Adventures in Machine Learning

Mastering Command-Line Interfaces with argparse in Python

Getting to Know Command-Line Interfaces

Have you ever encountered a command-line interface (CLI) and felt intimidated? If so, don’t worry; you’re not alone.

CLI is a powerful tool used in various applications for advanced users, and it has become increasingly essential in programming. In this article, we’re going to look at what interfaces are, different types of user interfaces, and the components of command-line interfaces.

Definition of Interfaces

An interface is a point of contact between two systems, devices, or programs to communicate or interact with each other. In simpler terms, an interface acts as a common ground between two objects where they transfer data or information.

Types of User Interfaces

There are two primary types of user interfaces: Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) and Command-Line Interfaces (CLIs). GUIs are interfaces designed to interact with the user through icons, menus, buttons, and other graphical elements.

They are user-friendly and allow users to perform tasks through visual manipulations. In contrast, CLIs require users to enter specific command-line commands or series of code to prompt particular actions, making it more text-based and less intuitive.

Components of Command-Line Interfaces

Command-line interfaces have five essential components that programmers use to input commands: the command, argument, option, parameter, and subcommand. The command is the main instruction to the software or application.

Arguments are necessary data points required to complete the command. Options modify the actions of the command and can be either optional or compulsory.

Parameters provide more specific details about the desired action used with an option or command. Lastly, subcommands are secondary commands that link to the primary command and provide additional methods and functions.

Getting Started With CLIs in Python: sys.argv vs argparse

Python is a popular programming language frequently used for creating CLIs, with two common methods: sys.argv and argparse. In this section, we will explore each method’s definition, structure, and its advantages and sys.argv

Sys.argv is a built-in Python module that allows users to develop applications with a minimal command-line interface.

It takes parameters via the command line, and developers can parse, iterate, manipulate, and filter them to invoke specific actions in their code. The basic syntax for using sys.argv is as follows:


import sys



The output of this program would be an array comprising the arguments passed when executing the script from the command line. Limitations of sys.argv

Although sys.argv is a quick and easy way to build CLI apps for basic projects, it has some limitations that can make it challenging for more complex applications.

Firstly, it can be challenging to handle errors, exceptions, and validate the inputted arguments due to its limited built-in methods. Secondly, it lacks support for shortcuts or optional flags that users can use to choose multiple options when executing a argparse

The argparse library is a Python module that offers a powerful way to build complex CLI applications that can handle various arguments and options thoroughly.

It is an excellent replacement for sys.argv and can save developers time by handling complex functionalities with a few lines of code. The basic syntax on how to use argparse is as follows:


import argparse

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser()

parser.add_argument(“–num1”, type=int, required=True,

help=”Enter the first number”)

parser.add_argument(“–num2”, type=int, required=True,

help=”Enter the second number”)

args = parser.parse_args()


This program will take in two required argument parameters (–num1, — num2) with integer data types and provide an error message if the inputs don’t match the specified format.


Now that we’ve covered the basics of interfaces and command-line interfaces, you should be able to understand how to communicate with different applications, the types of user interfaces, and the components of command-line interfaces. Moreover, you now have a general idea of Python’s different CLI development methods: sys.argv and argparse.

By learning more about CMD and Command Prompt, you can empower yourself with more control over your PC while utilizing the command-line interface. Experiment with these exciting tools and have fun exploring the potential.

Creating a CLI with argparse

In the previous section, we introduced the argparse module as an excellent alternative to sys.argv for creating complex command-line interfaces in Python. In this section, we’re going to explore how to use argparse in four simple steps, understand positional and optional arguments, and create a CLI script with argparse.

Four Steps of Using argparse

Using argparse involves four essential steps: creating an ArgumentParser object, adding arguments, parsing the arguments, and processing them. 1.

Creating an ArgumentParser object: Call the ArgumentParser class to create an object. 2.

Adding arguments: Invoke the add_argument() method to specify the arguments and their corresponding attributes. 3.

Parsing the arguments: Invoke the parse_args() method to parse the command-line arguments. 4.

Processing the arguments: Access the namespaces and attributes stored in the parsed arguments objects to process the Positional and Optional Arguments

Arguments can be classified into two main types – positional and optional arguments. Positional arguments are compulsory data points without which the program will throw an error.

In contrast, optional arguments are listed after positional arguments and usually have default values or are user-defined.

Creating a CLI Script with argparse

Let’s create a simple CLI script using argparse to clarify how to use this module best. “`

import argparse

def calculate(num1, num2, operation):

if operation == “add”:

return num1 + num2

elif operation == “subtract”:

return num1 – num2

elif operation == “multiply”:

return num1 * num2

elif operation == “divide”:

return num1 / num2

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description=”Calculator Application”)

parser.add_argument(“num1″, type=int, help=”First number”)

parser.add_argument(“num2″, type=int, help=”Second number”)

parser.add_argument(“operation”, type=str, help=”add, subtract, multiply, or divide”)

args = parser.parse_args()

result = calculate(args.num1, args.num2, args.operation)

print(f”The result of {args.num1} {args.operation} {args.num2} is {result}”)


The above code is a simple CLI script that will perform mathematical operations based on the given numbers and operator. Namespace, Usage, and Help Messages and Errors

When using argparse, you can customize the arguments in the following ways:

– Usage messages: shows when a user types “–help” or “-h.”

– Help messages: display helpful text inside the command-line interface.

– Errors: alert users when errors are encountered while parsing commands.

Adding Arguments and Options

Adding a positional argument

Positional arguments are typically compulsory and placed at the beginning of the commandline. Adding them using argparse involves specifying a name and a data type.

Here is an example:




help=”name of the file to open”)


The above argument will take a string as input in the command-line interface.

Setting the Type and Default Value of Arguments

Using argparse, you can specify the type of input your command-line argument will accept, as well as default values. Here is an example of how to set the type and default values of arguments in your CLI:





help=”first number”)


The “–num1” argument will accept only integers and has a default value of 0.

Adding Optional Arguments

Adding optional arguments involves adding an argument prefix such as “–” before the argument name to indicate that it is an optional argument. You can also specify a data type, default value, and a help message.

Here is an example:



help=”print detailed output information”,



The above argument takes no inputs and merely prints a message on screen.

Setting the Action of Options

Adds more functionality to your CLI by using action, which allows you to specify what happens when an option is passed. Here are some of the standard actions supported by argparse:

– store: Stores the argument value

– store_true: Stores the “True” boolean value when the argument is present.

– store_false: Stores the “False” boolean value when the argument is present. – append: Stores a list of values for the same argument

– version: Prints the program version

An example of an action attribute in an argument is as follows:




version=”%(prog)s 1.0″)


This example prints the program’s version number.


In this article, we discussed how to create a CLI using argparse in Python and how to add arguments and options, including positional arguments, optional arguments, and actions. By understanding these concepts, you can create more advanced and robust command-line interfaces that your users will find easy to use.

It’s essential to keep in mind that a well-designed interface is crucial to the success of any program and that using argparse is an efficient and convenient method for achieving that design.

Fine-Tuning Your Command-Line Arguments and Options

In the previous section, we covered the basics of creating a command-line interface using argparse. In this section, we will explore advanced techniques for fine-tuning your command-line arguments and options, including using choices and enums, setting the order of arguments and options, creating required optional arguments, and customizing input values in arguments and options.

Using Choices and Enums for Arguments and Options

In large applications, you may want specific arguments or options to only accept specific values. argparse provides two ways to achieve this – by using choices or enums.

Choices are pre-defined lists of acceptable values, while enums are sets of named values that allow easier maintainability than using hardcoded strings or integers. “`

from enum import Enum

class Color(Enum):

GREEN = “Green”

BLUE = “Blue”

RED = “Red”




help=”select a color”)


This example uses an enum to define three colors, and the “–color” argument will only accept one of those three choices.

Setting the Order of Arguments and Options

The order of arguments and options in a command-line interface is not arbitrary. For instance, when using a CLI to create a file, the filename usually follows the “create” command.

You can force argparse to adopt a similar order by using add_subparsers() or destinations.

Creating Required Optional Arguments

Sometimes, your command-line interface may require that a particular option is present. In such cases, you can make an argument required by using the required=True attribute.

For example:





help=”user’s name”)


This example sets the “–name” argument to require a valid string input.

Customizing Input Values in Arguments and Options

You can use the type attribute to enforce specific values or convert input values to a specific format. For example, if you want to ensure that “–age” accepts only integers, you can use the int type:




help=”user’s age”)


This example ensures that “–age” will only accept integer values.

Customizing Your Command-Line Argument Parser

Tweaking the Program’s Help and Usage Content

argparse offers customization options to improve the clarity of your program’s help and usage messages. You can customize these messages by modifying the description and epilog attributes in the ArgumentParser object.

Providing Global Settings for Arguments and Options

In large applications, you may want some command-line arguments or options to be available across the entire program rather than specific to one function or operation. argparse provides a simple way to do that by using the add_argument_group() method to create an argument group that is global to the whole program.

Defining Mutually Exclusive Argument and Option Groups

Sometimes, you may want to restrict command-line inputs to a limited set, with rules that prevent certain options from being used together. argparse meets these requirements with mutually exclusive options by making use of the add_mutually_exclusive_group() method to create groups of mutually exclusive command-line arguments.

Adding Subcommands to Your CLIs

Subcommands divide a large script into smaller and more manageable modules, making the code more maintainable. Supporting subcommands involves creating a new parser object for each subcommand and then registering all of the subparsers with the main parser.


math_parser = subparser.add_parser(‘math’)

math_sub_parser = math_parser.add_subparsers()

… “`

The above example creates a subcommand for “math,” and its parser adds the subparsers for that subcommand.


By using the advanced argparse features above, you can design and write command-line interfaces that cater to specific user requirements, are clear in required inputs, and contain organized presentation with clear usage and help messages. A well-designed CLI offers a better user experience and facilitates productivity.

So keep tweaking your command-line interfaces with argparse until you get the most efficient tools for your use cases.

Handling How Your CLI Apps Execution Terminates

In this section, we will discuss two essential topics related to how your CLI application executes and terminates: effectively using raise SystemExit() and customizing the exit status code.

Effectively Using raise SystemExit()

The SystemExit exception is a built-in Python exception that causes the interpreter to exit when it is raised. In command-line interfaces, raising SystemExit is a useful technique for informing users of critical errors or when the program’s execution has terminated successfully.

SystemExit exceptions are created programmatically using the ‘raise’ statement. To use it, call the ‘raise SystemExit()’ method, and the program will exit immediately.


import sys

if not args.filepath:

print(“Filepath not provided. Please provide filepath.”)

raise SystemExit()


Customizing the Exit Status Code

Exit status codes in command-line interfaces indicate whether the program has executed successfully or not. Traditionally, exit status code zero means success, while non-zero indicates an error.

You can customize the exit status code by specifying a different return value for the SystemExit exception.


import sys

if not args.filepath:

print(“Filepath not provided. Please provide filepath.”)

raise SystemExit(1)


Here, we set the exit status code to 1 for any exceptions raised during the program’s execution.


In this article, we discussed how to handle how your CLI application executes and terminates. We explored in detail how to use raise SystemExit() to exit the program gracefully, indicate errors to the user, and customize the exit status code.

Proper error handling and termination during command-line interface execution are critical to ensuring user-friendly and efficient CLI apps. With these tools and techniques, developers can streamline the execution flow and create applications that are easier to use and more reliable.

By mastering these concepts, you are now ready to build high-quality CLI applications using argparse. In conclusion, this article has provided a thorough understanding of the argparse module, covering topics such as creating a CLI, fine-tuning arguments and options, and handling command-line application execution.

It is essential to understand the importance of CLI applications in programming and efficient interfaces for users. By mastering argparse, developers can streamline the execution flow of CLI applications and produce applications that are user-friendly and efficient.

Takeaways from this article include using choices and enums for arguments and options, setting the order of arguments and options,

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