First, we need to establish some terminology.
a chunk of text that a user enters on the command-line, and that the
shell passes to execl() or execv(). In
Python, arguments are elements of
sys.argv is the name of the program
being executed; in the context of parsing arguments, it's not very
important.) Unix shells also use the term ``word''.
It is occasionally desirable to use an argument list other than
sys.argv[1:], so you should read ``argument'' as ``an element of
sys.argv[1:], or of some other list provided as a substitute for
an argument used to supply extra information to guide or customize
the execution of a program. There are many different syntaxes for
options; the traditional Unix syntax is - followed by a
single letter, e.g. -x or -F. Also,
traditional Unix syntax allows multiple options to be merged into a
single argument, e.g. -x -F is equivalent to
-xF. The GNU project introduced --
followed by a series of hyphen-separated words,
e.g. --file or --dry-run. These are
the only two option syntaxes provided by optparse.
Some other option syntaxes that the world has seen include:
- a hyphen followed by a few letters, e.g. -pf (this is
not the same as multiple options merged into a single
- a hyphen followed by a whole word, e.g. -file (this is
technically equivalent to the previous syntax, but they aren't
usually seen in the same program.)
- a plus sign followed by a single letter, or a few letters,
or a word, e.g. +f, +rgb.
- a slash followed by a letter, or a few letters, or a word, e.g.
optparse does not support these option syntaxes, and it never
will. (If you really want to use one of those option syntaxes, you'll
have to subclass OptionParser and override all the difficult
bits. But please don't! optparse does things the traditional
Unix/GNU way deliberately; the first three are non-standard anywhere,
and the last one makes sense only if you're exclusively targeting
MS-DOS/Windows and/or VMS.)
- option argument
an argument that follows an option, is closely associated with that
option, and is consumed from the argument list when the option is.
Often, option arguments may also be included in the same argument as
the option, e.g. :
may be equivalent to:
(optparse supports this syntax.)
Some options never take an argument. Some options always take an
argument. Lots of people want an ``optional option arguments'' feature,
meaning that some options will take an argument if they see it, and
won't if they don't. This is somewhat controversial, because it makes
parsing ambiguous: if -a and -b are both
options, and -a takes an optional argument, how do we
interpret -ab? optparse does not support optional
- positional argument
something leftover in the argument list after options have been
parsed, i.e., after options and their arguments have been parsed and
removed from the argument list.
- required option
an option that must be supplied on the command-line. The phrase
``required option'' is an oxymoron; the presence of ``required options''
in a program is usually a sign of careless user interface design.
optparse doesn't prevent you from implementing required
options, but doesn't give you much help with it either. See ``Extending
Examples'' (section 6.20.5) for two ways to
implement required options with optparse.
For example, consider this hypothetical command-line:
prog -v --report /tmp/report.txt foo bar
-v and --report are both options. Assuming
the --report option takes one argument,
/tmp/report.txt is an option argument.
are positional arguments.
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