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Default values for argparse commandline args read from a config file.

Project description

With argparse_config your commandline applications will understand config files automatically, based on the commandline arguments you specify.

Let’s say I’m reimplementing the Mercurial commandline client. I specify the commandline argument processing with argparse, of course:

arg_parser = ArgumentParser('hg')
sub_parsers = arg_parser.add_subparsers()

merge_parser = sub_parsers.add_parser('merge')
merge_parser.add_argument('--force', type='store_const', const=True, default=False)

commit_parser = sub_parsers.add_parser('commit')

When I go to use this client, though, I have to keep specifying my --user with every commit, and --tool with every merge. That sucks! What I want is to have my client understand a simple config file format:

tool: meld

user: Tikitu de Jager <>

And obviously, as I add more arguments and subcommands to my client, it should allow me to add defaults in the config file without writing more code.

This is what argparse_config gives you. To use it with the mercurial client arg_parser above:

>>> import argparse_config
>>> argparse_config.read_config(arg_parser, '/home/tikitu/.my_hg.cfg')

… and that’s it. Calling arg_parser.parse_args() will parse args as usual, but the default values will be taken from the config file, if they are given there:

>>> parsed_args = arg_parser.parse_args(['merge'])
>>> parsed_args.tool

What can I put in the config file?

Under the hood argparse_config uses the standard library ConfigParser. Arguments that aren’t for a subcommand go in the section [default]. The names are munged from the commandline argument, removing leading dashes and converting internal dashes to underscores (e.g. --log-level becomes log_level:).

Flags (i.e. commandline args that take no parameters) are turned on if present in the config, just like the commandline:


is the equivalent of --verbose.

How does it work?

By gudgeling about in the private internals of argparse. Yes, that’s not pretty.


Any required arguments that are present in a config file will show as optional, not required, in the --help output. (This is a bug-by-design, due to not having any clever idea about how to do it better.) It may help to tell yourself, “It’s not required on the commandline because I gave it in the config file.” (I will gladly make this dodgy rationalisation disappear if I figure out how to handle required arguments more tidily.)


It’s on BitBucket. Feel free to play. It comes with a handy zc.buildout wrapper too, overkill though that clearly is.


It’s “alpha software” at present; likely to be buggy and lots of stuff ain’t there yet. Check the issues list to stay up to date. Some things I plan to add:

  • A utility to output a config file, based on a set of commandline arguments.

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