Sunday, February 18, 2024

Python Monorepo Visualization

What's in a code repository? Usually you'll find the source code, some configuration and the deployment infrastructure - basically the things needed to develop & deploy something. It might be a service, an app or a library. A Monorepo contains the same things, but for more than one artifact. In there, you will find the code, configurations and infrastructure for several services, apps or libraries.

The main use case for a Monorepo is to share code and configuration between the artifacts (let's call them projects).

These things have to be simple

Sharing code can be difficult. Repos can be out of date. A Monorepo can be overwhelming. With or without a Monorepo, the most common way of sharing code is to package them as libraries that the projects can add as external dependencies. But managing different versions and keeping the projects up-to-date could lead to unexpected and unwanted extra work. Some Monorepos solve this by using symlinks to share code, or custom scripts for copying things into the individual projects during deployment.

Doing that can be messy, I've seen it myself. I was once part of a team that migrated away from a horrible Monorepo, into several smaller single-repo microservices. The tradeoffs: source code spread out in repos with an almost identical structure. Almost is the key here. Also, code and config duplications.

These tradeoffs have a negative impact on the Developer Experience.

The Polylith Architecture has a different take on organizing and sharing code, with a nice developer experience. These things have to be simple. Writing code should be fun. Polylith is Open Source, by the way.

The most basic type of visualization

In a Polylith workspace, the source code lives in two folders named bases and components. The entry points are put in the bases folder, all other code in the components folder. At first look, this might seem very different from a mainstream Python single-project structure. But it isn't really that different. Many Python projects are using a src layout, or have a root folder with the same name as the app itself. At the top, there's probably an entry point named something like or maybe In Polylith, that one would be put in the bases folder. The rest of the code would be placed in the components folder.


You are encouraged to keep the components folder simple, and rather put logically grouped modules (i.e. namespace packages) in separate components than nested structures. This will make code sharing more straightforward than having a folder structure with packages and sub-packages. It is also less risk of code duplication with this kind of structure, because the code isn't hidden in a complex folder structure. As a side effect, you will have a nice overview over the available features: the names of the folders will tell what they do and what's available for reuse. A folder view like this is surprisingly useful.

Visualize with the poly tool

Yes, looking at a folder structure is useful, but you would need to navigate the actual source code to figure out where it is used and which dependencies that are used in there. Along with the Polylith Architecture there is tooling support. For Python, you can use the tooling together with Poetry, Hatch, PDM or Rye.

The poly info command, an overview of code and projects in the Monorepo.

Besides providing commands for creating bases, components and projects there are useful visualization features. The most straightforward visualization is probably poly info. Here, you will get an overview of all the bricks (the logically grouped Python modules, living in the bases and components folders), the different projects in the Workspace and also in which projects the bricks are added.

Third-party libraries & usages

There's a command called poly libs that will display the third-party dependencies that are used in the Workspace (yes, that's what the contents of the Monorepo is called in Polylith). It will display libraries and the usages on a brick-level. In Polylith, a brick is the thing that you share across projects. Bricks are the building blocks of this architecture.

The poly libs command, displaying the third-party dependencies and where they are used.

The building blocks and how they depend on each other

A new thing in the Python tooling is the command called poly deps. It displays the bricks and how they depend on each other. You can choose to display an overview of the entire Workspace, or for an individual project. This kind of view can be helpful when reasoning about code and how to combine bricks into features. Or inspire a team to simplify things and refactor: should we extract code from this brick into a new one here maybe?

A closer look at the bricks used in a project with poly deps.

You can inspect a single brick to visualize the dependencies: where it is used, and what other bricks it uses.

A zoomed-in view, to inspect the usages of a specific brick.

Export the visualizations

The output from these commands is very easy to copy-and-paste into Documentation, a Pull Request or even Slack messages.

poly deps | pbcopy

📚 Docs, examples and videos

Have a look at the the Polylith documentation for more information about getting started. You will also find examples, articles and videos there for a quick start.

Top image made with AI (DALL-E) and manual additions by a Human (me)

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