When we talk about “rawkit” we’re actually talking about an entire stack of libraries which work together to give you a simple way to work with raw photo data in Python. However, under the hood, rawkit comprises three separate libraries which operate in a teired structure:

rawkit architecture diagram

The bottom layer is the LibRaw C library, which is used to actually extract data from raw photo files, and to do basic processing. LibRaw is not actually bundled with rawkit, and must already be installed on the end users computer. The next layer, also called libraw, is a low-level Python library which uses ctypes to link to the LibRaw C code. This library, while written in Python, generally just looks and acts like the lower-level C code, albeit with slightly more Pythonic error handling and a few helper functions to make it easier to use from within Python. However, you generally shouldn’t use libraw. Instead, you should use the highest level methods available, rawkit. The actual rawkit namespace provides a module which builds on libraw to provide a fully Pythonic interface to the underlying library (eg. rawkit.Raw objects, context managers, an API for setting options, etc.). If at all possible, you should use the rawkit module in your applications, but the libraw module is still exposed in case you need to dig down and perform some functionality that is not exposed by rawkit.

More details about each tier can be found below.


The foundation of the entire rawkit stack is the LibRaw C library. LibRaw is maintained by LibRaw, LLC. and does the actual grunt work of loading raw files, extracting data, and developing photos via its dcraw emulation layer. It is the only real dependency of rawkit and must be installed on the end-users computer before this library will actually work.


The libraw module is a set of Python bindings which use ctypes to talk to the LibRaw library on the users system. The libraw module provides very low level bindings that mostly juts mimic the C structs present in LibRaw. It also defines function and method arguments and return types, allows you to use Python functions as callbacks to LibRaw events, maps LibRaw error codes to actual Python exceptions, and handles the actual linking with (or the equivalent library on your system). In general, you should never have to call libraw directly. Instead, you should use the higher level API’s provided by rawkit.


The rawkit module is the highest level part of the rawkit architecture. This module handles raw files in a Pythonic way by abstracting them to a rawkit.Raw object which acts as a context manager, and allowing you to set options for how that raw file should be processed. It also contains a set of utility functions (see rawkit.util) for dealing with common operations that may not be directly related to raw files (eg. discovering support for raw files, or getting a list of cameras supported by the linked version of LibRaw).