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:mod:`subprocess` --- Subprocess management

The :mod:`subprocess` module allows you to spawn new processes, connect to their input/output/error pipes, and obtain their return codes. This module intends to replace several other, older modules and functions, such as:


Information about how the :mod:`subprocess` module can be used to replace these modules and functions can be found in the following sections.

Using the subprocess Module

This module defines one class called :class:`Popen`:

Arguments are:

args should be a string, or a sequence of program arguments. The program to execute is normally the first item in the args sequence or the string if a string is given, but can be explicitly set by using the executable argument.

On Unix, with shell=False (default): In this case, the Popen class uses :meth:`os.execvp` to execute the child program. args should normally be a sequence. A string will be treated as a sequence with the string as the only item (the program to execute).

On Unix, with shell=True: If args is a string, it specifies the command string to execute through the shell. If args is a sequence, the first item specifies the command string, and any additional items will be treated as additional shell arguments.

On Windows: the :class:`Popen` class uses CreateProcess() to execute the child program, which operates on strings. If args is a sequence, it will be converted to a string using the :meth:`list2cmdline` method. Please note that not all MS Windows applications interpret the command line the same way: :meth:`list2cmdline` is designed for applications using the same rules as the MS C runtime.

bufsize, if given, has the same meaning as the corresponding argument to the built-in open() function: :const:`0` means unbuffered, :const:`1` means line buffered, any other positive value means use a buffer of (approximately) that size. A negative bufsize means to use the system default, which usually means fully buffered. The default value for bufsize is :const:`0` (unbuffered).

The executable argument specifies the program to execute. It is very seldom needed: Usually, the program to execute is defined by the args argument. If shell=True, the executable argument specifies which shell to use. On Unix, the default shell is :file:`/bin/sh`. On Windows, the default shell is specified by the :envvar:`COMSPEC` environment variable.

stdin, stdout and stderr specify the executed programs' standard input, standard output and standard error file handles, respectively. Valid values are :data:`PIPE`, an existing file descriptor (a positive integer), an existing file object, and None. :data:`PIPE` indicates that a new pipe to the child should be created. With None, no redirection will occur; the child's file handles will be inherited from the parent. Additionally, stderr can be :data:`STDOUT`, which indicates that the stderr data from the applications should be captured into the same file handle as for stdout.

If preexec_fn is set to a callable object, this object will be called in the child process just before the child is executed. (Unix only)

If close_fds is true, all file descriptors except :const:`0`, :const:`1` and :const:`2` will be closed before the child process is executed. (Unix only). Or, on Windows, if close_fds is true then no handles will be inherited by the child process. Note that on Windows, you cannot set close_fds to true and also redirect the standard handles by setting stdin, stdout or stderr.

If shell is :const:`True`, the specified command will be executed through the shell.

If cwd is not None, the child's current directory will be changed to cwd before it is executed. Note that this directory is not considered when searching the executable, so you can't specify the program's path relative to cwd.

If env is not None, it must be a mapping that defines the environment variables for the new process; these are used instead of inheriting the current process' environment, which is the default behavior.


If specified, env must provide any variables required for the program to execute. On Windows, in order to run a side-by-side assembly the specified env must include a valid :envvar:`SystemRoot`.

If universal_newlines is :const:`True`, the file objects stdout and stderr are opened as text files, but lines may be terminated by any of '\n', the Unix end-of-line convention, '\r', the old Macintosh convention or '\r\n', the Windows convention. All of these external representations are seen as '\n' by the Python program.


This feature is only available if Python is built with universal newline support (the default). Also, the newlines attribute of the file objects :attr:`stdout`, :attr:`stdin` and :attr:`stderr` are not updated by the communicate() method.

The startupinfo and creationflags, if given, will be passed to the underlying CreateProcess() function. They can specify things such as appearance of the main window and priority for the new process. (Windows only)

Convenience Functions

This module also defines two shortcut functions:


Exceptions raised in the child process, before the new program has started to execute, will be re-raised in the parent. Additionally, the exception object will have one extra attribute called :attr:`child_traceback`, which is a string containing traceback information from the childs point of view.

The most common exception raised is :exc:`OSError`. This occurs, for example, when trying to execute a non-existent file. Applications should prepare for :exc:`OSError` exceptions.

A :exc:`ValueError` will be raised if :class:`Popen` is called with invalid arguments.

check_call() will raise :exc:`CalledProcessError`, if the called process returns a non-zero return code.


Unlike some other popen functions, this implementation will never call /bin/sh implicitly. This means that all characters, including shell metacharacters, can safely be passed to child processes.

Popen Objects

Instances of the :class:`Popen` class have the following methods:

The following attributes are also available:


Use :meth:`communicate` rather than :attr:`.stdin.write <stdin>`, :attr:`.stdout.read <stdout>` or :attr:`.stderr.read <stderr>` to avoid deadlocks due to any of the other OS pipe buffers filling up and blocking the child process.

Replacing Older Functions with the subprocess Module

In this section, "a ==> b" means that b can be used as a replacement for a.


All functions in this section fail (more or less) silently if the executed program cannot be found; this module raises an :exc:`OSError` exception.

In the following examples, we assume that the subprocess module is imported with "from subprocess import *".

Replacing /bin/sh shell backquote

output=`mycmd myarg`
output = Popen(["mycmd", "myarg"], stdout=PIPE).communicate()[0]

Replacing shell pipeline

output=`dmesg | grep hda`
p1 = Popen(["dmesg"], stdout=PIPE)
p2 = Popen(["grep", "hda"], stdin=p1.stdout, stdout=PIPE)
output = p2.communicate()[0]

Replacing os.system()

sts = os.system("mycmd" + " myarg")
p = Popen("mycmd" + " myarg", shell=True)
sts = os.waitpid(p.pid, 0)


  • Calling the program through the shell is usually not required.
  • It's easier to look at the :attr:`returncode` attribute than the exit status.

A more realistic example would look like this:

    retcode = call("mycmd" + " myarg", shell=True)
    if retcode < 0:
        print >>sys.stderr, "Child was terminated by signal", -retcode
        print >>sys.stderr, "Child returned", retcode
except OSError, e:
    print >>sys.stderr, "Execution failed:", e

Replacing the os.spawn family

P_NOWAIT example:

pid = os.spawnlp(os.P_NOWAIT, "/bin/mycmd", "mycmd", "myarg")
pid = Popen(["/bin/mycmd", "myarg"]).pid

P_WAIT example:

retcode = os.spawnlp(os.P_WAIT, "/bin/mycmd", "mycmd", "myarg")
retcode = call(["/bin/mycmd", "myarg"])

Vector example:

os.spawnvp(os.P_NOWAIT, path, args)
Popen([path] + args[1:])

Environment example:

os.spawnlpe(os.P_NOWAIT, "/bin/mycmd", "mycmd", "myarg", env)
Popen(["/bin/mycmd", "myarg"], env={"PATH": "/usr/bin"})

Replacing os.popen, os.popen2, os.popen3

pipe = os.popen(cmd, 'r', bufsize)
pipe = Popen(cmd, shell=True, bufsize=bufsize, stdout=PIPE).stdout
pipe = os.popen(cmd, 'w', bufsize)
pipe = Popen(cmd, shell=True, bufsize=bufsize, stdin=PIPE).stdin
(child_stdin, child_stdout) = os.popen2(cmd, mode, bufsize)
p = Popen(cmd, shell=True, bufsize=bufsize,
          stdin=PIPE, stdout=PIPE, close_fds=True)
(child_stdin, child_stdout) = (p.stdin, p.stdout)
 child_stderr) = os.popen3(cmd, mode, bufsize)
p = Popen(cmd, shell=True, bufsize=bufsize,
          stdin=PIPE, stdout=PIPE, stderr=PIPE, close_fds=True)
 child_stderr) = (p.stdin, p.stdout, p.stderr)
(child_stdin, child_stdout_and_stderr) = os.popen4(cmd, mode, bufsize)
p = Popen(cmd, shell=True, bufsize=bufsize,
          stdin=PIPE, stdout=PIPE, stderr=STDOUT, close_fds=True)
(child_stdin, child_stdout_and_stderr) = (p.stdin, p.stdout)

Replacing functions from the popen2 module


If the cmd argument to popen2 functions is a string, the command is executed through /bin/sh. If it is a list, the command is directly executed.

(child_stdout, child_stdin) = popen2.popen2("somestring", bufsize, mode)
p = Popen(["somestring"], shell=True, bufsize=bufsize,
          stdin=PIPE, stdout=PIPE, close_fds=True)
(child_stdout, child_stdin) = (p.stdout, p.stdin)
(child_stdout, child_stdin) = popen2.popen2(["mycmd", "myarg"], bufsize, mode)
p = Popen(["mycmd", "myarg"], bufsize=bufsize,
          stdin=PIPE, stdout=PIPE, close_fds=True)
(child_stdout, child_stdin) = (p.stdout, p.stdin)

:class:`popen2.Popen3` and :class:`popen2.Popen4` basically work as :class:`subprocess.Popen`, except that:

  • :class:`Popen` raises an exception if the execution fails.
  • the capturestderr argument is replaced with the stderr argument.
  • stdin=PIPE and stdout=PIPE must be specified.
  • popen2 closes all file descriptors by default, but you have to specify close_fds=True with :class:`Popen`.

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