Contents API

The Jupyter Notebook web application provides a graphical interface for creating, opening, renaming, and deleting files in a virtual filesystem.

The ContentsManager class defines an abstract API for translating these interactions into operations on a particular storage medium. The default implementation, FileContentsManager, uses the local filesystem of the server for storage and straightforwardly serializes notebooks into JSON. Users can override these behaviors by supplying custom subclasses of ContentsManager.

This section describes the interface implemented by ContentsManager subclasses. We refer to this interface as the Contents API.

Data Model

Filesystem Entities

ContentsManager methods represent virtual filesystem entities as dictionaries, which we refer to as models.

Models may contain the following entries:

Key Type Info
name unicode Basename of the entity.
path unicode Full (API-style) path to the entity.
type unicode The entity type. One of "notebook", "file" or "directory".
created datetime Creation date of the entity.
last_modified datetime Last modified date of the entity.
content variable The “content” of the entity. (See Below)
mimetype unicode or None The mimetype of content, if any. (See Below)
format unicode or None The format of content, if any. (See Below)

Certain model fields vary in structure depending on the type field of the model. There are three model types: notebook, file, and directory.

  • notebook models
    • The format field is always "json".
    • The mimetype field is always None.
    • The content field contains a nbformat.notebooknode.NotebookNode representing the .ipynb file represented by the model. See the NBFormat documentation for a full description.
  • file models
    • The format field is either "text" or "base64".
    • The mimetype field is text/plain for text-format models and application/octet-stream for base64-format models.
    • The content field is always of type unicode. For text-format file models, content simply contains the file’s bytes after decoding as UTF-8. Non-text (base64) files are read as bytes, base64 encoded, and then decoded as UTF-8.
  • directory models
    • The format field is always "json".
    • The mimetype field is always None.
    • The content field contains a list of content-free models representing the entities in the directory.


In certain circumstances, we don’t need the full content of an entity to complete a Contents API request. In such cases, we omit the mimetype, content, and format keys from the model. This most commonly occurs when listing a directory, in which circumstance we represent files within the directory as content-less models to avoid having to recursively traverse and serialize the entire filesystem.

Sample Models

# Notebook Model with Content
    'content': {
        'metadata': {},
        'nbformat': 4,
        'nbformat_minor': 0,
        'cells': [
                'cell_type': 'markdown',
                'metadata': {},
                'source': 'Some **Markdown**',
    'created': datetime(2015, 7, 25, 19, 50, 19, 19865),
    'format': 'json',
    'last_modified': datetime(2015, 7, 25, 19, 50, 19, 19865),
    'mimetype': None,
    'name': 'a.ipynb',
    'path': 'foo/a.ipynb',
    'type': 'notebook',
    'writable': True,

# Notebook Model without Content
    'content': None,
    'created': datetime.datetime(2015, 7, 25, 20, 17, 33, 271931),
    'format': None,
    'last_modified': datetime.datetime(2015, 7, 25, 20, 17, 33, 271931),
    'mimetype': None,
    'name': 'a.ipynb',
    'path': 'foo/a.ipynb',
    'type': 'notebook',
    'writable': True

API Paths

ContentsManager methods represent the locations of filesystem resources as API-style paths. Such paths are interpreted as relative to the root directory of the notebook server. For compatibility across systems, the following guarantees are made:

  • Paths are always unicode, not bytes.
  • Paths are not URL-escaped.
  • Paths are always forward-slash (/) delimited, even on Windows.
  • Leading and trailing slashes are stripped. For example, /foo/bar/buzz/ becomes foo/bar/buzz.
  • The empty string ("") represents the root directory.

Writing a Custom ContentsManager

The default ContentsManager is designed for users running the notebook as an application on a personal computer. It stores notebooks as .ipynb files on the local filesystem, and it maps files and directories in the Notebook UI to files and directories on disk. It is possible to override how notebooks are stored by implementing your own custom subclass of ContentsManager. For example, if you deploy the notebook in a context where you don’t trust or don’t have access to the filesystem of the notebook server, it’s possible to write your own ContentsManager that stores notebooks and files in a database.

Required Methods

A minimal complete implementation of a custom ContentsManager must implement the following methods:

ContentsManager.get(path[, content, type, ...]) Get a file or directory model., path) Save a file or directory model to path.
ContentsManager.delete_file(path) Delete the file or directory at path.
ContentsManager.rename_file(old_path, new_path) Rename a file or directory.
ContentsManager.file_exists([path]) Does a file exist at the given path?
ContentsManager.dir_exists(path) Does a directory exist at the given path?
ContentsManager.is_hidden(path) Is path a hidden directory or file?

Customizing Checkpoints


Testing includes several test suites written against the abstract Contents API. This means that an excellent way to test a new ContentsManager subclass is to subclass our tests to make them use your ContentsManager.


PGContents is an example of a complete implementation of a custom ContentsManager. It stores notebooks and files in PostgreSQL and encodes directories as SQL relations. PGContents also provides an example of how to re-use the notebook’s tests.