Source distribution format

The current standard format of source distribution format is identified by the presence of a pyproject.toml file in the distribution archive. The layout of such a distribution was originally specified in PEP 517 and is formally documented here.

There is also the legacy source distribution format, implicitly defined by the behaviour of distutils module in the standard library, when executing sdist. This document does not attempt to standardise this format, except to note that if a legacy source distribution contains a PKG-INFO file using metadata version 2.2 or later, then it MUST follow the rules applicable to source distributions defined in the metadata specification.

Source distributions are also known as sdists for short.

Source trees

A source tree is a collection of files and directories – like a version control system checkout – which contains a pyproject.toml file that can be use to build a source distribution from the contained files and directories. PEP 517 and PEP 518 specify what is required to meet the definition of what pyproject.toml must contain for something to be deemed a source tree.

Source distribution file name

The file name of a sdist was standardised in PEP 625. The file name must be in the form {name}-{version}.tar.gz, where {name} is normalised according to the same rules as for binary distributions (see Binary distribution format), and {version} is the canonicalized form of the project version (see Version specifiers).

The name and version components of the filename MUST match the values stored in the metadata contained in the file.

Code that produces a source distribution file MUST give the file a name that matches this specification. This includes the build_sdist hook of a build backend.

Code that processes source distribution files MAY recognise source distribution files by the .tar.gz suffix and the presence of precisely one hyphen in the filename. Code that does this may then use the distribution name and version from the filename without further verification.

Source distribution file format

A .tar.gz source distribution (sdist) contains a single top-level directory called {name}-{version} (e.g. foo-1.0), containing the source files of the package. The name and version MUST match the metadata stored in the file. This directory must also contain a pyproject.toml in the format defined in Declaring build system dependencies, and a PKG-INFO file containing metadata in the format described in the Core metadata specifications specification. The metadata MUST conform to at least version 2.2 of the metadata specification.

No other content of a sdist is required or defined. Build systems can store whatever information they need in the sdist to build the project.

The tarball should use the modern POSIX.1-2001 pax tar format, which specifies UTF-8 based file names. In particular, source distribution files must be readable using the standard library tarfile module with the open flag ‘r:gz’.

Source distribution archive features

Because extracting tar files as-is is dangerous, and the results are platform-specific, archive features of source distributions are limited.

Unpacking with the data filter

When extracting a source distribution, tools MUST either use tarfile.data_filter() (e.g. TarFile.extractall(..., filter='data')), OR follow the Unpacking without the data filter section below.

As an exception, on Python interpreters without hasattr(tarfile, 'data_filter') (PEP 706), tools that normally use that filter (directly on indirectly) MAY warn the user and ignore this specification. The trade-off between usability (e.g. fully trusting the archive) and security (e.g. refusing to unpack) is left up to the tool in this case.

Unpacking without the data filter

Tools that do not use the data filter directly (e.g. for backwards compatibility, allowing additional features, or not using Python) MUST follow this section. (At the time of this writing, the data filter also follows this section, but it may get out of sync in the future.)

The following files are invalid in an sdist archive. Upon encountering such an entry, tools SHOULD notify the user, MUST NOT unpack the entry, and MAY abort with a failure:

  • Files that would be placed outside the destination directory.

  • Links (symbolic or hard) pointing outside the destination directory.

  • Device files (including pipes).

The following are also invalid. Tools MAY treat them as above, but are NOT REQUIRED to do so:

  • Files with a .. component in the filename or link target.

  • Links pointing to a file that is not part of the archive.

Tools MAY unpack links (symbolic or hard) as regular files, using content from the archive.

When extracting sdist archives:

  • Leading slashes in file names MUST be dropped. (This is nowadays standard behaviour for tar unpacking.)

  • For each mode (Unix permission) bit, tools MUST either:

    • use the platform’s default for a new file/directory (respectively),

    • set the bit according to the archive, or

    • use the bit from rw-r--r-- (0o644) for non-executable files or rwxr-xr-x (0o755) for executable files and directories.

  • High mode bits (setuid, setgid, sticky) MUST be cleared.

  • It is RECOMMENDED to preserve the user executable bit.

Further hints

Tool authors are encouraged to consider how hints for further verification in tarfile documentation apply to their tool.


  • August 2023: Standardized the source distribution archive features (PEP 721)

  • September 2022: Standardized the filename of a source distribution (PEP 625)

  • July 2021: Defined what a source tree is

  • November 2020: PEP 643 converted to this specification

  • December 2000: Source distributions standardized in PEP 643