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:






Basename of the entity.



Full (API-style) path to the entity.



The entity type. One of "notebook", "file" or "directory".



Creation date of the entity.



Last modified date of the entity.



The “content” of the entity. (See Below)


unicode or None

The mimetype of content, if any. (See Below)


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 can be any mimetype string, but defaults to text/plain for text-format models and application/octet-stream for base64-format models. For files with unknown mime types (e.g. unknown file extensions), this field may be None.

    • 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 content, and format keys from the model. The default values for the mimetype field will might also not be evaluated, in which case it will be set as None. This reduced reply 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.


Delete the file or directory at path.

ContentsManager.rename_file(old_path, new_path)

Rename a file or directory.


Does a file exist at the given path?


Does a directory exist at the given path?


Is path a hidden directory or file?

You may be required to specify a Checkpoints object, as the default one, FileCheckpoints, could be incompatible with your custom ContentsManager.

Chunked Saving

The contents API allows for “chunked” saving of files, i.e. saving/transmitting in partial pieces:

  • This can only be used when the type of the model is file.

  • The model should be as otherwise expected for save(), with an added field chunk.

  • The value of chunk should be an integer starting at 1, and incrementing for each subsequent chunk, except for the final chunk, which should be indicated with a value of -1.

  • The model returned from using save() with chunk should be treated as unreliable for all chunks except the final one.

  • Any interaction with a file being saved in a chunked manner is unreliable until the final chunk has been saved. This includes directory listings.

Customizing Checkpoints

Customized Checkpoint definitions allows behavior to be altered and extended.

The Checkpoints and GenericCheckpointsMixin classes (from have reusable code and are intended to be used together, but require the following methods to be implemented.

Checkpoints.rename_checkpoint(checkpoint_id, ...)

Rename a single checkpoint from old_path to new_path.


Return a list of checkpoints for a given file

Checkpoints.delete_checkpoint(checkpoint_id, ...)

delete a checkpoint for a file


Create a checkpoint of the current state of a file

GenericCheckpointsMixin.create_notebook_checkpoint(nb, ...)

Create a checkpoint of the current state of a file


Get the content of a checkpoint for a non-notebook file.


Get the content of a checkpoint for a notebook.

No-op example

Here is an example of a no-op checkpoints object - note the mixin comes first. The docstrings indicate what each method should do or return for a more complete implementation.

class NoOpCheckpoints(GenericCheckpointsMixin, Checkpoints):
    """requires the following methods:"""
    def create_file_checkpoint(self, content, format, path):
        """ -> checkpoint model"""
    def create_notebook_checkpoint(self, nb, path):
        """ -> checkpoint model"""
    def get_file_checkpoint(self, checkpoint_id, path):
        """ -> {'type': 'file', 'content': <str>, 'format': {'text', 'base64'}}"""
    def get_notebook_checkpoint(self, checkpoint_id, path):
        """ -> {'type': 'notebook', 'content': <output of>}"""
    def delete_checkpoint(self, checkpoint_id, path):
        """deletes a checkpoint for a file"""
    def list_checkpoints(self, path):
        """returns a list of checkpoint models for a given file,
        default just does one per file
        return []
    def rename_checkpoint(self, checkpoint_id, old_path, new_path):
        """renames checkpoint from old path to new path"""

See GenericFileCheckpoints in for a more complete example.

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.