Building a Command Line Tool with Python

2 hours
  • 6 Learning Objectives

About this Hands-on Lab

Python is a fantastic language for building all sorts of things, from small scripts up to gigantic web applications. In this Hands-On Lab, we’re going to build a robust command line application. By the time we’re finished, we’ll have gone through the complete process of starting a Python project to having an installable command line application.

Learning Objectives

Successfully complete this lab by achieving the following learning objectives:

Create package.

To begin, we’re going to structure our package with all of our business logic within a src directory. Here’s a way we can create our basic structure:

$ mkdir hr
$ cd hr
$ mkdir -p src/hr
$ touch src/hr/__init__.py
$ touch README.rst

Next, we’ll create a virtualenv for our project using pipenv:

$ pipenv --python python3.7

Finally, we’ll create our setup.py so that we can install our package later.

Note: Here’s the official documentation on how to write a setup script.

setup.py

from setuptools import setup, find_packages

with open('README.rst', encoding='UTF-8') as f:
  readme = f.read()

setup(
    name='hr',
    version='1.0.0',
    description='Command line user export utility',
    long_description=readme,
    author='Your Name',
    author_email='your_email@example.com',
    packages=find_packages('src'),
    package_dir={'': 'src'},
    install_requires=[]
)
Implement CLI interface.

With the package created, we’re going to build the application one logical piece at a time. Let’s start by building the CLI using argparse and the add_argument method.

src/hr/cli.py

import argparse

def create_parser():
    parser = argparse.ArgumentParser()
    parser.add_argument('--path', help='the path to the export file')
    parser.add_argument('--format', default='json', choices=['json', 'csv'], type=str.lower)
    return parser

Now we have a parser that we can use in the main function for our tool.

Format user information.

Before we can export the information about the system’s users, we’ll need to get the information from the system’s password database in a format that we can easily work with. We’ll rely on the pwd package to do this. Let’s add some functions to handle this in src/hr/users.py:

src/hr/users.py

import pwd

def fetch_users():
    users = []
    for user in pwd.getpwall():
        if user.pw_uid >= 1000 and 'home' in user.pw_dir:
            users.append({
              'name': user.pw_name,
              'id': user.pw_uid,
              'home': user.pw_dir,
              'shell': user.pw_shell,
            })
    return users

This fetch_users function will handle formatting all of the information that we need before we export it.

Write JSON and CSV.

Before wiring everything together, we’re going to create a few functions to handle exporting our user information. These will heavily rely on the standard library json and csv packages. Let’s add our functions to src/hr/export.py, starting with exporting JSON:

src/hr/export.py

import json

def to_json_file(export_file, users):
    json.dump(users, export_file, indent=4)
    export_file.close()

This function basically just wraps the built in json.dump function while also closing the file.

The CSV export will be a little more complicated:

src/hr/export.py

import csv
import json

def to_json_file(export_file, users):
    json.dump(users, export_file, indent=4)
    export_file.close()

def to_csv_file(export_file, users):
    export_file.write('name,id,home,shelln')
    writer = csv.writer(export_file)
    rows = [[user['name'], user['id'], user['home'], user['shell']] for user in users]
    writer.writerows(rows)
    export_file.close()
Wire the pieces together.

With all of the individual parts ready, it’s time to put them all together. Let’s create a main function as part of our hr/src/cli.py file:

src/hr/cli.py

import argparse

def create_parser():
    parser = argparse.ArgumentParser()
    parser.add_argument('--path', help='the path to the export file')
    parser.add_argument('--format', default='json', choices=['json', 'csv'], type=str.lower)
    return parser

def main():
    import sys
    from hr import export, users
    from hr import users as u

    args = create_parser().parse_args()
    users = u.fetch_users()

    if args.path:
        file = open(args.path, 'w', newline='')
    else:
        file = sys.stdout

    if args.format == 'json':
        export.to_json_file(file, users)
    else:
        export.to_csv_file(file, users)

Now that we have a function to run, we need to add it as one of the console_scripts in our setup.py:

setup.py

from setuptools import setup, find_packages

with open('README.rst', encoding='UTF-8') as f:
  readme = f.read()

setup(
    name='hr',
    version='1.0.0',
    description='Command line user export utility',
    long_description=readme,
    author='Your Name',
    author_email='your_email@example.com',
    packages=find_packages('src'),
    package_dir={'': 'src'},
    install_requires=[],
    entry_points={
        'console_scripts': 'hr=hr.cli:main',
    },
)
Install the `hr` tool.

With everything built and wired together, we’re ready to install the tool so that our user can access it:

$ pip3.7 install --user -e .
Obtaining file:///home/cloud_user/hr
Installing collected packages: hr
  Running setup.py develop for hr
Successfully installed hr
$ hr --help
usage: hr [-h] [--path PATH] [--format {json,csv}]

optional arguments:
  -h, --help           show this help message and exit
  --path PATH          the path to the export file
  --format {json,csv}

Additional Resources

You've been asked to create a tool to export a system's user information into formats that can be used by other departments. The command will be able to export user names, IDs, home directories, and shells as either JSON or CSV. This command will not include information about system users. By default, the command will display the information as JSON to Stdout, but the --format flag will allow a person to specify csv as an alternative export type. Additionally, a file can be specified by using the --path flag. Here are the various ways that the tool can be used:

$ hr --format=csv --path=path/to/users.csv
$ hr --path=path/to/users.json
$ hr
[
  {
    "name": "cloud_user",
    "id": 1002,
    "home": "/home/cloud_user",
    "shell": "/bin/bash"
  },
  {
    "name": "kevin",
    "id": 1003,
    "home": "/home/kevin",
    "shell": "/bin/zsh"
  },
]
$ hr --format=csv
name,id,home,shell
cloud_user,1002,/home/cloud_user,/bin/bash
kevin,1003,/home/kevin,/bin/zsh

Hints:

Python's standard library provides many tools that can be useful in creating this tool. Some libraries to consider:

  • pwd: For accessing the Password/User database.
  • argparse: For building the CLI and parsing flags.
  • json: For JSON encoding and decoding.
  • csv: For CSV encoding and decoding.

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