Skip to content


Switch branches/tags

Name already in use

A tag already exists with the provided branch name. Many Git commands accept both tag and branch names, so creating this branch may cause unexpected behavior. Are you sure you want to create this branch?


Build Status Azure DevOps coverage status PyPI version

File identification library for Python.

Given a file (or some information about a file), return a set of standardized tags identifying what the file is.


pip install identify


With a file on disk

If you have an actual file on disk, you can get the most information possible (a superset of all other methods):

>>> from identify import identify
>>> identify.tags_from_path('/path/to/')
{'file', 'text', 'python', 'non-executable'}
>>> identify.tags_from_path('/path/to/file-with-shebang')
{'file', 'text', 'shell', 'bash', 'executable'}
>>> identify.tags_from_path('/bin/bash')
{'file', 'binary', 'executable'}
>>> identify.tags_from_path('/path/to/directory')
>>> identify.tags_from_path('/path/to/symlink')

When using a file on disk, the checks performed are:

  • File type (file, symlink, directory, socket)
  • Mode (is it executable?)
  • File name (mostly based on extension)
  • If executable, the shebang is read and the interpreter interpreted

If you only have the filename

>>> identify.tags_from_filename('')
{'text', 'python'}

If you only have the interpreter

>>> identify.tags_from_interpreter('python3.5')
{'python', 'python3'}
>>> identify.tags_from_interpreter('bash')
{'shell', 'bash'}
>>> identify.tags_from_interpreter('some-unrecognized-thing')

As a cli

$ identify-cli --help
usage: identify-cli [-h] [--filename-only] path

positional arguments:

optional arguments:
  -h, --help       show this help message and exit
$ identify-cli; echo $?
["file", "non-executable", "python", "text"]
$ identify-cli --filename-only; echo $?
["python", "text"]
$ identify-cli wat.wat; echo $?
wat.wat does not exist.
$ identify-cli wat.wat --filename-only; echo $?

Identifying LICENSE files

identify also has an api for determining what type of license is contained in a file. This routine is roughly based on the approaches used by licensee (the ruby gem that github uses to figure out the license for a repo).

The approach that identify uses is as follows:

  1. Strip the copyright line
  2. Normalize all whitespace
  3. Return any exact matches
  4. Return the closest by edit distance (where edit distance < 5%)

To use the api, install via pip install identify[license]

>>> from identify import identify
>>> identify.license_id('LICENSE')

The return value of the license_id function is an SPDX id. Currently licenses are sourced from

How it works

A call to tags_from_path does this:

  1. What is the type: file, symlink, directory? If it's not file, stop here.
  2. Is it executable? Add the appropriate tag.
  3. Do we recognize the file extension? If so, add the appropriate tags, stop here. These tags would include binary/text.
  4. Peek at the first X bytes of the file. Use these to determine whether it is binary or text, add the appropriate tag.
  5. If identified as text above, try to read and interpret the shebang, and add appropriate tags.

By design, this means we don't need to partially read files where we recognize the file extension.