graze logo

snack overflow

by the graze technology teams

cmd_utils - Easier Shell Commands with Python

Here at Graze we use puppet to handle all our server configuration, but we still find plenty of times when we need to run scripts outside of puppet. Whether it’s for deploying code, running those one off commands or running one command over every server to check something there’s always the need for scripting shell commands.

We’ve chosen to use Python for our scripting when it gets beyond more than a couple of lines of bash. Python gives us flexibility, readability and a nice mix of high level concepts and raw power.

Of course a lot of our older scripts are written in bash and in moving to Python we’ve lost the simple shell integration previously available. Handling shell commands in Python is just an exercise in rewriting the same boilerplate code to handle the subprocess, output and return code.

For example lets see if there are any changes to a local git repo:

import os
import subprocess

working_dir = "/home/mark/a-git-repo"
command = "git diff-index --quiet HEAD --"

ps = subprocess.Popen(command, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, shell=True)
output = ps.communicate()[0]
return_code = ps.returncode

if return_code != 0:
    raise Exception()

Or in bash:

COMMAND="git diff-index --quiet HEAD --"


if [ $RETURN_CODE -ne 0 ]; then
    echo "Error Occured"
    exit 1

Obviously we gain much better error handling with Python but the amount of code required to run one command is larger, a fact especially noticable when you run a lot of commands.

Since we have multiple servers we also need to do remote commands, the paramiko module for Python handles SSH well but once again requires a lot of code:

import paramiko

host =
username = mark
working_dir = "/home/mark/a-git-repo"
command = "git diff-index --quiet HEAD --"

ssh = paramiko.SSHClient()
# Auto add missing host keys
ssh.connect(host, username=username)

cmd = "cd %s && %s" % (working_dir, command)
stdin, stdout, stderr = ssh.exec_command(cmd)
return_code =

if return_code != 0:
    raise Exception()

This is where our new Python module cmd_utils comes in; it’s a small wrapper module for subprocess and paramiko that turns the code above into this:

import cmd_utils

working_dir = "/home/mark/a-git-repo"
command = "git diff-index --quiet HEAD --"

output = cmd_utils.run_cmd(command, target_dir)

and remote:

import cmd_utils

host = ""
username = "mark"
working_dir = "/home/mark/a-git-repo"
command = "git diff-index --quiet HEAD --"

output = cmd_utils.run_cmd(host, username, command, working_dir)

Cleaner, easier and quicker to write. It also has the option to handle a non-zero return code as an error (on by default) and instead of a single command it can also take a list.

The module is available on GitHub and PyPI, to see examples click here.