subprocess execute shell - Calling an external command in Python





15 Answers

Here's a summary of the ways to call external programs and the advantages and disadvantages of each:

  1. os.system("some_command with args") passes the command and arguments to your system's shell. This is nice because you can actually run multiple commands at once in this manner and set up pipes and input/output redirection. For example:

    os.system("some_command < input_file | another_command > output_file")  
    

    However, while this is convenient, you have to manually handle the escaping of shell characters such as spaces, etc. On the other hand, this also lets you run commands which are simply shell commands and not actually external programs. See the documentation.

  2. stream = os.popen("some_command with args") will do the same thing as os.system except that it gives you a file-like object that you can use to access standard input/output for that process. There are 3 other variants of popen that all handle the i/o slightly differently. If you pass everything as a string, then your command is passed to the shell; if you pass them as a list then you don't need to worry about escaping anything. See the documentation.

  3. The Popen class of the subprocess module. This is intended as a replacement for os.popen but has the downside of being slightly more complicated by virtue of being so comprehensive. For example, you'd say:

    print subprocess.Popen("echo Hello World", shell=True, stdout=subprocess.PIPE).stdout.read()
    

    instead of:

    print os.popen("echo Hello World").read()
    

    but it is nice to have all of the options there in one unified class instead of 4 different popen functions. See the documentation.

  4. The call function from the subprocess module. This is basically just like the Popen class and takes all of the same arguments, but it simply waits until the command completes and gives you the return code. For example:

    return_code = subprocess.call("echo Hello World", shell=True)  
    

    See the documentation.

  5. If you're on Python 3.5 or later, you can use the new subprocess.run function, which is a lot like the above but even more flexible and returns a CompletedProcess object when the command finishes executing.

  6. The os module also has all of the fork/exec/spawn functions that you'd have in a C program, but I don't recommend using them directly.

The subprocess module should probably be what you use.

Finally please be aware that for all methods where you pass the final command to be executed by the shell as a string and you are responsible for escaping it. There are serious security implications if any part of the string that you pass can not be fully trusted. For example, if a user is entering some/any part of the string. If you are unsure, only use these methods with constants. To give you a hint of the implications consider this code:

print subprocess.Popen("echo %s " % user_input, stdout=PIPE).stdout.read()

and imagine that the user enters "my mama didnt love me && rm -rf /".

get output windows

How can I call an external command (as if I'd typed it at the Unix shell or Windows command prompt) from within a Python script?




Some hints on detaching the child process from the calling one (starting the child process in background).

Suppose you want to start a long task from a CGI-script, that is the child process should live longer than the CGI-script execution process.

The classical example from the subprocess module docs is:

import subprocess
import sys

# some code here

pid = subprocess.Popen([sys.executable, "longtask.py"]) # call subprocess

# some more code here

The idea here is that you do not want to wait in the line 'call subprocess' until the longtask.py is finished. But it is not clear what happens after the line 'some more code here' from the example.

My target platform was freebsd, but the development was on windows, so I faced the problem on windows first.

On windows (win xp), the parent process will not finish until the longtask.py has finished its work. It is not what you want in CGI-script. The problem is not specific to Python, in PHP community the problems are the same.

The solution is to pass DETACHED_PROCESS Process Creation Flag to the underlying CreateProcess function in win API. If you happen to have installed pywin32 you can import the flag from the win32process module, otherwise you should define it yourself:

DETACHED_PROCESS = 0x00000008

pid = subprocess.Popen([sys.executable, "longtask.py"],
                       creationflags=DETACHED_PROCESS).pid

/* UPD 2015.10.27 @eryksun in a comment below notes, that the semantically correct flag is CREATE_NEW_CONSOLE (0x00000010) */

On freebsd we have another problem: when the parent process is finished, it finishes the child processes as well. And that is not what you want in CGI-script either. Some experiments showed that the problem seemed to be in sharing sys.stdout. And the working solution was the following:

pid = subprocess.Popen([sys.executable, "longtask.py"], stdout=subprocess.PIPE, stderr=subprocess.PIPE, stdin=subprocess.PIPE)

I have not checked the code on other platforms and do not know the reasons of the behaviour on freebsd. If anyone knows, please share your ideas. Googling on starting background processes in Python does not shed any light yet.




I'd recommend using the subprocess module instead of os.system because it does shell escaping for you and is therefore much safer: http://docs.python.org/library/subprocess.html

subprocess.call(['ping', 'localhost'])



I always use fabric for this things like:

from fabric.operations import local
result = local('ls', capture=True)
print "Content:/n%s" % (result, )

But this seem to be a good tool: sh (Python subprocess interface).

Look an example:

from sh import vgdisplay
print vgdisplay()
print vgdisplay('-v')
print vgdisplay(v=True)



There are lots of different libraries which allow you to call external commands with Python. For each library I've given a description and shown an example of calling an external command. The command I used as the example is ls -l (list all files). If you want to find out more about any of the libraries I've listed and linked the documentation for each of them.

Sources:

These are all the libraries:

Hopefully this will help you make a decision on which library to use :)

subprocess

Subprocess allows you to call external commands and connect them to their input/output/error pipes (stdin, stdout, and stderr). Subprocess is the default choice for running commands, but sometimes other modules are better.

subprocess.run(["ls", "-l"]) # Run command
subprocess.run(["ls", "-l"], stdout=subprocess.PIPE) # This will run the command and return any output
subprocess.run(shlex.split("ls -l")) # You can also use the shlex library to split the command

os

os is used for "operating system dependent functionality". It can also be used to call external commands with os.system and os.popen (Note: There is also a subprocess.popen). os will always run the shell and is a simple alternative for people who don't need to, or don't know how to use subprocess.run.

os.system("ls -l") # run command
os.popen("ls -l").read() # This will run the command and return any output

sh

sh is a subprocess interface which lets you call programs as if they were functions. This is useful if you want to run a command multiple times.

sh.ls("-l") # Run command normally
ls_cmd = sh.Command("ls") # Save command as a variable
ls_cmd() # Run command as if it were a function

plumbum

plumbum is a library for "script-like" Python programs. You can call programs like functions as in sh. Plumbum is useful if you want to run a pipeline without the shell.

ls_cmd = plumbum.local("ls -l") # get command
ls_cmd() # run command

pexpect

pexpect lets you spawn child applications, control them and find patterns in their output. This is a better alternative to subprocess for commands that expect a tty on Unix.

pexpect.run("ls -l") # Run command as normal
child = pexpect.spawn('scp foo user@example.com:.') # Spawns child application
child.expect('Password:') # When this is the output
child.sendline('mypassword')

fabric

fabric is a Python 2.5 and 2.7 library. It allows you to execute local and remote shell commands. Fabric is simple alternative for running commands in a secure shell (SSH)

fabric.operations.local('ls -l') # Run command as normal
fabric.operations.local('ls -l', capture = True) # Run command and receive output

envoy

envoy is known as "subprocess for humans". It is used as a convenience wrapper around the subprocess module.

r = envoy.run("ls -l") # Run command
r.std_out # get output

commands

commands contains wrapper functions for os.popen, but it has been removed from Python 3 since subprocess is a better alternative.

The edit was based on J.F. Sebastian's comment.




This is how I run my commands. This code has everything you need pretty much

from subprocess import Popen, PIPE
cmd = "ls -l ~/"
p = Popen(cmd , shell=True, stdout=PIPE, stderr=PIPE)
out, err = p.communicate()
print "Return code: ", p.returncode
print out.rstrip(), err.rstrip()



Update:

subprocess.run is the recommended approach as of Python 3.5 if your code does not need to maintain compatibility with earlier Python versions. It's more consistent and offers similar ease-of-use as Envoy. (Piping isn't as straightforward though. See this question for how.)

Here's some examples from the docs.

Run a process:

>>> subprocess.run(["ls", "-l"])  # doesn't capture output
CompletedProcess(args=['ls', '-l'], returncode=0)

Raise on failed run:

>>> subprocess.run("exit 1", shell=True, check=True)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  ...
subprocess.CalledProcessError: Command 'exit 1' returned non-zero exit status 1

Capture output:

>>> subprocess.run(["ls", "-l", "/dev/null"], stdout=subprocess.PIPE)
CompletedProcess(args=['ls', '-l', '/dev/null'], returncode=0,
stdout=b'crw-rw-rw- 1 root root 1, 3 Jan 23 16:23 /dev/null\n')

Original answer:

I recommend trying Envoy. It's a wrapper for subprocess, which in turn aims to replace the older modules and functions. Envoy is subprocess for humans.

Example usage from the readme:

>>> r = envoy.run('git config', data='data to pipe in', timeout=2)

>>> r.status_code
129
>>> r.std_out
'usage: git config [options]'
>>> r.std_err
''

Pipe stuff around too:

>>> r = envoy.run('uptime | pbcopy')

>>> r.command
'pbcopy'
>>> r.status_code
0

>>> r.history
[<Response 'uptime'>]






There is also Plumbum

>>> from plumbum import local
>>> ls = local["ls"]
>>> ls
LocalCommand(<LocalPath /bin/ls>)
>>> ls()
u'build.py\ndist\ndocs\nLICENSE\nplumbum\nREADME.rst\nsetup.py\ntests\ntodo.txt\n'
>>> notepad = local["c:\\windows\\notepad.exe"]
>>> notepad()                                   # Notepad window pops up
u''                                             # Notepad window is closed by user, command returns



It can be this simple:

import os
cmd = "your command"
os.system(cmd)



subprocess.check_call is convenient if you don't want to test return values. It throws an exception on any error.




os.system does not allow you to store results, so if you want to store results in some list or something subprocess.call works.




Shameless plug, I wrote a library for this :P https://github.com/houqp/shell.py

It's basically a wrapper for popen and shlex for now. It also supports piping commands so you can chain commands easier in Python. So you can do things like:

ex('echo hello shell.py') | "awk '{print $2}'"



I quite like shell_command for its simplicity. It's built on top of the subprocess module.

Here's an example from the docs:

>>> from shell_command import shell_call
>>> shell_call("ls *.py")
setup.py  shell_command.py  test_shell_command.py
0
>>> shell_call("ls -l *.py")
-rw-r--r-- 1 ncoghlan ncoghlan  391 2011-12-11 12:07 setup.py
-rw-r--r-- 1 ncoghlan ncoghlan 7855 2011-12-11 16:16 shell_command.py
-rwxr-xr-x 1 ncoghlan ncoghlan 8463 2011-12-11 16:17 test_shell_command.py
0



Under Linux, in case you would like to call an external command that will execute independently (will keep running after the python script terminates), you can use a simple queue as task spooler or the at command

An example with task spooler:

import os
os.system('ts <your-command>')

Notes about task spooler (ts):

  1. You could set the number of concurrent processes to be run ("slots") with:

    ts -S <number-of-slots>

  2. Installing ts doesn't requires admin privileges. You can download and compile it from source with a simple make, add it to your path and you're done.




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