2. Using the Python Interpreter¶
2.1. Invoking the Interpreter¶
The Python interpreter is usually installed as
on those machines where it is available; putting
/usr/local/bin in your
Unix shell’s search path makes it possible to start it by typing the command:
to the shell. 1 Since the choice of the directory where the interpreter lives
is an installation option, other places are possible; check with your local
Python guru or system administrator. (E.g.,
/usr/local/python is a
popular alternative location.)
On Windows machines where you have installed Python from the Microsoft Store, the
python3.11 command will be available. If you have
the py.exe launcher installed, you can use the
command. See Excursus: Setting environment variables for other ways to launch Python.
Typing an end-of-file character (Control-D on Unix, Control-Z on
Windows) at the primary prompt causes the interpreter to exit with a zero exit
status. If that doesn’t work, you can exit the interpreter by typing the
The interpreter’s line-editing features include interactive editing, history
substitution and code completion on systems that support the GNU Readline library.
Perhaps the quickest check to see whether command line editing is supported is
typing Control-P to the first Python prompt you get. If it beeps, you
have command line editing; see Appendix Interactive Input Editing and History Substitution for an
introduction to the keys. If nothing appears to happen, or if
echoed, command line editing isn’t available; you’ll only be able to use
backspace to remove characters from the current line.
The interpreter operates somewhat like the Unix shell: when called with standard input connected to a tty device, it reads and executes commands interactively; when called with a file name argument or with a file as standard input, it reads and executes a script from that file.
A second way of starting the interpreter is
python -c command [arg] ...,
which executes the statement(s) in command, analogous to the shell’s
-c option. Since Python statements often contain spaces or other
characters that are special to the shell, it is usually advised to quote
command in its entirety.
Some Python modules are also useful as scripts. These can be invoked using
python -m module [arg] ..., which executes the source file for module as
if you had spelled out its full name on the command line.
When a script file is used, it is sometimes useful to be able to run the script
and enter interactive mode afterwards. This can be done by passing
before the script.
All command line options are described in Command line and environment.
2.1.1. Argument Passing¶
When known to the interpreter, the script name and additional arguments
thereafter are turned into a list of strings and assigned to the
variable in the
sys module. You can access this list by executing
sys. The length of the list is at least one; when no script and no arguments
sys.argv is an empty string. When the script name is given as
'-' (meaning standard input),
sys.argv is set to
-c command is used,
sys.argv is set to
-m module is used,
sys.argv is set to the full name of the
located module. Options found after
-c command or
module are not consumed by the Python interpreter’s option processing but
sys.argv for the command or module to handle.
2.1.2. Interactive Mode¶
When commands are read from a tty, the interpreter is said to be in interactive
mode. In this mode it prompts for the next command with the primary prompt,
usually three greater-than signs (
>>>); for continuation lines it prompts
with the secondary prompt, by default three dots (
...). The interpreter
prints a welcome message stating its version number and a copyright notice
before printing the first prompt:
$ python3.11 Python 3.11 (default, April 4 2021, 09:25:04) [GCC 10.2.0] on linux Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information. >>>
Continuation lines are needed when entering a multi-line construct. As an
example, take a look at this
>>> the_world_is_flat = True >>> if the_world_is_flat: ... print("Be careful not to fall off!") ... Be careful not to fall off!
For more on interactive mode, see Interactive Mode.
2.2. The Interpreter and Its Environment¶
2.2.1. Source Code Encoding¶
By default, Python source files are treated as encoded in UTF-8. In that encoding, characters of most languages in the world can be used simultaneously in string literals, identifiers and comments — although the standard library only uses ASCII characters for identifiers, a convention that any portable code should follow. To display all these characters properly, your editor must recognize that the file is UTF-8, and it must use a font that supports all the characters in the file.
To declare an encoding other than the default one, a special comment line should be added as the first line of the file. The syntax is as follows:
# -*- coding: encoding -*-
where encoding is one of the valid
codecs supported by Python.
For example, to declare that Windows-1252 encoding is to be used, the first line of your source code file should be:
# -*- coding: cp1252 -*-
One exception to the first line rule is when the source code starts with a UNIX “shebang” line. In this case, the encoding declaration should be added as the second line of the file. For example:
#!/usr/bin/env python3 # -*- coding: cp1252 -*-
On Unix, the Python 3.x interpreter is by default not installed with the executable named
python, so that it does not conflict with a simultaneously installed Python 2.x executable.