Jamie Read


DevOps Engineer and Open Source author

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6 January 2020

Pyash (and why I can't have nice things anymore)

by Jamie Read

A few months back an innocent thought came into my mind:

Can you make Python run this bash statement…?

cat "kittens.txt" | grep "fluff" > fluffy_kittens.txt

Yes. Well nearly. But, mostly yes.

An Adventure Begins

The Saturday after my innocent thought was spent trying to get as close as possible to making Python run the above line.

Most users probably see cat "kittens.txt" and think it isn’t in the slightest syntactically correct and would be completely impossible to get to compile. You would be right actually. I never worked this one out.

So I lowered my goal a little:

cat("kittens.txt") | grep("fluff") > fluffy_kittens.txt

This is a little more reasonable! Now we have simple, Pythonic function calls surrounded by errors!

Let’s start.

The first thing to do is to make cat and grep functions that we can call here, since we’re obviously making function calls. I really wanted the ability to run any executable on my PC, just like you can in bash, because I really like that aspect of shell scripting, so I wrote something along the lines of this:

import os, glob

for path in os.environ["PATH"].split(";"):
    for executable_path in glob.glob(path + "\\*.exe"):
        name = os.path.splitext(os.path.basename(executable_path))[0]

        globals()[name] = lambda *args, e=executable_path: os.system("\"" + e + "\" " + " ".join(args))

(I work on a Windows machine with Git Bash, hence the search for .exe files)

It’s janky, but this chunk of Python essentially searches through each path in the PATH variable for executables and creates a lambda function that runs the executable when called. It then adds that to the dictionary of globals so that you can now do things like:

mv("kittens.txt", "bed.txt")

Or even:



And it was at this point I realised that the print function had been overwritten to invoke print.exe instead…

Sigh :unamused:

Frankenstein’s Python

This is a great start. At this point I actually moved that code into a library of its own so that you can import the functions individually (it helped with the whole print issue!)

from shell import cat, grep, kubectl # not you print

Let’s look at a harder example:

ps() > "processes.txt"

In bash, this would take the output of the ps command and put it in the specified text file.

You’ll notice that I’ve enclosed the name of the file in quotes, it’s still valid bash so it doesn’t count as cheating… :eyes:

This isn’t so hard. In normal Python, this just gets evaluated as: is the result of ps() greater than the string “processes.txt”? True or False? If we return a custom object from ps() we can then overload the greater than operator to be able to compare itself with strings. (Overloading operators is essentially just a fancy term for redefining them with a custom implementation, so Python will use our implemention for performing greater than comparisons rather than its normal one.)

Here’s a simple class we can return from ps() that does it:

class EvaluationResult:
    def __init__(self, output):
        self._output = output

    def __gt__(self, target):
        with open(target, 'w') as f:

In this case we’ve overridden the greater than operator to write to a file of the name taken from the string it’s comparing against.

I won’t show my full code, because at this point I switched to using subprocess.Popen instead of os.system to run the executables, and that’s a whole other topic I don’t want to explain here.

Let’s throw in a different example:


Here we want to output the result of ps to the console but with the above code you’ll just get the memory address of our EvaluationResult class:

<__main__.EvaluationResult object at 0x03783030>

An easy fix, we just need to overload __str__:

class EvaluationResult:
    def __init__(self, output):
        self._output = output

    def __gt__(self, target):
        with open(target, 'w') as f:

    def __str__(self, target):
        with open(target, 'w') as f:

(__str__ is called when Python wants a string representation of an object, you can override this to provide better visibility into your classes while debuging if you like!)

So how about our original example then?

cat("kittens.txt") | grep("fluff") > fluffy_kittens.txt

The pipe operator (|, normally or) is also available to overload in Python, so all we need to do is overload it to pass the output of our first executable to the input of the second.

Unfortunately, Python, like most languages, executes cat("kittens.txt") first, then executes grep("fluff"), and then finally executes the or. By the time we get to our overloaded or operator we’ll have already executed the second command and wont be able to pass it the output from the first (in actual fact, grep will have hung waiting for input, so the or overload we write won’t ever be called here anyway, doh).

The only solution I came up with for this was to lazily run the executables underneath the functions, that is to say that when you run cat("kittens.txt") it doesn’t actually run the cat executable until the or gets evaluated later, at which point we know where it’s output goes.

class LazyInvocation:
    def __init__(self, output):
        self._output = output

    def __gt__(self, target):

        with open(target, 'w') as f:

    def __or__(self, target):
        target._input = self._output

    def run(self):
        # actually run the command, passing self._input in and assigning self._output

It makes everything a little wierd to run now though, because:


Won’t actually run ps anymore…


By the end of my Saturday, I had a nice set of bash syntax implemented!

from pyash import cat, grep, rm

cat("animals.txt") | grep("cat") | grep("-v", "caterpillar") > "nice_things.txt"
find(".", "-name", "*sunset*") >> "nice_things.txt"

print(nc("localhost", "22") < "nice_things.txt")


So I present to you my first PyPI repository, Pyash!

(‘pyash’ being ‘python-bash’, if you didn’t get that… :grimacing:)

I don’t recommend you use it; I can’t imagine your coworkers would be best pleased with you using it either, and frankly it fails a number of PEP-8 style guidelines. However, it does go to show how much you can abuse Python and what you can do with a little creativity!

It’s not nice, nor is it a good idea and I feel like I’ve made a very beautiful language into a monster. This is why I can’t have nice things.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this story, if you have any of your own thoughts of things that could be added to Pyash or ways in which it can abuse Python further please do comment below and/or give them a go yourself!

tags: python, - bash, - showdev