shlex — Simple lexical analysis

Source code: Lib/

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.

The shlex module defines the following functions:

shlex.split(s, comments=False, posix=True)

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 attribute 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.

Changed in version 3.12: Passing None for s argument now raises an exception, rather than reading sys.stdin.


Concatenate the tokens of the list split_command and return a string. This function is the inverse of split().

>>> from shlex import join
>>> print(join(['echo', '-n', 'Multiple words']))
echo -n 'Multiple words'

The returned value is shell-escaped to protect against injection vulnerabilities (see quote()).

Added in version 3.8.


Return a shell-escaped version of the string s. The returned value is a string that can safely be used as one token in a shell command line, for cases where you cannot use a list.


The shlex module is only designed for Unix shells.

The quote() function is not guaranteed to be correct on non-POSIX compliant shells or shells from other operating systems such as Windows. Executing commands quoted by this module on such shells can open up the possibility of a command injection vulnerability.

Consider using functions that pass command arguments with lists such as with shell=False.

This idiom would be unsafe:

>>> filename = 'somefile; rm -rf ~'
>>> command = 'ls -l {}'.format(filename)
>>> print(command)  # executed by a shell: boom!
ls -l somefile; rm -rf ~

quote() lets you plug the security hole:

>>> from shlex import quote
>>> command = 'ls -l {}'.format(quote(filename))
>>> print(command)
ls -l 'somefile; rm -rf ~'
>>> remote_command = 'ssh home {}'.format(quote(command))
>>> print(remote_command)
ssh home 'ls -l '"'"'somefile; rm -rf ~'"'"''

The quoting is compatible with UNIX shells and with split():

>>> from shlex import split
>>> remote_command = split(remote_command)
>>> remote_command
['ssh', 'home', "ls -l 'somefile; rm -rf ~'"]
>>> command = split(remote_command[-1])
>>> command
['ls', '-l', 'somefile; rm -rf ~']

Added in version 3.3.

The shlex module defines the following class:

class shlex.shlex(instream=None, infile=None, posix=False, punctuation_chars=False)

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. 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 attribute. If the instream argument is omitted or equal to sys.stdin, this second argument defaults to “stdin”. The posix argument 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. The punctuation_chars argument provides a way to make the behaviour even closer to how real shells parse. This can take a number of values: the default value, False, preserves the behaviour seen under Python 3.5 and earlier. If set to True, then parsing of the characters ();<>|& is changed: any run of these characters (considered punctuation characters) is returned as a single token. If set to a non-empty string of characters, those characters will be used as the punctuation characters. Any characters in the wordchars attribute that appear in punctuation_chars will be removed from wordchars. See Improved Compatibility with Shells for more information. punctuation_chars can be set only upon shlex instance creation and can’t be modified later.

Changed in version 3.6: The punctuation_chars parameter was added.

See also

Module configparser

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

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, 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(newstream, newfile=None)

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.


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.

shlex.error_leader(infile=None, lineno=None)

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. In POSIX mode, the accented characters in the Latin-1 set are also included. If punctuation_chars is not empty, the characters ~-./*?=, which can appear in filename specifications and command line parameters, will also be included in this attribute, and any characters which appear in punctuation_chars will be removed from wordchars if they are present there. If whitespace_split is set to True, this will have no effect.


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.


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.


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. When used in combination with punctuation_chars, tokens will be split on whitespace in addition to those characters.

Changed in version 3.8: The punctuation_chars attribute was made compatible with the whitespace_split attribute.


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 attribute 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 be opened as a filename and input will be 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 attribute 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.


A read-only property. Characters that will be considered punctuation. Runs of punctuation characters will be returned as a single token. However, note that no semantic validity checking will be performed: for example, ‘>>>’ could be returned as a token, even though it may not be recognised as such by shells.

Added in version 3.6.

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.

Improved Compatibility with Shells

Added in version 3.6.

The shlex class provides compatibility with the parsing performed by common Unix shells like bash, dash, and sh. To take advantage of this compatibility, specify the punctuation_chars argument in the constructor. This defaults to False, which preserves pre-3.6 behaviour. However, if it is set to True, then parsing of the characters ();<>|& is changed: any run of these characters is returned as a single token. While this is short of a full parser for shells (which would be out of scope for the standard library, given the multiplicity of shells out there), it does allow you to perform processing of command lines more easily than you could otherwise. To illustrate, you can see the difference in the following snippet:

>>> import shlex
>>> text = "a && b; c && d || e; f >'abc'; (def \"ghi\")"
>>> s = shlex.shlex(text, posix=True)
>>> s.whitespace_split = True
>>> list(s)
['a', '&&', 'b;', 'c', '&&', 'd', '||', 'e;', 'f', '>abc;', '(def', 'ghi)']
>>> s = shlex.shlex(text, posix=True, punctuation_chars=True)
>>> s.whitespace_split = True
>>> list(s)
['a', '&&', 'b', ';', 'c', '&&', 'd', '||', 'e', ';', 'f', '>', 'abc', ';',
'(', 'def', 'ghi', ')']

Of course, tokens will be returned which are not valid for shells, and you’ll need to implement your own error checks on the returned tokens.

Instead of passing True as the value for the punctuation_chars parameter, you can pass a string with specific characters, which will be used to determine which characters constitute punctuation. For example:

>>> import shlex
>>> s = shlex.shlex("a && b || c", punctuation_chars="|")
>>> list(s)
['a', '&', '&', 'b', '||', 'c']


When punctuation_chars is specified, the wordchars attribute is augmented with the characters ~-./*?=. That is because these characters can appear in file names (including wildcards) and command-line arguments (e.g. --color=auto). Hence:

>>> import shlex
>>> s = shlex.shlex('~/a && b-c --color=auto || d *.py?',
...                 punctuation_chars=True)
>>> list(s)
['~/a', '&&', 'b-c', '--color=auto', '||', 'd', '*.py?']

However, to match the shell as closely as possible, it is recommended to always use posix and whitespace_split when using punctuation_chars, which will negate wordchars entirely.

For best effect, punctuation_chars should be set in conjunction with posix=True. (Note that posix=False is the default for shlex.)