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A simple, Pythonic file format. Same interface as the

Project description


A friendly, easy, Pythonic text file format

Copyright 2018-2021 by Larry Hastings


Perky is a new, simple "rcfile" text file format for Python programs. It solves the same problem as "INI" files, "TOML" files, and "JSON" files, but with its own opinion about how to best solve the problem.

Perky's goals:

  • Minimal, human-friendly syntax. Perky files are easy to write by hand.
  • Explicit minimal data type support. Rather than guess at the types of your data, Perky lets you handle the final transformation.
  • Lightweight, simple, and fast. Perky's implementation is small and straightforward. Ignoring comments and test code, it's about 1k lines of Python. Fewer lines means fewer bugs! (Hopefully!)
  • Flexible and extensible. Perky permits extending the semantics of Perky files through a "pragma" mechanism.

Perky syntax

Perky configuration files look something like JSON without the quoting. It supports only a surprisingly small set of value types:

  • strings, including quoted strings and "triple-quoted strings" (multi-line strings),
  • "lists" (arrays),
  • and "dicts" (associative arrays).

Perky is line-oriented; individual values go on a single line. Container objects use one line per internal value.

You may nest lists and dicts as deeply as memory permits.

Unlike Python itself, leading whitespace is ignored. You are free to use leading whitespace to show structure but this is optional.

Blank lines and comment lines (lines starting with #) are ignored.

Perky also supports "pragmas", which are lines that start with an equals sign. By default Perky doesn't define any pragmas--it's an extension mechanism for your use.

Here's a sample Perky configuration file exercising all the things you can do in Perky:

example name = value
example dict = {
    name = 3
    another name = 5.0
example list = [
nested dict = {
    name = value
    nesting level 2 = {
        nesting level 3 = {
            and = so on!
    list inside the dict = [
        value in the list
            and this is in a nested list!
            this is another value.
            you see?
# lines starting with hash are comments and are ignored!

# blank lines are ignored too!

" quoted name " = " quoted value "

triple quoted string = """

        is preserved

    the string is automatically outdented
    to the leftmost character of the *ending*

    <-- aka here

one-line empty list = []
one-line empty dict = {}
one-line empty list with whitespace = [ ]
one-line empty dict with whitespace = { }
multi-line empty list = [
multi-line empty dict = {

=pragma with argument

Explicit transformation is better than implicit

One possibly-surprising design choice of Perky: the only natively supported values for the Perky parser are dicts, lists, and strings. Other commonly-used types (ints, floats, etc) are handled using a different mechanism: transformation.

A Perky transformation takes a dict as input, and transforms the contents of the dict based on a schema. A Perky schema is a dict with the same general shape as the dict produced by the Perky parse, but it contains dicts, lists, and transformation functions. If you want myvalue in {'myvalue':'3'} to be a real integer, transform it with the schema {'myvalue': int}.

Note that Perky doesn't care how or if you transform your data. You can use it as-is, or transform it, or transform it with multiple passes. You don't even need to use Perky's simple transformation mechanisms--you can ignore them completely and use an external transformation library like Marshmallow.


A pragma is a metadata directive for the Perky parser. It's a way of sending instructions to the Perky parser from inside a bit of Perky text.

Here's an example pragma directive:

=command argument here

The first word after the equals sign is the name of the pragma, in this case "command". Everything after the name of the pragma is an argument, with all leading and trailing whitespace removed, in this case "argument here".

By default, Perky doesn't have any pragma handlers. And invoking a pragma when Perky doesn't have a handler for it is a runtime error. But you can define your own pragma handlers when you call perky.load() or perky.loads(), using a named parameter called pragmas. If you pass in a value for pragmas, it must be a mapping of strings to functions. The string name should be the name of the pragma and must be lowercase. The function it maps to will "handle" that pragma, and should match this prototype:

def pragma_fn(parser, argument)

parser is the internal Perky Parser object. argument is the rest of the relevant line, with leading & trailing whitespace stripped. (If the rest of the line was empty, argument will be None). The return value of the pragma function is ignored.

There's currently only one predefined pragma handler, a function called perky.pragma_include(). This adds "include statement" functionality to Perky. If you call this:

perky.load(filename, pragmas={'include': perky.pragma_include()})

then Perky will interpret lines inside filename starting with =include as include statements, using the rest of the line as the name of a file. For more information, see pragma_include() below.

The rules of pragmas:

  • To invoke a pragma, use = as the first non-whitespace character on a line.
  • The names of pragmas must always be lowercase.
  • You can't invoke a pragma inside a triple-quoted string.
  • Pragmas can be "context-sensitive": they can be aware of where they are run inside a file, and e.g. modify the current dict or list. The pragma function can see the entire current nested list of dicts and lists being parsed (via parser.breadcrumbs).
  • The rest of the line after the name of the pragma is the pragma argument value, if any. This is always a string. It can be a quoted string.

Parsing Errors

There are only a few errors possible when parsing a Perky text:

  • Obviously, syntax errors, for example:
    • A line in a dict that doesn't have an unquoted equals sign
    • A line in a list that looks like a dict line (name = value). (If you want a value like that inside a list, simply put it in quotes.)
    • A triple-quoted string where any line is outdented past the ending triple quotes line.
  • Defining the same value twice in the same dict. This is flagged as an error, because it could easily be a mistake, and in Python we don't want to let errors pass silently.
  • Using an undefined pragma.
  • Using one of Perky's special tokens as a pragma argument, like {, [, ''', """, [], or {}.


perky.loads(s, *, pragmas=None) -> d

Parses a string containing Perky-file-format settings. Returns a dict.

perky.load(filename, *, pragmas=None, encoding="utf-8") -> d

Parses a file containing Perky-file-format settings. Returns a dict.

perky.dumps(d) -> s

Converts a dictionary to a Perky-file-format string. Keys in the dictionary must all be strings. Values that are not dicts, lists, or strings will be converted to strings using str. Returns a string.

perky.dump(filename, d, *, pragmas=None, encoding="utf-8")

Converts a dictionary to a Perky-file-format string using perky.dump, then writes it to filename.


This function generates a pragma handler that adds "include" functionality. "Including" means lexically inserting one Perky file inside another, contextually at the spot where the pragma exists.

For example:

d = perky.loads("a=3\n" "=include data.pky\n" "c=5\n",
    pragmas={"include": perky.pragma_include()},

If data.pky contained the following:


then d would be set to the dictionary:

{'a': '3', 'b': '4', 'c': '5'}

perky.pragma_include() is not the pragma handler itself; it returns a function (a closure) which remembers the include_path you pass in. This allows you to use it for multiple pragmas that include from different paths, e.g.:

include_dirs = [appdirs.user_data_dir(myapp_name)]
config_dirs = [appdirs.user_config_dir(myapp_name)]
pragmas = {
    'include': perky.pragma_include(include_dirs),
    'config': perky.pragma_include(config_dirs),


  • The pragma handler is context-sensitive; the included file will be included as if it was copied-and-pasted replacing the pragma line. Among other things, this means that if the pragma is invoked inside a list context, the included file must start in a list context.

  • When loading the file, the pragma handler will pass in the current pragma handlers into perky.load(). Among other things, this allows for recursive includes.

  • When including inside a dict context, you're explicitly permitted to re-define existing keys if they were previously defined in another file.

  • The default value for include_path only searches the current directory ("."). If you override the default and pass in your own include path, the pragma handler won't search the current directory unless you add "." to the include path yourself., fn) -> o

Iterates over a dictionary. Returns a new dictionary where, for every value:

  • if it is a dict, replace with a new dict.
  • if it is a list, replace with a new list.
  • if it is neither a dict nor a list, replace with fn(value).

The function passed in is called a conversion function.

perky.transform(d, schema, default=None) -> o

Recursively transforms a Perky dict into some other object (usually a dict) using the provided schema. Returns a new dict.

A schema is a data structure matching the general expected shape of d, where the values are dicts, lists, and callables. The transformation is similar to except that individual values will have individual conversion functions. Also, a schema conversion function can be specified for any value in d, even dicts or lists.

default is a default conversion function. If there is a value v in d that doesn't have an equivalent entry in schema, and v is neither a list nor a dict, and if default is a callable, v will be replaced with default(v) in the output.



perky.nullable(fn) -> fn


perky.const(fn) -> o



  • Backslash quoting currently does "whatever your version of Python does". Perhaps this should be explicit, and parsed by Perky itself?

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