In Python, context managers are a powerful tool for managing resources such as files, sockets, and locks. While Python provides built-in context managers such as with open() as f: for working with files, you can also define your own context managers using the contextlib module. In this post, I’ll explore how to define your own context managers in Python.

Table of Contents

What are Context Managers?

A context manager is simply a Python object that defines two methods: __enter__ and __exit__. The __enter__ method is called when a block of code is entered, and the __exit__ method is called when the block of code is exited. The purpose of a context manager is to provide a clean and safe way to manage resources that need to be acquired and released.

For example, let’s say you want to open a file and read its contents. Normally, you would open the file using the open() function, read its contents, and then close the file using the close() method. However, if an exception occurs while you’re reading the file, the close() method may not be called, leaving the file open and potentially causing problems. Using a context manager, you can ensure that the file is always closed, even if an exception occurs.

How to Use Context Managers

Using the with Statement

The most common way to use a context manager is by using the with statement. The with statement enables us to use context managers. The general format is:

with context_manager as target:

This will call __enter__() on context_manager, binding the result to target. The with_block is then executed. Finally, __exit__() is called on context_manager.

Example: File I/O

A common example is opening a file. We can do:

with open('file.txt', 'r') as f:
    content =
# f is automatically closed here    

In this example, the open() function returns a file object that acts as a context manager.

  • When the with statement is executed, the __enter__ method is called, which opens the file.
  • Then, the code inside the with block is executed, which reads the file contents into the content variable. Finally, the __exit__ method is called, which closes the file.
  • If an exception occurs inside the with block, the __exit__ method is still called, ensuring that the file is closed.

This is much cleaner than:

f = open('file.txt')
    read_data = 

Other Use Cases

Except managing file resources, other examples of context managers include:

  • locking resources,
  • managing socket resources,
  • timing code blocks,
  • temporarily modifying environment variables,
  • connecting database,
  • managing thread resources,
  • managing resources that require initialization and cleanup, such as hardware devices,third-party libraries, and more.

Context managers provide a simple way to setup and teardown resources precisely and robustly, which can be used with a wide range of resources to improve the reliability and maintainability of your code.

How to Implement Context Managers in Python

Defining context manager as a class

A context manager is any object that implements the context manager protocol by defining __enter__() and __exit__() methods. The __enter__() method is called when entering the context, and should return an object bound to the target of the as clause in the with statement. The __exit__() method is called when leaving the context, and handles any exception that occurred in the block.

The most common way to define a context manager in Python is by defining a class with __enter__ and __exit__ methods. Here’s an example:

class MyContextManager:
    def __init__(self):
        # Constructor code here

    def __enter__(self):
        # Enter code here
        return self

    def __exit__(self, exc_type, exc_value, traceback):
        # Exit code here

# Usage
with MyContextManager() as cm:
    # Code to use context manager here

In this example, we define a class called MyContextManager with __enter__ and __exit__ methods.

  • The __init__ method is optional and can be used to initialize the context manager.
  • The __enter__ method is called when the with statement is executed, and should return the context manager object.
  • The __exit__ method is called when the with block is exited, and should clean up any resources that were acquired by the context manager.

Example: Timer

For example, here’s a context manager that times a block of code:

class Timer:
    def __enter__(self):
        self.start = time.time()

    def __exit__(self, exc_type, exc_val, exc_tb):
        print(time.time() - self.start)

You can use this context manager like this:

with Timer() as timer:
    do_something()  # Runs for 1 second
# Prints 1.0

Example: Suppress Exceptions

Here is another simple example to define context manager as a class. The __exit__() method handles exceptions raised in the block. We can choose to suppress exceptions by returning True, or re-raise them by returning False or any other non-True value. For example:

class SuppressException:
    def __exit__(self, exc_type, exc_val, exc_tb):
        print('Suppressing exception!')
        return True
with SuppressException():
    raise ValueError('Error!')  # Exception raised but suppressed! 

Example: Managing database connection using context manager

Here’s an example of implementing a context manager to connect to a database using a class:

import mysql.connector

class DBConnection:
    def __init__(self, user, password, host, database):
        self.user = user
        self.password = password = host
        self.database = database

    def __enter__(self):
        self.conn = mysql.connector.connect(user=self.user, password=self.password, 
                                 , database=self.database)
        self.cursor = self.conn.cursor()
        return self.cursor

    def __exit__(self, exc_type, exc_val, exc_tb):

# Usage: 
with DBConnection(user='john', password='pwd', host='localhost', database='mydb') as cursor:
    cursor.execute('SELECT * FROM employees')
    for row in cursor:

This context manager, DBConnection, handles connecting to a MySQL database, creating a cursor, and then committing changes, closing the cursor and connection upon exiting the with block.

We can use it as a context manager by instantiating the class and using it in a with statement. The __enter__ method returns the database cursor, allowing us to use it to query the database. Then __exit__ handles committing changes and properly closing connections even if an exception occurs.

Without a context manager, we’d have to do this logic explicitly:

conn = mysql.connector.connect(user=user, password=password, host=host, database=database) 
cursor = conn.cursor()

    cursor.execute('SELECT * FROM employees')
    # ... 
except Exception:

Defining a Context Manager Function

In addition to defining a context manager class, we can decorate a generator function to turn it into a context manager with the @contextmanager decorator from contextlib, which is a module provides utilities for common tasks involving the with statement.

from contextlib import contextmanager

def my_context_manager():
    # Enter code here
        # Exit code here

# Usage
with my_context_manager():
    # Code to use context manager here

In this example, we define a context manager function called my_context_manager using the @contextmanager decorator.

  • The @contextmanager decorator “magically” turns the generator function into a context manager by handling the entry and exit in accordance with the context manager protocol.
  • Inside the function, we define the code to execute when the with block is entered, and use the yield statement to indicate where the code inside the with block should be executed.
  • Finally, we define the code to execute when the with block is exited inside a finally block.

Example: Managing threads using context manager

Below is an example of defining a context manager to manage threads using a generator function and @contextmanager:

from contextlib import contextmanager
import threading

def thread_manager():
    thread = threading.current_thread()
        yield thread
        del thread

We define a context manager using the @contextmanager decorator. The thread_manager function is a generator that yields the current thread object using the threading.current_thread() method. When the with block is exited, the finally block is executed to delete the thread object.

To use this context manager, we can wrap our thread operations in a with block:

def print_thread_name():
    with thread_manager() as thread:
        print(f"Thread ID: {thread.ident}, Name: {}")

thread1 = threading.Thread(target=print_thread_name, name="Thread 1")
thread2 = threading.Thread(target=print_thread_name, name="Thread 2")


  • We define a function print_thread_name that prints the ID and name of the current thread.
  • Within the function, we use the with block to create a context using the thread_manager context manager. We then start two threads thread1 and thread2 that call the print_thread_name function.
  • When the threads are joined, the context is exited and the thread objects are deleted.

When we run this code, we should see output similar to the following:

Thread ID: 123145380864000, Name: Thread 1
Thread ID: 123145380864000, Name: Thread 2

In this output, we can see that both threads have the same ID and are using the names “Thread 1” and “Thread 2” respectively. This demonstrates that the context manager is successfully managing the threads.

Example: Managing threads using context manager 2

from contextlib import contextmanager
import threading

def thread_manager():
    thread = threading.Thread(target=do_something)


def do_something():
    print('Doing something')

# Usage:
with thread_manager():
    print('Doing other things')

This context manager starts a new thread that runs the do_something() function. Then, it yields control to the body of the with statement. Finally, after exiting the with block, it joins the thread to wait for it to complete.

So the full logic looks like this:

  1. Start a new thread to run do_something()
  2. Yield control to the with block
  3. Run logic in the with block
  4. Upon exiting with block, join the thread
  5. Thread completes

Without the context manager, we’d have to remember to properly join the thread to avoid issues:

thread = threading.Thread(target=do_something)

# Do other things...
# Make sure to join the thread! 

If we forgot to join the thread, it would continue running in the background even after our main program exits. So the context manager encapsulates this logic to ensure the thread is always properly cleaned up. Even if an exception occurs in the with block, the thread will still be joined.


Context managers are a great way to ensure setup/teardown logic is executed correctly, especially in more complex cases. For something as potentially tricky as thread management, a context manager helps make the usage very clean while handling edge cases behind the scenes.