Should I put #! (shebang) in Python scripts, and what form should it take?

Should I put the shebang in my Python scripts? In what form?

#!/usr/bin/env python 

or

#!/usr/local/bin/python

Are these equally portable? Which form is used most?

Note: the tornado project uses the shebang. On the other hand the Django project doesn’t.

12 Answers

The shebang line in any script determines the script’s ability to be executed like a standalone executable without typing python beforehand in the terminal or when double clicking it in a file manager (when configured properly). It isn’t necessary but generally put there so when someone sees the file opened in an editor, they immediately know what they’re looking at. However, which shebang line you use IS important.

Correct usage for Python 3 scripts is:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

This defaults to version 3.latest. For Python 2.7.latest use python2 in place of python3.

The following should NOT be used (except for the rare case that you are writing code which is compatible with both Python 2.x and 3.x):

#!/usr/bin/env python

The reason for these recommendations, given in PEP 394, is that python can refer either to python2 or python3 on different systems. It currently refers to python2 on most distributions, but that is likely to change at some point.

Also, DO NOT Use:

#!/usr/local/bin/python

“python may be installed at /usr/bin/python or /bin/python in those cases, the above #! will fail.”

“#!/usr/bin/env python” vs “#!/usr/local/bin/python”

It’s really just a matter of taste. Adding the shebang means people can invoke the script directly if they want (assuming it’s marked as executable); omitting it just means python has to be invoked manually.

The end result of running the program isn’t affected either way; it’s just options of the means.

Should I put the shebang in my Python scripts?

Put a shebang into a Python script to indicate:

  • this module can be run as a script
  • whether it can be run only on python2, python3 or is it Python 2/3 compatible
  • on POSIX, it is necessary if you want to run the script directly without invoking python executable explicitly

Are these equally portable? Which form is used most?

If you write a shebang manually then always use #!/usr/bin/env python unless you have a specific reason not to use it. This form is understood even on Windows (Python launcher).

Note: installed scripts should use a specific python executable e.g., /usr/bin/python or /home/me/.virtualenvs/project/bin/python. It is bad if some tool breaks if you activate a virtualenv in your shell. Luckily, the correct shebang is created automatically in most cases by setuptools or your distribution package tools (on Windows, setuptools can generate wrapper .exe scripts automatically).

In other words, if the script is in a source checkout then you will probably see #!/usr/bin/env python. If it is installed then the shebang is a path to a specific python executable such as #!/usr/local/bin/python (NOTE: you should not write the paths from the latter category manually).

To choose whether you should use python, python2, or python3 in the shebang, see PEP 394 – The “python” Command on Unix-Like Systems:

  • python should be used in the shebang line only for scripts that are source compatible with both Python 2 and 3.

  • in preparation for an eventual change in the default version of Python, Python 2 only scripts should either be updated to be source compatible with Python 3 or else to use python2 in the shebang line.

If you have more than one version of Python and the script needs to run under a specific version, the she-bang can ensure the right one is used when the script is executed directly, for example:

#!/usr/bin/python2.7

Note the script could still be run via a complete Python command line, or via import, in which case the she-bang is ignored. But for scripts run directly, this is a decent reason to use the she-bang.

#!/usr/bin/env python is generally the better approach, but this helps with special cases.

Usually it would be better to establish a Python virtual environment, in which case the generic #!/usr/bin/env python would identify the correct instance of Python for the virtualenv.

You should add a shebang if the script is intended to be executable. You should also install the script with an installing software that modifies the shebang to something correct so it will work on the target platform. Examples of this is distutils and Distribute.

Sometimes, if the answer is not very clear (I mean you cannot decide if yes or no), then it does not matter too much, and you can ignore the problem until the answer is clear.

The #! only purpose is for launching the script. Django loads the sources on its own and uses them. It never needs to decide what interpreter should be used. This way, the #! actually makes no sense here.

Generally, if it is a module and cannot be used as a script, there is no need for using the #!. On the other hand, a module source often contains if __name__ == '__main__': ... with at least some trivial testing of the functionality. Then the #! makes sense again.

One good reason for using #! is when you use both Python 2 and Python 3 scripts — they must be interpreted by different versions of Python. This way, you have to remember what python must be used when launching the script manually (without the #! inside). If you have a mixture of such scripts, it is a good idea to use the #! inside, make them executable, and launch them as executables (chmod …).

When using MS-Windows, the #! had no sense — until recently. Python 3.3 introduces a Windows Python Launcher (py.exe and pyw.exe) that reads the #! line, detects the installed versions of Python, and uses the correct or explicitly wanted version of Python. As the extension can be associated with a program, you can get similar behaviour in Windows as with execute flag in Unix-based systems.

The purpose of shebang is for the script to recognize the interpreter type when you want to execute the script from the shell. Mostly, and not always, you execute scripts by supplying the interpreter externally. Example usage: python-x.x script.py

This will work even if you don’t have a shebang declarator.

Why first one is more “portable” is because, /usr/bin/env contains your PATH declaration which accounts for all the destinations where your system executables reside.

NOTE: Tornado doesn’t strictly use shebangs, and Django strictly doesn’t. It varies with how you are executing your application’s main function.

ALSO: It doesn’t vary with Python.

When I installed Python 3.6.1 on Windows 7 recently, it also installed the Python Launcher for Windows, which is supposed to handle the shebang line. However, I found that the Python Launcher did not do this: the shebang line was ignored and Python 2.7.13 was always used (unless I executed the script using py -3).

To fix this, I had to edit the Windows registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREClassesPython.Fileshellopencommand. This still had the value

"C:Python27python.exe" "%1" %*

from my earlier Python 2.7 installation. I modified this registry key value to

"C:Windowspy.exe" "%1" %*

and the Python Launcher shebang line processing worked as described above.

If you have different modules installed and need to use a specific python install, then shebang appears to be limited at first. However, you can do tricks like the below to allow the shebang to be invoked first as a shell script and then choose python. This is very flexible imo:

#!/bin/sh
#
# Choose the python we need. Explanation:
# a) '''' translates to  in shell, and starts a python multi-line string
# b) "" strings are treated as string concat by python, shell ignores them
# c) "true" command ignores its arguments
# c) exit before the ending ''' so the shell reads no further
# d) reset set docstrings to ignore the multiline comment code
#
"true" ''''
PREFERRED_PYTHON=/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.7/bin/python
ALTERNATIVE_PYTHON=/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/3.6/bin/python3
FALLBACK_PYTHON=python3

if [ -x $PREFERRED_PYTHON ]; then
    echo Using preferred python $PREFERRED_PYTHON
    exec $PREFERRED_PYTHON "$0" "[email protected]"
elif [ -x $ALTERNATIVE_PYTHON ]; then
    echo Using alternative python $ALTERNATIVE_PYTHON
    exec $ALTERNATIVE_PYTHON "$0" "[email protected]"
else
    echo Using fallback python $FALLBACK_PYTHON
    exec python3 "$0" "[email protected]"
fi
exit 127
'''

__doc__ = """What this file does"""
print(__doc__)
import platform
print(platform.python_version())

Or better yet, perhaps, to facilitate code reuse across multiple python scripts:

#!/bin/bash
"true" ''''; source $(cd $(dirname ${BASH_SOURCE[@]}) &>/dev/null && pwd)/select.sh; exec $CHOSEN_PYTHON "$0" "[email protected]"; exit 127; '''

and then select.sh has:

PREFERRED_PYTHON=/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/2.7/bin/python
ALTERNATIVE_PYTHON=/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/3.6/bin/python3
FALLBACK_PYTHON=python3

if [ -x $PREFERRED_PYTHON ]; then
    CHOSEN_PYTHON=$PREFERRED_PYTHON
elif [ -x $ALTERNATIVE_PYTHON ]; then
    CHOSEN_PYTHON=$ALTERNATIVE_PYTHON
else
    CHOSEN_PYTHON=$FALLBACK_PYTHON
fi

Answer: Only if you plan to make it a command-line executable script.

Here is the procedure:

Start off by verifying the proper shebang string to use:

which python

Take the output from that and add it (with the shebang #!) in the first line.

On my system it responds like so:

$which python
/usr/bin/python

So your shebang will look like:

#!/usr/bin/python

After saving, it will still run as before since python will see that first line as a comment.

python filename.py

To make it a command, copy it to drop the .py extension.

cp filename.py filename

Tell the file system that this will be executable:

chmod +x filename

To test it, use:

./filename

Best practice is to move it somewhere in your $PATH so all you need to type is the filename itself.

sudo cp filename /usr/sbin

That way it will work everywhere (without the ./ before the filename)

Absolute vs Logical Path:

This is really a question about whether the path to the Python interpreter should be absolute or Logical (/usr/bin/env) in respect to portability.

Encountering other answers on this and other Stack sites which talked about the issue in a general way without supporting proofs, I’ve performed some really, REALLY, granular testing & analysis on this very question on the unix.stackexchange.com. Rather than paste that answer here, I’ll point those interested to the comparative analysis to that answer:

https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/566019/334294

Being a Linux Engineer, my goal is always to provide the most suitable, optimized hosts for my developer clients, so the issue of Python environments was something I really needed a solid answer to. My view after the testing was that the logical path in the she-bang was the better of the (2) options.

Use first

which python

This will give the output as the location where my python interpreter (binary) is present.

This output could be any such as

/usr/bin/python

or

/bin/python

Now appropriately select the shebang line and use it.

To generalize we can use:

#!/usr/bin/env

or

#!/bin/env

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