I'm trying to read in a shapefile and keep getting a File Not Found error and this exception:

ShapefileException: Unable to open /Users/name/Documents/shapefile.shp

Here's what I've got:

import shapefile

# read the shapefile
reader = shapefile.Reader('/Users/name/Documents/shapefile.shp')

I've tried several variations of that and still get the error. The shapefile exists and it works. It's also in the same folder as the .dbf and .shx files. Any ideas?

  • Does "name" have a space in it?
    – Vince
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 20:55
  • Yes it does actually. Perhaps replace that with an underscore?
    – mike
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 20:57
  • That didn't work either
    – mike
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 21:04
  • What OS are you using?
    – user2856
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 0:44
  • 1
    There are enough wonky things with the path reference that you should test if os.path.exists() can find the file first.
    – Vince
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 1:29

2 Answers 2


I could also get the ShapefileException when:

  • the path to a shapefile is wrong
  • the shapefile's name was wrongly specified
  • there is no permission to access the shapefile

First of all, I suggest to double check the path to your shapefile:

  • correctness of slashes /, backslashes \, double backslashes // based on the OS

As was mentioned by @Vince test whether the shapefile exists using isfile and exists functions from the os.path module:

import shapefile
from os.path import isfile, exists

absolute_path_to_file = '/Users/name/Documents/shapefile.shp'

dbf = absolute_path_to_file.replace('.shp', '.dbf')

if isfile(absolute_path_to_file) and exists(dbf):
    shp = shapefile.Reader(absolute_path_to_file)

Another suggestion is to test your shapefile with the pytest package using functions from the test_shapefile.py:

import pytest
import shapefile

absolute_path_to_file = '/Users/name/Documents/shapefile.shp'

with pytest.raises(shapefile.ShapefileException):
    with shapefile.Reader(absolute_path_to_file) as sf:

What about this solution? reader = shapefile.Reader(r'/Users/name/Documents/shapefile.shp'). Just add r before the string chain. otherwise try by using the \ instead of /.

  • A raw string (r'some string') will have no effect on forward slashes and changing forward slashes to backwards will not work on a non-Windows OS.
    – user2856
    Commented Apr 15, 2019 at 2:42

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