Writing a list to a file with Python


Is this the cleanest way to write a list to a file, since writelines() doesn't insert newline characters?

file.writelines(["%s\n" % item  for item in list])

It seems like there would be a standard way...

1/16/2016 9:32:46 PM

Accepted Answer

You can use a loop:

with open('your_file.txt', 'w') as f:
    for item in my_list:
        f.write("%s\n" % item)

In Python 2, you can also use

with open('your_file.txt', 'w') as f:
    for item in my_list:
        print >> f, item

If you're keen on a single function call, at least remove the square brackets [], so that the strings to be printed get made one at a time (a genexp rather than a listcomp) -- no reason to take up all the memory required to materialize the whole list of strings.

5/14/2019 5:39:08 PM

The simpler way is:

with open("outfile", "w") as outfile:

You could ensure that all items in item list are strings using a generator expression:

with open("outfile", "w") as outfile:
    outfile.write("\n".join(str(item) for item in itemlist))

Remember that all itemlist list need to be in memory, so, take care about the memory consumption.


Using Python 3 and Python 2.6+ syntax:

with open(filepath, 'w') as file_handler:
    for item in the_list:

This is platform-independent. It also terminates the final line with a newline character, which is a UNIX best practice.

Starting with Python 3.6, "{}\n".format(item) can be replaced with an f-string: f"{item}\n".


Yet another way. Serialize to json using simplejson (included as json in python 2.6):

>>> import simplejson
>>> f = open('output.txt', 'w')
>>> simplejson.dump([1,2,3,4], f)
>>> f.close()

If you examine output.txt:

[1, 2, 3, 4]

This is useful because the syntax is pythonic, it's human readable, and it can be read by other programs in other languages.


I thought it would be interesting to explore the benefits of using a genexp, so here's my take.

The example in the question uses square brackets to create a temporary list, and so is equivalent to:

file.writelines( list( "%s\n" % item for item in list ) )

Which needlessly constructs a temporary list of all the lines that will be written out, this may consume significant amounts of memory depending on the size of your list and how verbose the output of str(item) is.

Drop the square brackets (equivalent to removing the wrapping list() call above) will instead pass a temporary generator to file.writelines():

file.writelines( "%s\n" % item for item in list )

This generator will create newline-terminated representation of your item objects on-demand (i.e. as they are written out). This is nice for a couple of reasons:

  • Memory overheads are small, even for very large lists
  • If str(item) is slow there's visible progress in the file as each item is processed

This avoids memory issues, such as:

In [1]: import os

In [2]: f = file(os.devnull, "w")

In [3]: %timeit f.writelines( "%s\n" % item for item in xrange(2**20) )
1 loops, best of 3: 385 ms per loop

In [4]: %timeit f.writelines( ["%s\n" % item for item in xrange(2**20)] )
ERROR: Internal Python error in the inspect module.
Below is the traceback from this internal error.

Traceback (most recent call last):

(I triggered this error by limiting Python's max. virtual memory to ~100MB with ulimit -v 102400).

Putting memory usage to one side, this method isn't actually any faster than the original:

In [4]: %timeit f.writelines( "%s\n" % item for item in xrange(2**20) )
1 loops, best of 3: 370 ms per loop

In [5]: %timeit f.writelines( ["%s\n" % item for item in xrange(2**20)] )
1 loops, best of 3: 360 ms per loop

(Python 2.6.2 on Linux)


Because i'm lazy....

import json
a = [1,2,3]
with open('test.txt', 'w') as f:

#Now read the file back into a Python list object
with open('test.txt', 'r') as f:
    a = json.loads(

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