Last Updated: Thursday 9th May 2013
This recipe is simply a recursive Python function example, using Python's os.listdir function. This is only an example of recursion in Python, however not the most effective method to traverse a directory in Python. The built-in Python function os.walk is the most "Pythonic" method. For a quick look at how to use os.walk, checkout this article for a quick os.walk example. If you are after a more in-depth look at os.walk, be sure to checkout the article Python's os.walk: An In-depth Guide

So. What's better than making a list of video files on your hard disc drive?

Let's make a list of all video files in a folder, and all other folders in it!

What is a Recursive Python Function?

Recursion is a concept in computer science. Essentially, it divides a problem into sub-problems. Recursion in Python generally relates to a specific function, method or object, which calls itself to break up these problems. For example, a factorial function would be as follows:

Note that the factorial function calls itself, to break down the factorial problem into sub-problems.

Recursive Python Function Overview

After writing the code, save the file with a .py extension, for example Then put the file in a directory where you've got your movie files (and other files, as well). The code in the script will recursively traverse (look in) all other folders within it, and check for video files. If you're using Windows and have Python IDLE installed, you can just double-click on the file and check the output. If you're on Linux or Mac, open a terminal and cd into the directory where your script is, then open the script typing ./ in your terminal (make sure the file is executable first).

Recursive Python Function: Let's Code!

Let's write the code of traversal within a function, which looks like:

The code is pretty much self-explanatory along with the comments. This recursive Python function takes one argument: the name of a directory to work on. Then it gets a list of all files and folders in this directory using the os.listdir method. We use a for loop to work on the list, check whether the file variable is a normal file or a directory using the os.path.isfile method. If it's a normal file, we get the extension of the file using: curfile[-3:] - we assume that last three characters of the filename is it's extension, so we've used a negative sign while slicing the curfile variable. For more information on slicing strings, checkout the article on cutting and slicing strings in Python.

If the filename is a directory other than a regular file, we recursively call the function itself to further process it.

Calling the Recursive Python Function

Now, we call this function within the __main__ scope:

Once again, the os.getcwd method helps us to get the current working directory (cwd), i.e. the directory where the script resides. It calls our just-written function and also has a counter, it counts how many video files it found. Finally, we print all information we have, and wait for a prompt from user to terminate the program using the input or raw_input method (Python changed the name of the raw_input method to input when going from Python 2 to Python 3).

  • helper

    just for sake of learning new things,
    there is a python function os.walk ( usage: os.walk(name of directory to traverse) ) which will give u names and paths of all files and subfolders recursively all by itself. so a sample usage is here as follows….


    for path, dirname, file_name in os.walk( name of directory to traverse ):

    for i in file_name:

    check = os.path.join(path, i)

    if os.path.isfile( check ):
    # ur code….

    • Jackson Cooper

      Hi there! Very late to reply, but I thought I’d point this out for other readers. This is simply an example of a recursive function in Python. You’re right, it’s not the best method to traverse (or “walk”) a directory in Python. I’ve added a note at the top pointing you to 2 articles on how to traverse a directory in the most efficient (and “Pythonic”) method.

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