5 Best Ways to Read Text Files Using linecache in Python

Rate this post

πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: When dealing with large text files in Python, reading specific lines efficiently can be a challenge. For instance, you may need to retrieve the 10th line from a document of 1000 lines without loading the entire file into memory. This article explains how to utilize the linecache module for fast, memory-efficient access of specific lines from a text file, with example applications and expected outputs.

Method 1: Reading a Specific Line

The linecache module provides a way to get any line from any file, loading the file lazily and caching the contents. The linecache.getline() function is a go-to solution to quickly fetch a particular line from a file. This function takes the filename and line number to return the corresponding line as a string.

Here’s an example:

import linecache

line = linecache.getline('example.txt', 10)

Output: ‘This is line 10 from the file example.txt\n’

The above snippet demonstrates how to use linecache to obtain line 10 from ‘example.txt’. The module caches the file’s contents, making subsequent accesses faster. It is particularly efficient when reading several lines from the same file.

Method 2: Clearing the Cache

While linecache is effective, it stores file contents in a cache. To manage memory, especially when working with multiple large files, you can clear this cache using linecache.clearcache(). This can help prevent your program from holding onto file contents longer than necessary.

Here’s an example:

import linecache

# ...
# Code to read some lines
# ...


The ‘linecache.clearcache()’ call will clear the internal cache of the linecache module, freeing up memory. This is useful after you are done reading lines, as it prevents the Python program from using more memory than required.

Method 3: Handling Nonexistent Files

The linecache.getline() function will return an empty string if the file doesn’t exist or the requested line number is beyond the end of the file. This means you can use linecache without having to check for file existence or worry about file length beforehand.

Here’s an example:

import linecache

line = linecache.getline('nonexistent_file.txt', 10)

Output: ”

This is helpful when file availability is uncertain. The linecache gracefully handles these cases, allowing your code to run without crashing due to missing files or out-of-range line numbers.

Method 4: Reading Multiple Specific Lines

Combining linecache.getline() with list comprehension or loops enables you to obtain several specific lines from a file efficiently. This is ideal when you need to access multiple non-adjacent lines of a text file.

Here’s an example:

import linecache

lines_to_read = [3, 5, 10]
lines = [linecache.getline('example.txt', i) for i in lines_to_read]
for line in lines:


This is line 3 from the file example.txt
This is line 5 from the file example.txt
This is line 10 from the file example.txt

This approach maintains the advantages of caching while providing a convenient way to access multiple lines. The output shows the contents of lines 3, 5, and 10 from ‘example.txt’.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Reading All Lines Lazily

Though not a typical use case for linecache, you can technically use it to read all lines of a file one at a time in a lazy fashion. This can be achieved with a generator expression and Python’s built-in enumerate() function.

Here’s an example:

import linecache

all_lines = (linecache.getline('example.txt', i) for i in enumerate(open('example.txt')))
for line in all_lines:

The output will be all the lines from ‘example.txt’, each prefixed by its line number. This combines the benefits of lazy evaluation with the caching mechanism of linecache.


  • Method 1: Reading a Specific Line. Fast and efficient for accessing individual lines. Not suitable for reading a large number of lines consecutively.
  • Method 2: Clearing the Cache. Good for memory management. Essential after processing huge or numerous files. May slow down subsequent file access if needed again.
  • Method 3: Handling Nonexistent Files. Gracefully returns an empty string for nonexistent lines, avoiding potential errors. Not useful when file or line existence needs confirmation.
  • Method 4: Reading Multiple Specific Lines. Great for retrieving specific non-consecutive lines. Still efficient due to caching, but potentially less so than reading chunks of lines.
  • Method 5: Reading All Lines Lazily. A clever use for reading all lines one by one while caching. Not as straightforward as other methods for reading entire files.