How to Create and Execute a Command Line Script with Python on macOS (and Linux)
Making automation even better.
Let’s imagine that you just completed your first script to automate a super boring piece of your workflow. Now it’s time to use it! Very simple: call
python3 relative/path/to/my/scrpt.py and you are done… but there are some downsides with this:
- the command to type is very long;
- also, based on where you are calling your script and where your script is saved, the relative path you have to type can change every time. When you have 1 script it is workable to remember it, but what about when you will have 100?
I bet that with such downsides you will use your script (at most) 2 times and then you will fall back to do everything manually.
Luckily for you, following this guide you will understand how to set up your script so that you can call it from your terminal typing just
my_script.py. This will be independent of where you are on your system (exactly how you call all the other bash program that you already use!).
Before you begin this guide you’ll need the following:
you need Python 3 installed. In principle, the concepts explained can be extended to different programming languages. Nonetheless, I will use Python as a demonstration during the article.
You need to have a working script on which you can work along with the tutorial. If you don’t have one, you can create a file called
example_script.pyand type the following code in it:
You need macOS, but the same commands can be used also on a Linux system since they are both based on Unix.
You need to have some confidence with the terminal and the command line. You should understand the basic usage of the
lscommands and understand what is a path.
Step 1 - Saving the File
Save your script somewhere on your system and remember where you placed it. To generalise, I will suppose that your file is named
example_script.py and the path to this file is
path/to/my/example_scritp.py. Of course, you can substitute those value with whatever you want.
In principle, whichever place on your system is good but, thinking long-term when you will have lots of automation script, maybe its better if you dedicate a single place to collect all your script. Personally, I keep all my scripts in
~/Documents/projects/Automation/, but you can decide the place that best suite your needs.
Step 2 - Adding the Shebang
When you call your script using
python3 example_script.py your are just telling your system the following:
Take my file
example_script.pyand translate what I wrote inside it using the program called
Then, your OS starts looking into all its system directories for a file called
python3 and, if he can find it, it will do what you have asked. Otherwise, an error is printed on your terminal.
python3 executable was placed on your system while you installed Python. You want to tell your system to use the
python3 file without explicitly writing it in the command line. To do this, you can use a special character sequence that must be placed in the first line of the script. So, in practice, our new file will look like this:
#! path/to/the/python3/executable print(“Hello world!”)
#!is called shebang, and it is used by the system basically to understand in which language the program is written.
The problem now is that you need to know where the Python executable is on your system, but this can change based on how you installed it and which system you are using. Luckily for you, the command
which can search it for you! Type
$ which python3
on your terminal and you will see where the Python executable is located on your system. In my case the terminal returns
/usr/local/anaconda3/bin/python3. I am using macOS 10.15 and I installed Python through Homebrew and the Anaconda distribution, so keep in mind that this value can change for you if you are using a different system.
You have to place this value after the shebang in your script. In my case, I will have a file that will look like
#! /usr/local/anaconda3/bin/python3 print(“Hello world!”)
Step 3 - Adding Execution Permission to the Script
You are not done yet. To execute a file, you need permission to do it! Using the terminal, navigate to where you saved your script and type
ls -l. This command will print the list of all files inside the directory alogn with some details. Among all the lines, you should see something like this:
-rw-r--r--@ 1 user staff 58 Apr 26 16:01 example_script.py
user is replaced by the name of the user on your computer. You are interested in the first 10 characters. Each character is telling you something about the file.
- The first character is telling you if the element is a file (
-), a directory (
d) or a link (
- Characters 2 through 4 are telling you the file owner’s permissions. In the order: read (
r), write (
w) and execute (
- Characters 5 through 10 are telling the same thing, but for the group to which the files belong (characters 5 to 7) and for all the other users (characters 8 to 10). We are not interested in those in this tutorial.
As you can see, the 4th character is
-, so it means that you cannot execute the file. You need to grant yourself permission to execute it. To do that you can type
$ chmod +x example_script.py
If you do this and type
ls -l again you should find an output that looks like
-rwxr-xr-x@ 1 user staff 58 Apr 26 16:01 example_script.py
As you see, you now have the permission to execute the file!
To check that this is true, try to run the program typing
If you see the expected output (in the case of the example program, the phrase
Hello world!) it means that everything worked correctly.
Step 4 - Modify the PATH Variable
At this point, you need to solve one final problem: in fact, you don’t need to type
python3 anymore but you still need to type the relative path to the script. To solve this problem you need to modify the
PATHvariable is a special variable used by your system to know in which directories it should search the programs that you want to execute.
In particular, you need to add the directory in which
example_script.py is saved. So first of all open again your terminal and type
ls -al. You should find two files called
If you don’t see it, don’t worry, you will create it. In fact, in both cases, you should type
$ nano .bashrc
nano .zshrc). The
nano text editor will open in your terminal, and you are ready to modify your
PATH variable. Now type
(This means that you should type the path up until the directory that contains your script.) At this point close and save the file using
ctrl + X and
Y. Then, close and reopen the terminal.
.bashrcis called and executed from the terminal every time a new session is open.
The code that you wrote inside it is telling your terminal to update the
PATH variable adding, at the end, a new directory. So, from now on, when you type a command on the terminal your system will search also inside that directory to find the program that you requested.
To test that everything is working, you can write
from wherever on your system and check if the output is the one that you expect.
.pyfile extension every time, rename the file and remove the extension.
In this article you understood how to:
- find where an executable is located on your system using
- add a proper shebang to your script to suggest how it should be interpreted by your system;
- add a directory to the
PATHvariable to tell your system where to search for your script.
Now you can call your automation scripts from every path on your system, great! I am sure that, from now on, you will write much more automation scripts!