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In computing, a namespace is a set of signs (names) that are used to identify and refer to objects of various kinds. A namespace ensures that all of a given set of objects have unique names so that they can be easily identified.

Namespaces are commonly structured as hierarchies to allow reuse of names in different contexts. As an analogy, consider a system of naming of people where each person has a given name, as well as a family name shared with their relatives. If the first names of family members are unique only within each family, then each person can be uniquely identified by the combination of first name and family name; there is only one Jane Doe, though there may be many Janes. Within the namespace of the Doe family, just "Jane" suffices to unambiguously designate this person, while within the "global" namespace of all people, the full name must be used.

Prominent examples for namespaces include file systems, which assign names to files.[1] Some programming languages organize their variables and subroutines in namespaces.[2][3][4] Computer networks and distributed systems assign names to resources, such as computers, printers, websites, and remote files. Operating systems can partition kernel resources by isolated namespaces to support virtualization containers.

Similarly, hierarchical file systems organize files in directories. Each directory is a separate namespace, so that the directories "letters" and "invoices" may both contain a file "to_jane".

In computer programming, namespaces are typically employed for the purpose of grouping symbols and identifiers around a particular functionality and to avoid name collisions between multiple identifiers that share the same name.

In networking, the Domain Name System organizes websites (and other resources) into hierarchical namespaces.

Name conflicts[edit]

Element names are defined by the developer. This often results in a conflict when trying to mix XML documents from different XML applications.

This XML carries HTML table information:


This XML carries information about a table (i.e. a piece of furniture):

    <name>Mahogany Coffee Table</name>

If these XML fragments were added together, there would be a name conflict. Both contain a <table>...</table> element, but the elements have different content and meaning.

An XML parser will not know how to handle these differences.

Solution via prefix[edit]

Name conflicts in XML can easily be avoided using a name prefix.

The following XML distinguishes between information about the HTML table and furniture by prefixing "h" and "f" at the beginning of the elements.


    <f:name>Mahogany Coffee Table</f:name>

Naming system[edit]

A name in a namespace consists of a namespace name and a local name.[5][6] The namespace name is usually applied as a prefix to the local name.

In augmented Backus–Naur form:

name = <namespace name> separator <local name>

When local names are used by themselves, name resolution is used to decide which (if any) particular name is alluded to by some particular local name.


Examples of names in a namespace
Context Name Namespace name Local name
Path /home/user/readme.txt /home/user (directory) readme.txt (file name)
Domain name (domain name) www (leaf domain name)
C++ std::array std (C++ namespace) array (struct)
UN/LOCODE US NYC US (country or territory) NYC (locality)
XML xmlns:xhtml=""
xhtml (previously declared XML namespace xhtml="") body (element)
Perl $DBI::errstr $DBI (Perl module) errstr (variable)
Java java.util.Date java.util (Java namespace) Date (class)
Uniform Resource Name (URN) urn:nbn:fi-fe19991055 urn:nbn (National Bibliography Numbers) fi-fe19991055
Handle System 10.1000/182 10 (handle naming authority) 1000/182 (handle local name)
Digital object identifier 10.1000/182 10.1000 (publisher) 182 (publication)
MAC address 01-23-45-67-89-ab 01-23-45 (organizationally unique identifier) 67-89-ab (NIC specific)
PCI ID 1234 abcd 1234 (vendor ID) abcd (device ID)
USB VID/PID 2341 003f[7] 2341 (vendor ID) 003f (product ID)
SPARQL dbr:Sydney dbr (previously declared ontology, e.g. by specifying @prefix dbr: <>) Sydney


Delegation of responsibilities between parties is important in real-world applications, such as the structure of the World Wide Web. Namespaces allow delegation of identifier assignment to multiple name issuing organisations whilst retaining global uniqueness.[8] A central Registration authority registers the assigned namespace names allocated. Each namespace name is allocated to an organisation which is subsequently responsible for the assignment of names in their allocated namespace. This organisation may be a name issuing organisation that assign the names themselves, or another Registration authority which further delegates parts of their namespace to different organisations.


A naming scheme that allows subdelegation of namespaces to third parties is a hierarchical namespace.

A hierarchy is recursive if the syntax for the namespace names is the same for each subdelegation. An example of a recursive hierarchy is the Domain name system.

An example of a non-recursive hierarchy are Uniform Resource Name representing an Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) number.

Hierarchical namespace breakdown for urn:isbn:978-3-16-148410-0, an identifier for the book The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper, 10th edition.
Registry Registrar Example Identifier Namespace name Namespace
Uniform Resource Name (URN) Internet Assigned Numbers Authority urn:isbn:978-3-16-148410-0 urn Formal URN namespace
Formal URN namespace Internet Assigned Numbers Authority urn:isbn:978-3-16-148410-0 ISBN International Standard Book Numbers as Uniform Resource Names
International Article Number (EAN) GS1 978-3-16-148410-0 978 Bookland
International Standard Book Number (ISBN) International ISBN Agency 3-16-148410-X 3 German-speaking countries
German publisher code Agentur für Buchmarktstandards 3-16-148410-X 16 Mohr Siebeck

Namespace versus scope[edit]

A namespace name may provide context (scope in computer science) to a name, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, the context of a name may also be provided by other factors, such as the location where it occurs or the syntax of the name.

Examples of naming systems with local and global scope, and with and without namespaces
Without a namespace With a namespace
Local scope Vehicle registration plate Filesystem Hierarchy Standard
Global scope Universally unique identifier Domain Name System

In programming languages[edit]

For many programming languages, namespace is a context for their identifiers. In an operating system, an example of namespace is a directory. Each name in a directory uniquely identifies one file or subdirectory.[9]

As a rule, names in a namespace cannot have more than one meaning; that is, different meanings cannot share the same name in the same namespace. A namespace is also called a context, because the same name in different namespaces can have different meanings, each one appropriate for its namespace.

Following are other characteristics of namespaces:

As well as its abstract language technical usage as described above, some languages have a specific keyword used for explicit namespace control, amongst other uses. Below is an example of a namespace in C++:

#include <iostream>

// This is how one brings a name into the current scope.  In this case, it's
// bringing them into global scope.
using std::cout;
using std::endl;

namespace box1 {
    int box_side = 4;

namespace box2 {
    int box_side = 12;

int main() {
    int box_side = 42;
    cout << box1::box_side << endl;  // Outputs 4.
    cout << box2::box_side << endl;  // Outputs 12.
    cout << box_side << endl;  // Outputs 42.

Computer-science considerations[edit]

A namespace in computer science (sometimes also called a name scope) is an abstract container or environment created to hold a logical grouping of unique identifiers or symbols (i.e. names). An identifier defined in a namespace is associated only with that namespace. The same identifier can be independently defined in multiple namespaces. That is, an identifier defined in one namespace may or may not have the same meaning as the same identifier defined in another namespace. Languages that support namespaces specify the rules that determine to which namespace an identifier (not its definition) belongs.[10]

This concept can be illustrated with an analogy. Imagine that two companies, X and Y, each assign ID numbers to their employees. X should not have two employees with the same ID number, and likewise for Y; but it is not a problem for the same ID number to be used at both companies. For example, if Bill works for company X and Jane works for company Y, then it is not a problem for each of them to be employee #123. In this analogy, the ID number is the identifier, and the company serves as the namespace. It does not cause problems for the same identifier to identify a different person in each namespace.

In large computer programs or documents it is common to have hundreds or thousands of identifiers. Namespaces (or a similar technique, see Emulating namespaces) provide a mechanism for hiding local identifiers. They provide a means of grouping logically related identifiers into corresponding namespaces, thereby making the system more modular.

Data storage devices and many modern programming languages support namespaces. Storage devices use directories (or folders) as namespaces. This allows two files with the same name to be stored on the device so long as they are stored in different directories. In some programming languages (e.g. C++, Python), the identifiers naming namespaces are themselves associated with an enclosing namespace. Thus, in these languages namespaces can nest, forming a namespace tree. At the root of this tree is the unnamed global namespace.

Use in common languages[edit]


It is possible to use anonymous structs as namespaces in C since C99.

// helper.c
static int _add(int a, int b) {
    return a + b;

const struct {
    double pi;
    int (*add) (int, int);
} helper = { 3.14, _add };

// helper.h
const struct {
    double pi;
    int (*add) (int, int);
} helper;

// main.c
#include <stdio.h>
#include "helper.h"

int main(){
    printf("3 + 2 = %d\n", helper.add(3, 2));
    printf("pi is %f\n", helper.pi);

In C++, a namespace is defined with a namespace block.[11]

namespace abc {
    int bar;

Within this block, identifiers can be used exactly as they are declared. Outside of this block, the namespace specifier must be prefixed. For example, outside of namespace abc, bar must be written abc::bar to be accessed. C++ includes another construct that makes this verbosity unnecessary. By adding the line

using namespace abc;

to a piece of code, the prefix abc:: is no longer needed.

Identifiers that are not explicitly declared within a namespace are considered to be in the global namespace.

int foo;

These identifiers can be used exactly as they are declared, or, since the global namespace is unnamed, the namespace specifier :: can be prefixed. For example, foo can also be written ::foo.

Namespace resolution in C++ is hierarchical. This means that within the hypothetical namespace food::soup, the identifier chicken refers to food::soup::chicken. If food::soup::chicken doesn't exist, it then refers to food::chicken. If neither food::soup::chicken nor food::chicken exist, chicken refers to ::chicken, an identifier in the global namespace.

Namespaces in C++ are most often used to avoid naming collisions. Although namespaces are used extensively in recent C++ code, most older code does not use this facility because it did not exist in early versions of the language. For example, the entire C++ Standard Library is defined within namespace std, but before standardization many components were originally in the global namespace. A programmer can insert the using directive to bypass namespace resolution requirements and obtain backwards compatibility with older code that expects all identifiers to be in the global namespace. However the use of the using directive for reasons other than backwards compatibility (e.g., convenience) is considered to be against good code practices.


In Java, the idea of a namespace is embodied in Java packages. All code belongs to a package, although that package need not be explicitly named. Code from other packages is accessed by prefixing the package name before the appropriate identifier, for example class String in package java.lang can be referred to as java.lang.String (this is known as the fully qualified class name). Like C++, Java offers a construct that makes it unnecessary to type the package name (import). However, certain features (such as reflection) require the programmer to use the fully qualified name.

Unlike C++, namespaces in Java are not hierarchical as far as the syntax of the language is concerned. However, packages are named in a hierarchical manner. For example, all packages beginning with java are a part of the Java platform—the package java.lang contains classes core to the language, and java.lang.reflect contains core classes specifically relating to reflection.

In Java (and Ada, C#, and others), namespaces/packages express semantic categories of code. For example, in C#, namespace System contains code provided by the system (the .NET Framework). How specific these categories are and how deep the hierarchies go differ from language to language.

Function and class scopes can be viewed as implicit namespaces that are inextricably linked with visibility, accessibility, and object lifetime.


Namespaces are heavily used in C# language. All .NET Framework classes are organized in namespaces, to be used more clearly and to avoid chaos. Furthermore, custom namespaces are extensively used by programmers, both to organize their work and to avoid naming collisions. When referencing a class, one should specify either its fully qualified name, which means namespace followed by the class name,

System.Console.WriteLine("Hello World!");
int i = System.Convert.ToInt32("123");

or add a using statement. This, eliminates the need to mention the complete name of all classes in that namespace.

using System;

Console.WriteLine("Hello World!");
int i = Convert.ToInt32("123");

In the above examples, System is a namespace, and Console and Convert are classes defined within System.

UML diagram with a Console and a Convert class.


In Python, namespaces are defined by the individual modules, and since modules can be contained in hierarchical packages, then namespaces are hierarchical too.[12][13] In general when a module is imported then the names defined in the module are defined via that module's namespace, and are accessed in from the calling modules by using the fully qualified name.

# assume modulea defines two functions : func1() and func2() and one class : Class1
import Modulea

a = Modulea.Class1()

The from ... import ... statement can be used to insert the relevant names directly into the calling module's namespace, and those names can be accessed from the calling module without the qualified name:

# assume Modulea defines two functions : func1() and func2() and one class : Class1
from Modulea import func1

func2() # this will fail as an undefined name, as will the full name Modulea.func2()
a = Class1() # this will fail as an undefined name, as will the full name Modulea.Class1()

Since this directly imports names (without qualification) it can overwrite existing names with no warnings.

A special form of the statement is from ... import * which imports all names defined in the named package directly in the calling module's namespace. Use of this form of import, although supported within the language, is generally discouraged as it pollutes the namespace of the calling module and will cause already defined names to be overwritten in the case of name clashes.[14]

Python also supports import x as y as a way of providing an alias or alternative name for use by the calling module:

import numpy as np

a = np.arange(1000)
XML namespace[edit]

In XML, the XML namespace specification enables the names of elements and attributes in an XML document to be unique, similar to the role of namespaces in programming languages. Using XML namespaces, XML documents may contain element or attribute names from more than one XML vocabulary.


Namespaces were introduced into PHP from version 5.3 onwards. Naming collision of classes, functions and variables can be avoided. In PHP, a namespace is defined with a namespace block.

# File phpstar/foobar.php

namespace phpstar;

class FooBar
    public function foo(): void
        echo 'Hello world, from function foo';

    public function bar(): void
        echo 'Hello world, from function bar';

We can reference a PHP namespace with the following different ways:

# File index.php

# Include the file
include "phpstar/foobar.php";

# Option 1: directly prefix the class name with the namespace
$obj_foobar = new \phpstar\FooBar();

# Option 2: import the namespace
use phpstar\FooBar;
$obj_foobar = new FooBar();

# Option 2a: import & alias the namespace
use phpstar\FooBar as FB;
$obj_foobar = new FB();

# Access the properties and methods with regular way

UML diagram of the phpstar package with the class FooBar.

Emulating namespaces[edit]

In programming languages lacking language support for namespaces, namespaces can be emulated to some extent by using an identifier naming convention. For example, C libraries such as libpng often use a fixed prefix for all functions and variables that are part of their exposed interface. Libpng exposes identifiers such as:


This naming convention provides reasonable assurance that the identifiers are unique and can therefore be used in larger programs without naming collisions.[15] Likewise, many packages originally written in Fortran (e.g., BLAS, LAPACK) reserve the first few letters of a function's name to indicate which group it belongs to.

This technique has several drawbacks:

  • It doesn't scale well to nested namespaces; identifiers become excessively long since all uses of the identifiers must be fully namespace-qualified.
  • Individuals or organizations may use inconsistent naming conventions, potentially introducing unwanted obfuscation.
  • Compound or "query-based" operations on groups of identifiers, based on the namespaces in which they are declared, are rendered unwieldy or unfeasible.
  • In languages with restricted identifier length, the use of prefixes limits the number of characters that can be used to identify what the function does. This is a particular problem for packages originally written in FORTRAN 77, which offered only 6 characters per identifier. For example, the name of the BLAS function DGEMM function indicates that it operates on double-precision numbers ("D") and general matrices ("GE"), and only the last two characters show what it actually does: matrix-matrix multiplication (the "MM").

There are several advantages:

  • No special software tools are required to locate names in source-code files. A simple program like grep suffices.
  • There are no namespace name conflicts.
  • There is no need for name-mangling, and thus no potential incompatibility problems.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adya, Atul; Bolosky, William; Castro, Miguel; Cermak, Gerald; Chaiken, Ronnie; Douceur, John; Howell, Jon; Lorch, Jacob; Theimer, Marvin; Wattenhofer, Roger (2002). FARSITE: Federated, Available, and Reliable Storage for an Incompletely Trusted Environment (PDF). Proc. USENIX Symp. on Operating Systems Design and Implementation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-28. The primary construct established by a file system is a hierarchical directory namespace, which is the logical repository for files.
  2. ^ "C# FAQ: What is a namespace". C# Online Net. Archived from the original on 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2010-02-23. A namespace is nothing but a group of assemblies, classes, or types. A namespace acts as a container—like a disk folder—for classes organized into groups usually based on functionality. C# namespace syntax allows namespaces to be nested.
  3. ^ "An overview of namespaces in PHP". PHP Manual. What are namespaces? In the broadest definition, namespaces are a way of encapsulating items. This can be seen as an abstract concept in many places. For example, in any operating system directories serve to group related files, and act as a namespace for the files within them.
  4. ^ "Creating and Using Packages". Java Documentation. Oracle. A package is a grouping of related types providing access protection and name space management. Note that types refers to classes, interfaces, enumerations, and annotation types. Enumerations and annotation types are special kinds of classes and interfaces, respectively, so types are often referred to in this lesson simply as classes and interfaces.[better source needed]
  5. ^ XML Core Working Group (8 December 2009). "Namespaces in XML 1.0 (Third Edition)". W3C. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  6. ^ Moats, Ryan (May 1997). "Syntax". URN Syntax. IETF. p. 1. sec. 2. doi:10.17487/RFC2141. RFC 2141. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  7. ^ Stephen J. Gowdy. "List of USB ID's". 2013.
  8. ^ Sollins & Masinter (December 1994). "Requirements for functional capabilities". Functional Requirements for Uniform Resource Names. IETF. p. 3. sec. 2. doi:10.17487/RFC1731. RFC 1731. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
  9. ^ "C# FAQ: What is a namespace". C# Online Net. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved 2010-02-23. For instance, [under Windows], to access the built-in input-output (I/O) classes and members, use the System.IO namespace. Or, to access Web-related classes and members, use the System.Web namespace.
  10. ^ "A namespace is "a logical grouping of the names used within a program."". 10 April 2002. Retrieved 2011-07-26.
  11. ^ "Namespaces allow to group entities like classes, objects and functions under a name". Retrieved 2011-07-26.
  12. ^ "6. Modules". The Python Tutorial. Python Software Foundation. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  13. ^ "Python Scopes and Namespaces". Retrieved 2011-07-26.
  14. ^ "in general the practice of importing * from a module or package is frowned upon"
  15. ^ Danny Kalev. "Why I Hate Namespaces". Archived from the original on 2016-07-09.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)