How to find functions by name in OpenCV


OpenCV can be a big, hard to navigate library, especially if you are just getting started learning computer vision and image processing.

The release of OpenCV 3 has only further complicated matters, moving a few important functions around and even slightly altering their names (the  vs. cv2.boxPoints  methods come to mind off the top of my head).

While a good IDE can help you search and find a particular function based on only a few keystrokes, sometimes you won’t have access to your IDE. And if you’re trying to develop code that is compatible with both OpenCV 2.4 and OpenCV 3, then you’ll need to programmatically determine if a given function is available (whether via version detection or function listing).

Enter the find_function  method, now part of the imutils library, that can help you search and lookup OpenCV methods simply by providing a query string.

In the rest of this blog post I’ll show you how to quickly and programmatically search and lookup functions in the OpenCV library using only simple Python methods.

Looking for the source code to this post?
Jump right to the downloads section.

Dumping all OpenCV function names and attributes

A quick way to view all OpenCV functions and attributes exposed to the Python bindings is to use the built-in Python  dir  function, which is used to return a list of names in the current local scope.

Assuming you have OpenCV installed and a Python shell ready, we can use the dir  method to create a list of all OpenCV methods and attributes available to us:

While this method does indeed give us the list of attributes and functions inside OpenCV, it requires a manual scan or a grep of the list to find a particular function.

Personally, I like to use this raw list of method names if I have a rough idea of what you’re looking for (kind of like a “I’ll know it when I see it” type of situation); otherwise, I look to use the find_function  method of imutils  to quickly narrow down the search space — similar to grep’ing the output of dir(cv2) .

Searching the OpenCV library for (partial) function names

Let’s start off this section by defining our find_function  method:

Lines 2-4 start off by importing our necessary packages. We’ll need cv2  for our OpenCV bindings and re  for Python’s built-in regular expression functionality.

We define our find_function  method on Line 6. This method requires a single required argument, the (partial) name  of the function we want to search cv2  for. We’ll also accept two optional arguments: pretty_print  which is a boolean indicating whether the results should be returned as a list or neatly formatted to our console; and module  which is the root-module or sub-module of the OpenCV library.

We’ll initialize module  to be cv2 , the root-module, but we could also pass in a sub-module such as xfeatures2d . In either case, the module  will be searched for partial function/attribute matches to name .

The actual search takes place on Lines 13 and 14 where we apply a regular expression to determine if any attribute/function name inside of module  contains the supplied name .

Lines 18 and 19 make a check to see if we should return the list of filtered  functions to the calling function; otherwise, we loop over the function names and print them to our console (Lines 22 and 23).

Finally, Line 26 takes our find_function  method for a test drive by searching for functions containing the blur  in their name.

To see our find_function  method in action, just open a terminal and execute the following command:

As our output shows, it seems there are three functions inside of OpenCV that contain the text blur , including cv2.GaussianBlur , cv2.blur , and cv2.medianBlur .

A real-world example of finding OpenCV functions by name

As I already mentioned earlier in this post, the find_functions  method is already part of the imutils library. You can install imutils  via pip :

If you already have imutils  installed on your system, be sure to upgrade it to the latest version:

Our goal in this project is to write a Python script to detect the hardcopy edition of Practical Python and OpenCV + Case Studies (which is set to be released on Wednesday, August 16th at 12:00 EST, so be sure to mark your calendars!) in an image and draw a its bounding contour surrounding it:

Our goal is to find the outline (i.e. contours) of the original book (left) and then draw the outline on the book (right).

Figure 1: Our goal is to find the original book in the image (left) and then draw the outline on the book (right).

Open up a new file, name it , and let’s get coding:

We start off by loading our image from disk on Line 6. We then do some basic image processing on Lines 12-15, including conversion to grayscale, thresholding, and a series of erosions and dilations to remove any small blobs from the thresholded image. Our output thresholded image looks like this:

Figure 3: The thresholded, binary representation of the book image.

Figure 3: The thresholded, binary representation of the book image.

However, in order to draw the contour surrounding the book, I first need to find the outline of the book itself.

Let’s pretend that I’m stuck and I don’t know what the name of the function is that finds the outline of an object in an image — but I do recall that “outlines” are called “contours” in OpenCV.

By firing up a shell and using the find_function  in imutils , I quickly ascertain that that I am looking for the cv2.findContours  function:

Now that I know I am using the cv2.findContours  method, I need to figure out what contour extraction flag should be used for the function. I only want to return external contours (i.e the outer-most outlines) so I’ll need to look up that attribute as well:

Got it. I need to use the cv2.RETR_EXTERNAL  flag. Now that I have that settled, I can finish up my Python script:

Lines 19 and 20 makes a call to cv2.findContours  to find the external outlines of the objects (thanks to the cv2.RETR_EXTERNAL  attribute) in the thresholded image.

We’ll then take the largest contour found (which is presumed to be the outline of the book) and draw the outline on our image (Lines 21 and 22).

Finally, Lines 25-27 show our output images.

To see my script in action, I just fire up a terminal and issue the following command:

Figure 2: Our original input image (left), the thresholded, binary representation of the image (center), and the contour drawn surrounding the book (right).

Figure 3: Our original input image (left), the thresholded, binary representation of the image (center), and the contour drawn surrounding the book (right).

Sure enough, we’ve been able to detect and draw the outline of the book without a problem!


In this blog post we learned how to get the names of all functions and attributes in OpenCV that are exposed to the Python bindings.

We then built a Python function to programmatically search these function/attribute names via a text query. This function has been included in the imutils package.

Finally, we explored how OpenCV function filtering can be used in your every-day workflow to increase productivity and facilitate quick function lookup. We demonstrated this by building a small Python script detect the presence of a book in an image.


If you would like to download the code and images used in this post, please enter your email address in the form below. Not only will you get a .zip of the code, I’ll also send you a FREE 11-page Resource Guide on Computer Vision and Image Search Engines, including exclusive techniques that I don’t post on this blog! Sound good? If so, enter your email address and I’ll send you the code immediately!

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6 Responses to How to find functions by name in OpenCV

  1. Deven September 1, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    I am would suggest to try using ipython. That has the wonderful tab-completion.
    eg. on my ipython console

    In [1]: cv2.K (tab)

    also it supports linux commands like ls, pwd, cd without explicitly importing ‘os’.

    • Adrian Rosebrock September 1, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

      I’m a big fan of ipython, thanks for the reminder! While ipython does have tab completion, one of the benefits of using this method is that you can search for any piece of text within the function name, not just the auto-complete from where the cursor currently is.

  2. John October 16, 2015 at 5:49 am #


    • Adrian Rosebrock October 16, 2015 at 6:15 am #

      I’ll have to check this function out!

  3. Léo January 25, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi ! First of all congratulation for your work it’s amazing ! 😀
    I’m trying to begin in computer vision processing and your site and tutorials are awesome, thanks to you i had install OpenCV3 and Numpy/Scipy/matplotlib on my raspberry pi 3

    And now I’ve installed imutils it is working but when i run your programi I have this error and i don’t understand why.

    Traceback (most recent call last):
    File “, line 7, in
    orig = image.copy()
    AttributeError: ‘NoneType’ object has no attribute ‘copy’

    I would be so happy if you can help me to debug this and that I can start doing some video processing.

    • Adrian Rosebrock January 26, 2017 at 8:20 am #

      Hey Leo — take a look at this blog post where I discuss common reasons for NoneType errors (and how to resolve them).

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