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I have a few Python scripts laying around, and I'm working on rewriting them. I have the same problem with all of them.

It's not obvious to me how to write the programs so that they behave like proper unix tools.

Because this

$ cat characters | progname

and this

$ progname characters

should produce the same output.

The closest thing I could find to that in Python was the fileinput library. Unfortunately, I don't really see how to rewrite my Python scripts, all of which look like this:

#!/usr/bin/env python                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
# coding=UTF-8

import sys, re

for file in sys.argv[1:]:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
    f = open(file)
    fs =
    regexnl = re.compile('[^\s\w.,?!:;-]')
    rstuff = regexnl.sub('', fs)
    print rstuff

The fileinput library processes stdin if there is a stdin, and processes a file if there is a file. But it iterates over single lines.

import fileinput
for line in fileinput.input():

I really don't get that. I guess if you're dealing with small files, or if you're not doing much to the files, this may seem obvious. But, for my purposes, this makes it much slower than simply opening the entire file and reading it into a string, as above.

Currently I run the script above like

$ pythonscript textfilename1 > textfilename2

But I want to be able to run it (and its brethren) in pipes, like

$ grep pattern textfile1 | pythonscript | pythonscript | pythonscript > textfile2
share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Why not just

files = sys.argv[1:]
if not files:
    files = ["/dev/stdin"]

for file in files:
    f = open(file)
share|improve this answer
sys.stdin should be used instead as it's more portable than hardcoded path to file. – Piotr Dobrogost Feb 3 at 10:26
sys.stdin should be used instead, as Piotr says – smci Nov 11 at 4:27

Check if a filename is given as an argument, or else read from sys.stdin.

Something like this:

if sys.argv[1]:
   f = open(sys.argv[1])
   f = sys.stdin 

It's similar to Mikel's answer except it uses the sys module. I figure if they have it in there it must be for a reason...

share|improve this answer
What if two file names are specified on the command line? – Mikel Sep 4 '12 at 21:28
Oh absolutely! I didn't bother showing it because it was already shown in your answer. At some point you have to trust the user to decide what she needs. But feel free to edit if you believe this is best. My point is only to replace "open(/dev/stdin") with sys.stdin. – rahmu Sep 4 '12 at 21:40

My preferred way of doing it turns out to be... (and this is taken from a nice little Linux blog called Harbinger's Hollow)

#!/usr/bin/env python

import argparse, sys

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser()
parser.add_argument('filename', nargs='?')
args = parser.parse_args()
if args.filename:
    string = open(args.filename).read()
elif not sys.stdin.isatty():
    string =

The reason why I liked this best is that, as the blogger says, it just outputs a silly message if accidentally called without input. It also slots so nicely into all of my existing Python scripts that I have modified them all to include it.

share|improve this answer
Sometimes you do want to enter the input interactively from a tty; checking isatty and bailing out does not conform to the philosophy of Unix filters. – musiphil Sep 24 '13 at 7:58
Apart from the isatty wart, this covers useful and important ground not found in the other answers, so it gets my upvote. – tripleee Sep 23 at 5:53

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