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A Python interface to the UNIX dialog utility and mostly-compatible programs

Project description

Easy writing of graphical interfaces for terminal-based applications


pythondialog is a Python wrapper for the UNIX dialog utility originally written by Savio Lam and later rewritten by Thomas E. Dickey.

Its purpose is to provide an easy to use, pythonic and as complete as possible interface to dialog from Python code.

pythondialog is free software, licensed under the GNU LGPL (GNU Lesser General Public License).

If you want to get a quick idea of what this module allows you to do, you should run


What is pythondialog good for? What are its limitations?

As you might infer from the name, dialog is a high-level program that generates dialog boxes. So is pythondialog. They allow you to build nice interfaces quickly and easily, but you don’t have full control over the widgets, nor can you create new widgets without modifying dialog itself. If you need to do low-level stuff, you should have a look at ncurses or slang instead. For sophisticated text-mode interfaces, the Urwid Python library looks rather interesting, too.


  • As of version 2.12, pythondialog requires Python 3.0 or later in the 3.x series. pythondialog 2.14.0 has been tested with Python 3.2 and 3.3.

  • I will probably provide a Python 2 backport at some point around release 2.15, but this will not be regular, and probably not of the same quality as the Python 3 version. In the meantime, users who really want to stick to Python 2 should use version 2.11 (which can be found from the home page, or directly from the SourceForge download page).

  • Apart from that, pythondialog requires the dialog program (or a drop-in replacement for dialog). You can download dialog from:


pythondialog is fully documented through Python docstrings. This documentation can be browsed with the pydoc3 standalone program or by simply opening in a pager or editor. The documentation of the latest version as rendered by pydoc3 should be available at:

To generate the documentation yourself from, you can type “pydoc3 dialog” at the command prompt in the pythondialog base directory or “pydoc3 /path/to/”. Alternatively, you can type:

>>> import dialog; help(dialog)

at a Python 3 command prompt.

You can extract the documentation from to an HTML file with “pydoc3 -w dialog” or “pydoc3 -w /path/to/”. This will generate dialog.html in the current directory.

Alternatively, if pythondialog is already installed, pydoc3 can act as an HTTP server and provide the documentation to web browsers. For instance, launching “pydoc3 -p 1234” will make it listen on TCP port 1234. You can then point your browser to http://localhost:1234/ and read the documentation.

See the pydoc module documentation for more information.

Using Xdialog instead of dialog

As far as I can tell, Xdialog has not been ported to GTK+ 2 or later. It is not in Debian stable nor unstable (June 23, 2013). It is not installed on my system (because of the GTK+ 1.2 dependency), and according to the Xdialog-specific patches I received from Peter Åstrand in 2004, was not a drop-in replacement for dialog (in particular, Xdialog seemed to want to talk to the caller through stdout instead of stderr, grrrrr!).

All this to say that, even though I didn’t remove the options to use another backend than dialog, nor did I remove the handful of little, non-invasive modifications that help pythondialog work better with Xdialog, I don’t really support the latter. I test everything with dialog, and nothing with Xdialog.

That being said, here is the old text of this section (from 2004), in case you are still interested:

Starting with 2.06, there is an “Xdialog” compatibility mode that you can use if you want pythondialog to run the graphical Xdialog program (which should be found under instead of dialog (text-mode, based on the ncurses library).

The primary supported platform is still dialog, but as long as only small modifications are enough to make pythondialog work with Xdialog, I am willing to support Xdialog if people are interested in it (which turned out to be the case for Xdialog).

The from pythondialog 2.06 has been tested with Xdialog 2.0.6 and found to work well (barring Xdialog’s annoying behaviour with the file selection dialog box).

Whiptail, anyone?

Well, pythondialog seems not to work very well with whiptail. The reason is that whiptail is not compatible with dialog anymore. Although you can tell pythondialog the program you want it to invoke, only programs that are mostly dialog-compatible are supported.


If you have a problem with a pythondialog call, you should read its documentation and the dialog(1) manual page. If this is not enough, you can enable logging of shell command-line equivalents of all dialog calls made by your program with a simple call to Dialog.setup_debug(), first available in pythondialog 2.12. An example of this can be found in

As of version 2.12, you can also enable this debugging facility for by calling it with the –debug flag (cf. ‘ –help’).


pythondialog was originally written by Robb Shecter. Sultanbek Tezadov added some features to it (mainly the first gauge implementation, I guess). Florent Rougon rewrote most parts of the program to make it more robust and flexible so that it can give access to most features of the dialog program. Peter Åstrand took over maintainership between 2004 and 2009, with particular care for the Xdialog support. Florent Rougon took over maintainership again starting from 2009…

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