Python Doc Problem Example: os.system

Jeremy Jones zanesdad at
Mon Sep 5 04:14:30 CEST 2005

Xah Lee wrote:

>Python Doc Problem Example: os.system
>Xah Lee, 2005-09
>today i'm trying to use Python to call shell commands. e.g. in Perl
>something like
>in Python i quickly located the the function due to its
>import os
>however, according to the doc
> the os.system()
>returns some esoteric unix thing, not the command output. 

*system*( 	command)

    Execute the command (a string) in a subshell. This is implemented by
    calling the Standard C function system(), and has the same
    limitations. Changes to |posix.environ|, |sys.stdin|, etc. are not
    reflected in the environment of the executed command.

    On Unix, the return value is the exit status of the process encoded
    in the format specified for wait(). Note that POSIX does not specify
    the meaning of the return value of the C system() function, so the
    return value of the Python function is system-dependent.

    On Windows, the return value is that returned by the system shell
    after running command, given by the Windows environment variable
    COMSPEC: on ** systems (Windows 95, 98 and ME) this is
    always |0|; on *cmd.exe* systems (Windows NT, 2000 and XP) this is
    the exit status of the command run; on systems using a non-native
    shell, consult your shell documentation.

    Availability: Unix, Windows.


Yup.  Nothing more esoteric than a process's exit status.  That's one of 
those really tricky jargons that computer scientist idiots like to throw 
around.  You've got to watch out for those.

>The doc
>doesn't say how to get the output of the command.
>by chance someone told me that in python 2.4 the os.system is
>supplanted by, but this isn't mentioned in the doc!
I'm presuming you mean in the os.system docs as you mention below that 
you found such documentation.

>upon finding the new doc location
> i'm told that
>this module replaces:

  6.8 subprocess -- Subprocess management

New in version 2.4.

The 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:


Yeah.  There's a really tricky word up there in the beginning of the 
subprocess doc.  "intends".  In this context, it means that it is 
currently the plan of the Python developers to replace said modules with 
the subprocess module, *however*, that has not totally come about now.  
If the doc had said, "This module *has replaced* several others", then I 
would have to agree with you that the stated module docs should be 
updated to reflect the fact that they have been deprecated.

> Since i'm not Python expert

>, i like to look at these. But
>fuck, the incompetent doc gives ample gratis links to OpenSource this
>or that or author masturbation
OK - I just scanned through the subprocess module docs and I really 
don't see where you're getting this from.  I'll just chalk the former up 
to your bad experience with the regular expression module docs referring 
to the book "Mastering Regular Expressions."  And since you're quite the 
linguistic scholar, I'll chalk up the latter to your unique construction 
of the book title I just cited.

> links to remote book i don't really care
>about, but here there's no link.
>Problem summary:
>* does not focus on the task users need to do. Instead, the doc is
>oriented towards tech geeking.
Are you talking about the subprocess docs?  If so, I'd like to see an 
example of what you're talking about.  Subprocess docs seem really 
straightforward, terse, and to the point.

>* does not inform the reader at the right place where a new function is
>replacing the old.
I would leave it in the hands of the Python doc maintainers what to do 
with this since subprocess hasn't yet totally replaced the other modules.

>* does not provide relevant cross-links. (while provding many
>irrelevant links because of OpenSource or Tech Geeking fanaticism)
I'd really like to see what you're talking about here.  I just went 
through the subprocess docs *again* and I don't see *any* links to any 
other open source anything and I don't see any "tech geeking" to use 
your jargon.  I think you're full of crap.  And I think you don't have 
the balls to reply back to this message and show me what you're talking 
about.  You're just a little boy inside, making a call to a bowling 
alley and asking if they have 15 pound balls and hanging up laughing 
after they reply "yes" and you reply "Then how do you walk!!!"  Oh, 
you're so witty.

>Solution Suggestion:
>* Add examples.
Yeah, the

""" Replacing shell pipe line

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

subprocess module

""" Replacing os.system()

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


""" Replacing os.spawn*

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"})

doesn't have

""" Replacing os.popen*

pipe = os.popen(cmd, mode='r', bufsize)
pipe = Popen(cmd, shell=True, bufsize=bufsize, stdout=PIPE).stdout

pipe = os.popen(cmd, mode='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)


any examples

""" Replacing popen2.*

*Note:* 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 

(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)


at all.

>* Add cross-links to relevant modules.
Bah.  Whatever.  I've wasted enough time on this thread.  I think the 
only reason I read your posts is because you're just so comically and 
consistently off base.

>* Mention and add link at the right place supplanted functions.
>* Orient the doc to tasks and manifest functionalities. Think like
>functional programing: input and output specification, and document
>them. This will help focus and precision in the doc. Avoid prose-like
>descriptions. Avoid drilling on remotely related tech/unix/C esoterica.
>e.g. Do not mention as a documentation how they are implemented.
>Mention implementation on the side if necessary. This way, the language
>becomes focused as a independent tool (e.g. Mathematica, Java, Scheme,
>emacs) (which may provide ample capabilities to interface/connect to
>other technologies), instead of heavily intermixed and dependent with a
>bunch of other things (unix things: Perl, Apache, shells).
>This article is archive at:
> Xah
> xah at

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