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Interface to BBDB, the Insidious Big Brother Database

Project description

PyBBDB -- an interface to the Insidious Big Brother Database status


PyBBDB may sound like a rude noise, but it is actually a Python interface to the Insidious Big Brother Database (BBDB), an address book used with GNU Emacs. You can find out more about BBDB on the Emacs Wiki. The PyBBDB source repo is hosted at Sourcehut. Releases can be found on PyPI.

Note: This module currently only handles BBDB file format 9 (the latest format, as of January 2021). Formats earlier than this should first be converted by GNU Emacs.


The usual incantation will install things:

pip install pybbdb


Creating a BBDB database

To create a new database is as simple as you might expect:

>>> from bbdb.database import BBDB
>>> db = BBDB()

The database starts with no records. To add a new one, use the add_record() method, specifying the first and last names, and any other attributes you want to set:

>>> fred = db.add_record("Fred", "Flintstone")
>>> fred                       # doctest: +ELLIPSIS +REPORT_UDIFF
Record(firstname='Fred', lastname='Flintstone', affix=[], aka=[], ...

>>> barney = db.add_record("Barney", "Rubble")
>>> db
<BBDB: 2 records>

The first and last names are attributes:

>>> fred.firstname, fred.lastname
('Fred', 'Flintstone')

There's also a composite name property:

'Fred Flintstone'

You can set other attributes on the returned record object:

Most BBDB attributes consist of lists of things:

>>> fred.add_company("Slate Rock & Gravel")
>>> fred.add_affix("Mr")
>>> fred.add_aka("Freddie")
>>> fred.add_net("")
>>> fred.add_net("")

['', '']

>>> fred.affix

Telephone records consist of a location tag and a phone number. The phone number can be either a list of integers (USA-style) or a string (international style):

>>> fred.add_phone("Home", "555-1234")
>>> fred.add_phone("Work", [555, 6789])
>>> list(sorted(
[('Home', '555-1234'), ('Work', [555, 6789])]

Records can have multiple addresses, each indexed by a location tag. Each address in turn has several attributes:

>>> home = fred.add_address("Home")
>>> home.set_location("Cave 2a", "345 Cavestone Road")
>>> = "Bedrock"
>>> home.state = "Hanna Barbera"
>>> home.zipcode = "12345"
>>> = "USA"

>>> home                       # doctest: +ELLIPSIS +REPORT_UDIFF
Address(location=['Cave 2a', '345 Cavestone Road'], city='Bedrock', ...

>>> home.location
['Cave 2a', '345 Cavestone Road']

>>> home.zipcode

Finally, each entry can have an arbitrary dictionary of user-defined notes:

>>> fred.add_note("spouse", "Wilma")
>>> fred.add_note("kids", "Pebbles, Bam-Bam")
>>> fred.add_note("catchphrase", '"Yabba dabba doo!"')
>>> list(sorted(fred.notes.items()))
[('catchphrase', '"Yabba dabba doo!"'), ('kids', 'Pebbles, Bam-Bam'), ('spouse', 'Wilma')]

Note values can also have newlines:

>>> barney.add_note("pets", "brontosaurus\npterodactyl")

Reading and writing BBDB files

The write() method will write the database to a stream (default stdout) in a format suitable for use by GNU Emacs. THe write_file() method writes to a file instead. They both use the lisp() method internally, to return the raw lisp text:

>>> print(db.lisp())      # doctest: +ELLIPSIS +REPORT_UDIFF
;; -*-coding: utf-8-emacs;-*-
;;; file-version: 9
;;; user-fields: (catchphrase kids pets spouse)
["Barney" "Rubble" nil nil nil nil nil nil ((pets . "brontosaurus\npterodactyl")) ...
["Fred" "Flintstone" ("Mr") ("Freddie") ("Slate Rock & Gravel") (["Home" "555-1234"] ...

The convenience write_file() method will put that in a file:

>>> db.write_file("examples/bbdb.el")

You can read a database from file using the fromfile() static method:

>>> newdb = BBDB.fromfile("examples/bbdb.el")
>>> newdb
<BBDB: 2 records>

The read() and read_file() methods of a BBDB database can be used import records from other databases.

Exporting to other formats

You can convert a BBDB database to a JSON string for serialization, using the json method:

>>> print(db.json(indent=4))   # doctest: +ELLIPSIS +REPORT_UDIFF
    "coding": "utf-8-emacs",
    "fileversion": 9,
    "records": [
            "firstname": "Barney",
            "lastname": "Rubble",
            "affix": [],
            "aka": [],
            "company": [],
            "phone": {},
            "address": {},
            "net": [],
            "notes": {
                "pets": "brontosaurus\\npterodactyl"
            "uuid": ...
            "creation": ...
            "timestamp": ...
            "firstname": "Fred",
            "lastname": "Flintstone",
            "affix": [
            "aka": [
            "company": [
                "Slate Rock & Gravel"
            "phone": {
                "Home": "555-1234",
                "Work": [
            "address": {
                "Home": {
                    "location": [
                        "Cave 2a",
                        "345 Cavestone Road"
                    "city": "Bedrock",
                    "state": "Hanna Barbera",
                    "zipcode": "12345",
                    "country": "USA"
            "net": [
            "notes": {
                "spouse": "Wilma",
                "kids": "Pebbles, Bam-Bam",
                "catchphrase": "\"Yabba dabba doo!\""
            "uuid": ...
            "creation": ...
            "timestamp": ...

The dict() method dumps the database as a Python dict. You can also create a BBDB database from an appropriately-structured dict using the fromdict() method:

>>> data = db.dict()
>>> newdb = BBDB.fromdict(data)
>>> newdb == db

Release history

Version 0.7 (1 March 2021)

  • Bugfix: allow string lists for aka, affix and company entries.

Version 0.6 (28 February 2021)

  • Bugfix: install bbdb.lark, so that things actually work outside a development environment.

Version 0.5 (27 January 2021)

  • Major rewrite to support latest BBDB file format (version 9).
  • Use lark and dateutil for parsing.
  • Use pydantic for validation.
  • Drop support for Python 2.

Version 0.4 (10 February 2017)

  • Use pytest for unit tests.
  • Bugfix: add support for newlines in fields.
  • Bugfix: allow last name to be nil.

Version 0.3 (22 July 2015)

  • Bugfix: get things working properly with Python 3.

Version 0.2 (2 July 2015)

  • Add validation of data using voluptuous.
  • Add a bunch of demo converter programs.
  • Add tox test support.
  • Add Python 3 support.
  • Bugfix: convert records from file to correct type.

Version 0.1 (11 June 2015)

  • Initial release.


You can add bug reports, feature requests, etc., to the issue tracker. Patches will also be welcome!

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