The argparse library is used to create a command line interface - CLI. Primarily this means program argument processing. It is a part of the standard library, so you do not need to install anything extra.

Command line interface

... is one of ways how to interact with or control a program (or Python script) as a user - interface with it from inside the computer itself where it is installed (not over the internet). That user can be you as a creator of code and someone else you give access to it.

The behavior of a program usually is varying - it depends on the instructions you give to it.

Adding command line arguments to a program enables terminal magic using find command like this:

find . -type f -name "*.txt" -empty -mtime 30

Which searches current directory for empty files with .txt suffix and a modification date older than 30 days. The find command internally has a lot of switches controlling its behavior while filtering the folder(s) is is searching through based on user given parameters of the search.

Examples of libraries & argparse

Quite many tools for processing arguments from the CLI are also present in the standard Python: sys.argv, optparse, getopt. Additionally there is quite commonly used click library, which you would need to install via pip and uses a decorator syntax, that we have not seen yet, so we have decided not to delve into it.

You can find the official documentation on:

And a quite handy tutorial going through most of functionalities, you could ever encounter: argparse-tutorial

Here's how to easily create Python command line application with switches:

import argparse

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description='argparse greeting')
parser.add_argument('-n', '--name', help='a name to repeat', required=True)
parser.add_argument('-c', '--count', help='how many times', required=True, type=int)
parser.add_argument("--indent", action="store_true", help=("name will be indented by 4 spaces"))

args = parser.parse_args()

def hello(count, name, indent=False):
    """Simple program that greets 'name' for a total of 'count' times and optionally indents."""
    for _ in range(count):
        if indent:
            print("    ", end="")
        print(f"Hello {name}!")

hello(args.count,, args.indent)

The first step in using the argparse is creating an ArgumentParser object with some description. Then you fill an ArgumentParser with information about program arguments, which is done by making calls to the add_argument() method. This information is stored and used when parse_args() is called.

You can set parameters as required by adding required=True option. It is also possible to their type, which will try to convert the variable to the data type announced. In order to allow simple storing of boolean flags True/False, you can use the action="store_true" parameter.

Try it! If you have it saved as, try:

python3 --help
python3 --name PyLady
python3 --count 5
python3 --count 5 --name PyLady
python3 --count 5 --name PyLady --indent

That is already a very solid first program is it not?

Positional arguments

You can of course define arguments, which are positional in the same way as when you are defining and calling a function. The parsing will expect all arguments to be in the order, you defined them.

parser.add_argument("input_file", default=None, help=("Input file to read"))
python3 input.txt --count 5 --name PyLady

Other options

Switch names begin, according to Unix convention, with hyphens: one hyphen - for one-letter abbreviations, two hyphens -- for multi-letter names. One switch can have more than one name - short option and long option.

        "-v", "--verbosity", type=int, default=3, choices=[0, 1, 2, 3, 4],
            "Set verbosity of log output "
            "(4=DEBUG, 3=INFO, 2=WARNING, 1=ERROR, 0=CRITICAL). (default: 3)"

Parameter names with hyphens inside them will automatically turn them into variable names with underscores, as it is not possible to have a hyphen in variable name in Python.

        action="store_true", help=("Computations will return all results to the power of 2.")
args = parser.parse_args()

If you use more options with two hyphens, you need to access the values from the args object via the first option, as in this example:

parser.add_argument('-n', '--name', '--firstname', help='a name to repeat', required=True)
hello(args.count,, args.indent)
# both work
python3 --name PyLady --count 5
python3 --firstname PyLady --count 5

This has been a short introduction into working with CLI.