Fixing the “Attempted Relative Import with No Known Parent Package” Error in Python

When building Python applications with multiple files and folders, you may encounter the error:

"Attempted relative import with no known parent package"

This import error occurs when you try to use a relative import in a Python file, but the parent package cannot be identified.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover:

  • What relative imports are in Python
  • When and why this error occurs
  • 4 ways to fix attempted relative imports
  • Tools for refactoring code and structure
  • Best practices for avoiding import issues

Learning how to properly use relative imports in Python is key for building modular, maintainable codebases as your application grows. Let’s dive in!


Understanding Relative Imports in Python

Relative imports allow importing modules and objects from other files within the same Python package.

For example, with a folder structure like:


Inside you can import using:

from .utils.helpers import helper_func

The “.” indicates look within the current package to find utils and import helper_func.

This is more maintainable than using absolute paths when refactoring code.

When the Relative Import Error Occurs

The “attempted relative import with no known parent package” happens when:

1. Using a relative import in a file:

from . import some_module

2. But this file is not part of a package structure:

project/ # ERROR!

Without the surrounding package providing context, Python can’t identify the parent to perform the relative import.

This often occurs when refactoring code into modules but neglecting package setup.

Let’s look at 4 ways to resolve this.

Solution 1: Convert to Absolute Imports

The simplest fix is to convert the relative imports to absolute ones using the full path:


# Relative import raises error
from . import some_module  

# Absolute import  
from project.utils import some_module 

This provides a fully qualified path rather than relying on a parent package.

However, it can result in brittle code if refactoring the structure further.

Solution 2: Define __package__

You can also explicitly set the expected package name yourself:


import os
__package__ = os.path.dirname(__file__)

from . import some_module

This gives enough context for Python to interpret the relative import.

But it also introduces redundancy and may require tweaks if the file location changes.

Solution 3: Refactor into a Package

The ideal fix is to refactor your code into a proper Python package structure:



Now with the parent package defined, Python can resolve the relative import:

from . import some_module 

This keeps things dynamic and doesn’t require absolute paths.

Solution 4: Use an Alias

You can also alias the parent module to provide top-level access:

import project.some_module as some_module

This avoids relative imports entirely for a quick fix.

But it introduces redundancy and may still require refactoring eventually for maintainability.

Automated Refactoring Tools

Tools like Rope and Black can help automate refactoring code into cleaner package structures.

Rope allows for structural changes:

rope --move project/ project/

While Black formats code:

black project/

Integrating these tools into your workflow saves manual refactoring time when dealing with import issues.

Best Practices to Avoid This Error

Follow these tips to avoid relative import issues:

  • Use absolute imports for one-off scripts
  • Define packages and files for multi-file projects
  • Refactor code into coherent packages when growing
  • Don’t overuse relative imports, scope them when needed
  • Use tools like Rope and Black to automate refactoring
  • Review changes that modify project structure or paths

Carefully structuring code avoids confusing import errors as projects scale.


Relative imports in Python offer convenient access between files of the same package. However, attempting them without a known parent will result in a confusing error.

Converting imports to absolute paths, defining parent packages explicitly, or refactoring into proper package structures resolves the issue.

Using relative imports judiciously and structuring codebases thoughtfully prevents import woes. Now you’re equipped to fix those tricky relative import issues when they arise!

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