File Handling in Pillow

When opening a file as an image, Pillow requires a filename, pathlib.Path object, or a file-like object. Pillow uses the filename or Path to open a file, so for the rest of this article, they will all be treated as a file-like object.

The first four of these items are equivalent, the last is dangerous and may fail:

from PIL import Image
import io
import pathlib

im ='test.jpg')

im2 ='test.jpg'))

f = open('test.jpg', 'rb')
im3 =

with open('test.jpg', 'rb') as f:
    im4 =

# Dangerous FAIL:
with open('test.jpg', 'rb') as f:
    im5 =
im5.load() # FAILS, closed file

If a filename or a path-like object is passed to Pillow, then the resulting file object opened by Pillow may also be closed by Pillow after the Image.Image.load() method is called, provided the associated image does not have multiple frames.

Pillow cannot in general close and reopen a file, so any access to that file needs to be prior to the close.


  • Using the file context manager to provide a file-like object to Pillow is dangerous unless the context of the image is limited to the context of the file.

Image Lifecycle

  • Filenames and Path objects are opened as a file. Metadata is read from the open file. The file is left open for further usage.

  • Image.Image.load() When the pixel data from the image is required, load() is called. The current frame is read into memory. The image can now be used independently of the underlying image file.

    If a filename or a Path object was passed to, then the file object was opened by Pillow and is considered to be used exclusively by Pillow. So if the image is a single-frame image, the file will be closed in this method after the frame is read. If the image is a multi-frame image, (e.g. multipage TIFF and animated GIF) the image file is left open so that can load the appropriate frame.

  • Image.Image.close() Closes the file and destroys the core image object. This is used in the Pillow context manager support. e.g.:

    with'test.jpg') as img:
       ...  # image operations here.

The lifecycle of a single-frame image is relatively simple. The file must remain open until the load() or close() function is called.

Multi-frame images are more complicated. The load() method is not a terminal method, so it should not close the underlying file. In general, Pillow does not know if there are going to be any requests for additional data until the caller has explicitly closed the image.


  • TiffImagePlugin has some code to pass the underlying file descriptor into libtiff (if working on an actual file). Since libtiff closes the file descriptor internally, it is duplicated prior to passing it into libtiff.

  • I don’t think that there’s any way to make this safe without changing the lazy loading:

    # Dangerous FAIL:
    with open('test.jpg', 'rb') as f:
        im5 =
    im5.load() # FAILS, closed file

Proposed File Handling

  • Image.Image.load() should close the image file, unless there are multiple frames.
  • should never close the image file.
  • Users of the library should call Image.Image.close() on any multi-frame image to ensure that the underlying file is closed.