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colorful TAB completion for Python prompt

Project description

What is is?

fancycompleter is a module to improve your experience in Python by adding TAB completion to the interactive prompt. It is an extension of the stdlib’s rlcompleter module.

Its best feature is that the completions are displayed in different colors, depending on their type:

In the image above, strings are shown in green, functions in blue, integers and boolean in yellows, None in gray, types and classes in fuchsia. Everything else is plain white.

fancycompleter is compatible with Python 3. However, by default colors don’t work on Python 3, see the section How do I get colors? for details.

Other features

  • To save space on screen, fancycompleter only shows the characters “after the dot”. By contrast, in the example above rlcompleter shows everything prepended by “sys.”.

  • If we press <TAB> at the beginning of the line, a real tab character is inserted, instead of trying to complete. This is useful when typing function bodies or multi-line statements at the prompt.

  • Unlike rlcompleter, fancycompleter does complete expressions containing dictionary or list indexing. For example, mydict['foo'].<TAB> works (assuming that mydict is a dictionary and that it contains the key 'foo', of course :-)).

  • Starting from Python 2.6, is the completed name is a callable, rlcompleter automatically adds an open parenthesis (. This is annoying in case we do not want to really call it, so fancycompleter disable this behaviour.


First, install the module with pip or easy_install:

$ pip install fancycompleter

Then, at the Python interactive prompt:

>>> import fancycompleter
>>> fancycompleter.interact()

If you want to enable it automatically, you can those lines to your startup file (identified by the PYTHONSTARTUP environment variable).

Note: depending on your particular system, interact might need to play dirty tricks in order to display colors, although everything should “just work™”. In particular, the call to interact should be the last line in the startup file, else the next lines might not be executed. See section What is really going on? for details.

How do I get colors?

If you are using PyPy, you can stop reading now, as fancycompleter will work out of the box.

If you are on CPython and you installed fancycompleter with pip or easy_install, they automatically installed pyrepl as a requirement, and you should also get colors out of the box. If for some reason you don’t want to use pyrepl, you should keep on reading.

By default, in CPython line input and TAB completion are handled by GNU readline (at least on Linux). However, readline explicitly strips escape sequences from the completions, so completions with colors are not displayed correctly.

There are two ways to solve it:

  • (suggested) don’t use readline at all and rely on pyrepl

  • use a patched version of readline to allow colors

By default, fancycompleter tries to use pyrepl if it finds it. To get colors you need a recent version, >= 0.8.2.

If you are using Python 3, pyrepl does not work, and thus is not installed. Your only option to get colors is to use a patched readline, as explained below.

I really want to use readline

This method is not really recommended, but if you really want, you can use use a patched readline: you can find the patches in the misc/ directory:

You can also try one of the following precompiled versions, which has been tested on Ubuntu 10.10: remember to put them in a place where the linker can find them, e.g. by setting LD_LIBRARY_PATH:

Once it is installed, you should double-check that you can find it, e.g. by running ldd on Python’s module:

$ ldd /usr/lib/python2.6/lib-dynload/ | grep readline => /home/antocuni/local/32/lib/ (0x00ee7000)

Finally, you need to force fancycompleter to use colors, since by default, it uses colors only with pyrepl: you can do it by placing a custom config file in ~/ An example config file is here (remind that you need to put a dot in front of the filename!).


To customize the configuration of fancycompleter, you need to put a file named in your home directory. The file must contain a class named Config inheriting from DefaultConfig and overridding the desired values.

What is really going on?

The default and preferred way to get colors is to use pyrepl. However, there is no way to tell CPython to use pyrepl instead of the built-in readline at the interactive prompt: this means that even if we install our completer inside pyrepl’s readline library, the interactive prompt won’t see it.

The issue is simply solved by avoiding to use the built-in prompt: instead, we use a pure Python replacement based on code.InteractiveConsole. This brings us also some niceties, such as the ability to do multi-line editing of the history.

The console is automatically run by fancycompleter.interact(), followed by sys.exit(): this way, if we execute it from the script in PYTHONSTARTUP, the interpreter exits as soon as we finish the use the prompt (e.g. by pressing CTRL-D, or by calling quit()). This way, we avoid to enter the built-in prompt and we get a behaviour which closely resembles the default one. This is why in this configuration lines after fancycompleter.interact() might not be run.

Note that if we are using readline instead of pyrepl, the trick is not needed and thus interact() will simply returns, letting the built-in prompt to show up. The same is true if we are running PyPy, as its built-in prompt is based on pyrepl anyway.

Does it work on Windows?

Unfortunately, not. On Windows, readline is not available at all, and while pyrepl is written in pure Python, it sill makes use of unix specific syscalls to control the terminal.

If you really want it, you might try to port pyrepl on Windows by writing the equivalent of, or you can try to use pyreadline and adapt it to support colors in completions. If you manage to make it working, I’d like to know, please :-).

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