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24. Development Tools

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23.2. shlex — Simple lexical analysis

New in version 1.5.2.

The shlex class makes it easy to write lexical analyzers for simple syntaxes resembling that of the Unix shell. This will often be useful for writing minilanguages, (for example, in run control files for Python applications) or for parsing quoted strings.

Note: The shlex module currently does not support Unicode input.

The shlex module defines the following functions:

shlex.split(s[, comments[, posix]])

Split the string s using shell-like syntax. If comments is False (the default), the parsing of comments in the given string will be disabled (setting the commenters member of the shlex instance to the empty string). This function operates in POSIX mode by default, but uses non-POSIX mode if the posix argument is false.

New in version 2.3.

Changed in version 2.6: Added the posix parameter.

Note: Since the split() function instantiates a shlex instance,
passing None for s will read the string to split from standard input.

The shlex module defines the following class:

class class shlex.shlex([instream[, infile[, posix]]])

A shlex instance or subclass instance is a lexical analyzer object. The initialization argument, if present, specifies where to read characters from. It must be a file-/stream-like object with read() and readline() methods, or a string (strings are accepted since Python 2.3). If no argument is given, input will be taken from sys.stdin. The second optional argument is a filename string, which sets the initial value of the infile member. If the instream argument is omitted or equal to sys.stdin, this second argument defaults to “stdin”. The posix argument was introduced in Python 2.3, and defines the operational mode. When posix is not true (default), the shlex instance will operate in compatibility mode. When operating in POSIX mode, shlex will try to be as close as possible to the POSIX shell parsing rules.

See also:

Module ConfigParser
Parser for configuration files similar to the Windows .ini files.

23.2.1. shlex Objects

A shlex instance has the following methods:


Return a token. If tokens have been stacked using push_token(), pop a token off the stack. Otherwise, read one from the input stream. If reading encounters an immediate end-of- file, self.eof is returned (the empty string ('') in non- POSIX mode, and None in POSIX mode).


Push the argument onto the token stack.


Read a raw token. Ignore the pushback stack, and do not interpret source requests. (This is not ordinarily a useful entry point, and is documented here only for the sake of completeness.)


When shlex detects a source request (see source below) this method is given the following token as argument, and expected to return a tuple consisting of a filename and an open file-like object.

Normally, this method first strips any quotes off the argument. If the result is an absolute pathname, or there was no previous source request in effect, or the previous source was a stream (such as sys.stdin), the result is left alone. Otherwise, if the result is a relative pathname, the directory part of the name of the file immediately before it on the source inclusion stack is prepended (this behavior is like the way the C preprocessor handles #include "file.h").

The result of the manipulations is treated as a filename, and returned as the first component of the tuple, with open() called on it to yield the second component. (Note: this is the reverse of the order of arguments in instance initialization!)

This hook is exposed so that you can use it to implement directory search paths, addition of file extensions, and other namespace hacks. There is no corresponding ‘close’ hook, but a shlex instance will call the close() method of the sourced input stream when it returns EOF.

For more explicit control of source stacking, use the push_source() and pop_source() methods.

shlex.push_source(stream[, filename])

Push an input source stream onto the input stack. If the filename argument is specified it will later be available for use in error messages. This is the same method used internally by the sourcehook() method.

New in version 2.1.


Pop the last-pushed input source from the input stack. This is the same method used internally when the lexer reaches EOF on a stacked input stream.

New in version 2.1.

shlex.error_leader([file[, line]])

This method generates an error message leader in the format of a Unix C compiler error label; the format is '"%s", line %d: ', where the %s is replaced with the name of the current source file and the %d with the current input line number (the optional arguments can be used to override these).

This convenience is provided to encourage shlex users to generate error messages in the standard, parseable format understood by Emacs and other Unix tools.

Instances of shlex subclasses have some public instance variables which either control lexical analysis or can be used for debugging:


The string of characters that are recognized as comment beginners. All characters from the comment beginner to end of line are ignored. Includes just '#' by default.


The string of characters that will accumulate into multi-character tokens. By default, includes all ASCII alphanumerics and underscore.


Characters that will be considered whitespace and skipped. Whitespace bounds tokens. By default, includes space, tab, linefeed and carriage-return.


Characters that will be considered as escape. This will be only used in POSIX mode, and includes just '\' by default.

New in version 2.3.


Characters that will be considered string quotes. The token accumulates until the same quote is encountered again (thus, different quote types protect each other as in the shell.) By default, includes ASCII single and double quotes.


Characters in quotes that will interpret escape characters defined in escape. This is only used in POSIX mode, and includes just '"' by default.

New in version 2.3.


If True, tokens will only be split in whitespaces. This is useful, for example, for parsing command lines with shlex, getting tokens in a similar way to shell arguments.

New in version 2.3.


The name of the current input file, as initially set at class instantiation time or stacked by later source requests. It may be useful to examine this when constructing error messages.


The input stream from which this shlex instance is reading characters.


This member is None by default. If you assign a string to it, that string will be recognized as a lexical-level inclusion request similar to the source keyword in various shells. That is, the immediately following token will opened as a filename and input taken from that stream until EOF, at which point the close() method of that stream will be called and the input source will again become the original input stream. Source requests may be stacked any number of levels deep.


If this member is numeric and 1 or more, a shlex instance will print verbose progress output on its behavior. If you need to use this, you can read the module source code to learn the details.


Source line number (count of newlines seen so far plus one).


The token buffer. It may be useful to examine this when catching exceptions.


Token used to determine end of file. This will be set to the empty string (''), in non-POSIX mode, and to None in POSIX mode.

New in version 2.3.

23.2.2. Parsing Rules

When operating in non-POSIX mode, shlex will try to obey to the following rules.

  • Quote characters are not recognized within words (Do"Not"Separate is parsed as the single word Do"Not"Separate);
  • Escape characters are not recognized;
  • Enclosing characters in quotes preserve the literal value of all characters within the quotes;
  • Closing quotes separate words ("Do"Separate is parsed as "Do" and Separate);
  • If whitespace_split is False, any character not declared to be a word character, whitespace, or a quote will be returned as a single-character token. If it is True, shlex will only split words in whitespaces;
  • EOF is signaled with an empty string ('');
  • It’s not possible to parse empty strings, even if quoted.

When operating in POSIX mode, shlex will try to obey to the following parsing rules.

  • Quotes are stripped out, and do not separate words ("Do"Not"Separate" is parsed as the single word DoNotSeparate);
  • Non-quoted escape characters (e.g. '\') preserve the literal value of the next character that follows;
  • Enclosing characters in quotes which are not part of escapedquotes (e.g. "'") preserve the literal value of all characters within the quotes;
  • Enclosing characters in quotes which are part of escapedquotes (e.g. '"') preserves the literal value of all characters within the quotes, with the exception of the characters mentioned in escape. The escape characters retain its special meaning only when followed by the quote in use, or the escape character itself. Otherwise the escape character will be considered a normal character.
  • EOF is signaled with a None value;
  • Quoted empty strings ('') are allowed;