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The getopt Module

The command line arguments from the operating system are put into the sys.argv variable as a sequence of strings. Looking at the syntax rules for command line options and operands in the previous section we can see that it can be challenging to parse this sequence of strings.

The getopt module helps us parse the options and operands that are provided to our program on the command line. This module has one very important function, also named getopt.

getopt.getopt( args , options , 〈 long_options 〉) → ( options, operands )

Decode the given sequence of arguments, args , using the given set of options and long_options . Returns a tuple with a sequence of normalized (option,value) pairs plus a sequence of the program's operand values.

The args value should not include sys.argv[0], the program name. Therefore, the argument value for args is almost always sys.argv[1:].

The options value is a string of the one-letter options. Any options which require argument values are followed by a :. For example, "ab:c" means that the program will accept -a, -c, -ac, -b value as options.

The long_options value is optional, if present it is a list of the long options. If a long option requires a parameter value, it's name must end in =. For example, ("silent","debug","log=") means that options like --silent, --debug, and --log=myfile.log are accepted as options.

There are two results of getopt: the options and the operands. The options is a list of ( name , value ) pairs. The operands is the list of names which follow the last option. In most cases, this list is a list of file names to be used as input.

There are several ways to handle the options list.

  • We can iterate through this list, setting global variables, or configuring some processing object. This works well when we have both short and long option names for the same configuration setting.

    options, operands = getopt.getopt( sys.argv[1:], ... )
    for name, value in options:
        if name == "-X" or name == "--long":
    set some global variable
  • We can define our configuration as a dictionary. We can then update this dictionary with the options. This forces the rest of our program to handle the -X or --long names for cofiguration parameters.

    config = { "-X" : default, "--long": default }
    options, operands = getopt.getopt( sys.argv[1:], ... )
    config.update( dict(options) )
  • We can define our configuration as a dictionary. We can initialize that configuration dictionary with the given options then fold in default values. While pleasantly obvious, it still makes the -X and --long options visible throughout our program.

    options, operands = getopt.getopt( sys.argv[1:], ... )
    config= dict(options)
    config.setdefault( "-X", value )
    config.setdefault( "--long", value )

One very adaptable and reusable structure is the following.

class MyApplication( object ):
    def __init__( self ):

    def process( aFileName ):
        """ The Real Work. """
    This is the real work of this applications

def main():
    theApp= MyApplication()
    options, operands = getopt.getopt( sys.argv[1:], "..." )
    for name, value in options:
        if name == "-X" or name == "--long":
set properties in theApp

    for fileName in operaands:
        theApp.process( aFileName )

A Complete Example. Here's a more complete example of using getopt. Assume we have a program with the following synopsis. 〈-v〉 〈-h〉 〈-d mm/dd/yy 〉 〈-s symbol ...〉 file

This program has two single-letter options: -v and -h. It has two options which take argument values, -d and -s. Finally, it accepts an operand of a file name.

These options can be processed as follows:

""" -- examines a portfolio file
import getopt
class Portfolio( object ):

def main():
    portfolio= Portfolio()
    opts, operands = getopt( sys.argv[1:], "vhd:s:" )
    for o,v in opts:
        if o == "-v": portfolio.verbose= True
        elif o == "-h": 
            print __doc__
        elif o == "-d": v
        elif o == "-s": portfolio.symbol= v
    for f in operands:
        portfolio.process( f )

if __name__ == "__main__":

The program's options are coded as "vhd:s:": the single-letter options (-v and -h) and the value options (-d and -s). The getopt function separates the the options from the arguments, and returns the options as a sequence of option flags and values. The process function performs the real work of the program, using the options and operands extracted from the command line.

  Published under the terms of the Open Publication License Design by Interspire