": ["Textual description as string or list or strings ",
                  "enabling long content to be split over many lines."]

The "packages" key, on the other hand, is a dict mapping package names (associated with the xontrib entries) to metadata about the package. Package entries have the following structure:

{"packages": {
  "package-name": {
   "license": "WTFPL v1.1",
   "url": "http://example",
   "install": {
    "conda": "conda install package-name",
    "pip": "pip install package-name"}

Note that you can have as many entries in the "install" dict as you want. Also, the keys are arbitrary labels, so feel free to pick whatever you want.

Go forth!