This documentation is for a development version of IPython. There may be significant differences from the latest stable release.

IPython as a system shell


It is possible to adapt IPython for system shell usage. In the past, IPython shipped a special ‘sh’ profile for this purpose, but it had been quarantined since 0.11 release, and in 1.0 it was removed altogether. Nevertheless, much of this section relies on machinery which does not require a custom profile.

You can set up your own ‘sh’ profile to be different from the default profile such that:

  • Prompt shows the current directory (see Prompt customization)
  • Make system commands directly available (in alias table) by running the %rehashx magic. If you install new programs along your PATH, you might want to run %rehashx to update the alias table
  • turn %autocall to full mode


Once you run %rehashx, all of your $PATH has been loaded as IPython aliases, so you should be able to type any normal system command and have it executed. See %alias? and %unalias? for details on the alias facilities. See also %rehashx? for details on the mechanism used to load $PATH.

Directory management

Since each command passed by ipython to the underlying system is executed in a subshell which exits immediately, you can NOT use !cd to navigate the filesystem.

IPython provides its own builtin %cd magic command to move in the filesystem (the % is not required with automagic on). It also maintains a list of visited directories (use %dhist to see it) and allows direct switching to any of them. Type cd? for more details.

%pushd, %popd and %dirs are provided for directory stack handling.

Prompt customization

Here are some prompt configurations you can try out interactively by using the %config magic:

%config PromptManager.in_template = r'{color.LightGreen}\u@\h{color.LightBlue}[{color.LightCyan}\Y1{color.LightBlue}]{color.Green}|\#> '
%config PromptManager.in2_template = r'{color.Green}|{color.LightGreen}\D{color.Green}> '
%config PromptManager.out_template = r'<\#> '

You can change the prompt configuration to your liking permanently by editing

c.PromptManager.in_template = r'{color.LightGreen}\u@\h{color.LightBlue}[{color.LightCyan}\Y1{color.LightBlue}]{color.Green}|\#> '
c.PromptManager.in2_template = r'{color.Green}|{color.LightGreen}\D{color.Green}> '
c.PromptManager.out_template = r'<\#> '

Read more about the configuration system for details on how to find

String lists

String lists (IPython.utils.text.SList) are handy way to process output from system commands. They are produced by var = !cmd syntax.

First, we acquire the output of ‘ls -l’:

[Q:doc/examples]|2> lines = !ls -l
['total 23',
 '-rw-rw-rw- 1 ville None 1163 Sep 30  2006',
 '-rw-rw-rw- 1 ville None 1927 Sep 30  2006',
 '-rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None 4606 Sep  1 17:15',
 '-rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None 1017 Sep 30  2006',
 '-rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  339 Jun 11 18:01',
 '-rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  113 Dec 20  2006',
 '-rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  245 Dec 12  2006 seteditor.pyc']

Now, let’s take a look at the contents of ‘lines’ (the first number is the list element number):

[Q:doc/examples]|3> lines
                <3> SList (.p, .n, .l, .s, .grep(), .fields() available). Value:

0: total 23
1: -rw-rw-rw- 1 ville None 1163 Sep 30  2006
2: -rw-rw-rw- 1 ville None 1927 Sep 30  2006
3: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None 4606 Sep  1 17:15
4: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None 1017 Sep 30  2006
5: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  339 Jun 11 18:01
6: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  113 Dec 20  2006
7: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  245 Dec 12  2006 seteditor.pyc

Now, let’s filter out the ‘embed’ lines:

[Q:doc/examples]|4> l2 = lines.grep('embed',prune=1)
[Q:doc/examples]|5> l2
                <5> SList (.p, .n, .l, .s, .grep(), .fields() available). Value:

0: total 23
1: -rw-rw-rw- 1 ville None 1163 Sep 30  2006
2: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None 1017 Sep 30  2006
3: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  339 Jun 11 18:01
4: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  113 Dec 20  2006
5: -rwxrwxrwx 1 ville None  245 Dec 12  2006 seteditor.pyc

Now, we want strings having just file names and permissions:

[Q:doc/examples]|6> l2.fields(8,0)
                <6> SList (.p, .n, .l, .s, .grep(), .fields() available). Value:

0: total
1: -rw-rw-rw-
2: -rwxrwxrwx
3: -rwxrwxrwx
4: -rwxrwxrwx
5: seteditor.pyc -rwxrwxrwx

Note how the line with ‘total’ does not raise IndexError.

If you want to split these (yielding lists), call fields() without arguments:

[Q:doc/examples]|7> _.fields()
 ['', '-rw-rw-rw-'],
 ['', '-rwxrwxrwx'],
 ['', '-rwxrwxrwx'],
 ['', '-rwxrwxrwx'],
 ['seteditor.pyc', '-rwxrwxrwx']]

If you want to pass these separated with spaces to a command (typical for lists if files), use the .s property:

[Q:doc/examples]|13> files = l2.fields(8).s
[Q:doc/examples]|14> files
                <14> ' seteditor.pyc'
[Q:doc/examples]|15> ls $files  seteditor.pyc

SLists are inherited from normal python lists, so every list method is available:

[Q:doc/examples]|21> lines.append('hey')

Real world example: remove all files outside version control

First, capture output of “hg status”:

[Q:/ipython]|28> out = !hg status
['M IPython\\extensions\\',
 'M IPython\\extensions\\',
 '? build\\lib\\IPython\\',
 '? build\\lib\\IPython\\extensions\\',
 '? build\\lib\\IPython\\extensions\\',

(lines starting with ? are not under version control).

[Q:/ipython]|35> junk = out.grep(r'^\?').fields(1)
[Q:/ipython]|36> junk
            <36> SList (.p, .n, .l, .s, .grep(), .fields() availab
10: build\bdist.win32\winexe\temp\
11: build\bdist.win32\winexe\temp\
12: build\bdist.win32\winexe\temp\

Now we can just remove these files by doing ‘rm $junk.s’.

The .s, .n, .p properties

The .s property returns one string where lines are separated by single space (for convenient passing to system commands). The .n property return one string where the lines are separated by a newline (i.e. the original output of the function). If the items in string list are file names, .p can be used to get a list of “path” objects for convenient file manipulation.