os – Portable access to operating system specific features.

Purpose:Portable access to operating system specific features.
Available In:1.4 (or earlier)

The os module provides a wrapper for platform specific modules such as posix, nt, and mac. The API for functions available on all platform should be the same, so using the os module offers some measure of portability. Not all functions are available on all platforms, however. Many of the process management functions described in this summary are not available for Windows.

The Python documentation for the os module is subtitled “Miscellaneous operating system interfaces”. The module consists mostly of functions for creating and managing running processes or filesystem content (files and directories), with a few other bits of functionality thrown in besides.

Note

Some of the example code below will only work on Unix-like operating systems.

Process Owner

The first set of functions to cover are used for determining and changing the process owner ids. These are mostly useful to authors of daemons or special system programs which need to change permission level rather than running as root. This section does not try to explain all of the intricate details of Unix security, process owners, etc. See the References list below for more details.

This first script shows the real and effective user and group information for a process, and then changes the effective values. This is similar to what a daemon would need to do when it starts as root during a system boot, to lower the privilege level and run as a different user.

Note

Before running the example, change the TEST_GID and TEST_UID values to match a real user.

import os

TEST_GID=501
TEST_UID=527

def show_user_info():
    print 'Effective User  :', os.geteuid()
    print 'Effective Group :', os.getegid()
    print 'Actual User     :', os.getuid(), os.getlogin()
    print 'Actual Group    :', os.getgid()
    print 'Actual Groups   :', os.getgroups()
    return

print 'BEFORE CHANGE:'
show_user_info()
print

try:
    os.setegid(TEST_GID)
except OSError:
    print 'ERROR: Could not change effective group.  Re-run as root.'
else:
    print 'CHANGED GROUP:'
    show_user_info()
    print

try:
    os.seteuid(TEST_UID)
except OSError:
    print 'ERROR: Could not change effective user.  Re-run as root.'
else:
    print 'CHANGE USER:'
    show_user_info()
    print

When run as user with id of 527 and group 501 on OS X, this output is produced:

$ python os_process_user_example.py

BEFORE CHANGE:
Effective User  : 527
Effective Group : 501
Actual User     : 527 dhellmann
Actual Group    : 501
Actual Groups   : [501, 401, 101, 500, 12, 33, 61, 80, 98, 100, 204, 102]

CHANGED GROUP:
Effective User  : 527
Effective Group : 501
Actual User     : 527 dhellmann
Actual Group    : 501
Actual Groups   : [501, 401, 101, 500, 12, 33, 61, 80, 98, 100, 204, 102]

CHANGE USER:
Effective User  : 527
Effective Group : 501
Actual User     : 527 dhellmann
Actual Group    : 501
Actual Groups   : [501, 401, 101, 500, 12, 33, 61, 80, 98, 100, 204, 102]

Notice that the values do not change. When not running as root, processes cannot change their effective owner values. Any attempt to set the effective user id or group id to anything other than that of the current user causes an OSError.

Running the same script using sudo so that it starts out with root privileges is a different story.

$ sudo python os_process_user_example.py
BEFORE CHANGE:
Effective User  : 0
Effective Group : 0
Actual User      : 0 dhellmann
Actual Group    : 0
Actual Groups   : [0, 1, 2, 8, 29, 3, 9, 4, 5, 80, 20]

CHANGED GROUP:
Effective User  : 0
Effective Group : 501
Actual User      : 0 dhellmann
Actual Group    : 0
Actual Groups   : [501, 1, 2, 8, 29, 3, 9, 4, 5, 80, 20]

CHANGE USER:
Effective User  : 527
Effective Group : 501
Actual User      : 0 dhellmann
Actual Group    : 0
Actual Groups   : [501, 1, 2, 8, 29, 3, 9, 4, 5, 80, 20]

In this case, since it starts as root, it can change the effective user and group for the process. Once the effective UID is changed, the process is limited to the permissions of that user. Since non-root users cannot change their effective group, the program needs to change the group before changing the user.

Besides finding and changing the process owner, there are functions for determining the current and parent process id, finding and changing the process group and session ids, as well as finding the controlling terminal id. These can be useful for sending signals between processes or for complex applications such as writing a command line shell.

Process Environment

Another feature of the operating system exposed to a program though the os module is the environment. Variables set in the environment are visible as strings that can be read through os.environ or getenv(). Environment variables are commonly used for configuration values such as search paths, file locations, and debug flags. This example shows how to retrieve an environment variable, and pass a value through to a child process.

import os

print 'Initial value:', os.environ.get('TESTVAR', None)
print 'Child process:'
os.system('echo $TESTVAR')

os.environ['TESTVAR'] = 'THIS VALUE WAS CHANGED'

print
print 'Changed value:', os.environ['TESTVAR']
print 'Child process:' 
os.system('echo $TESTVAR')

del os.environ['TESTVAR']

print
print 'Removed value:', os.environ.get('TESTVAR', None)
print 'Child process:' 
os.system('echo $TESTVAR')

The os.environ object follows the standard Python mapping API for retrieving and setting values. Changes to os.environ are exported for child processes.

$ python -u os_environ_example.py

Initial value: None
Child process:


Changed value: THIS VALUE WAS CHANGED
Child process:
THIS VALUE WAS CHANGED

Removed value: None
Child process:

Process Working Directory

Operating systems with hierarchical filesystems have a concept of the current working directory – the directory on the filesystem the process uses as the starting location when files are accessed with relative paths. The current working directory can be retrieved with getcwd() and changed with chdir().

import os

print 'Starting:', os.getcwd()

print 'Moving up one:', os.pardir
os.chdir(os.pardir)

print 'After move:', os.getcwd()

os.curdir and os.pardir are used to refer to the current and parent directories in a portable manner. The output should not be surprising:

$ python os_cwd_example.py

Starting: /Users/dhellmann/Documents/PyMOTW/src/PyMOTW/os
Moving up one: ..
After move: /Users/dhellmann/Documents/PyMOTW/src/PyMOTW

Pipes

The os module provides several functions for managing the I/O of child processes using pipes. The functions all work essentially the same way, but return different file handles depending on the type of input or output desired. For the most part, these functions are made obsolete by the subprocess module (added in Python 2.4), but there is a good chance legacy code uses them.

The most commonly used pipe function is popen(). It creates a new process running the command given and attaches a single stream to the input or output of that process, depending on the mode argument. While popen() functions work on Windows, some of these examples assume a Unix-like shell.

import os

print 'popen, read:'
pipe_stdout = os.popen('echo "to stdout"', 'r')
try:
    stdout_value = pipe_stdout.read()
finally:
    pipe_stdout.close()
print '\tstdout:', repr(stdout_value)

print '\npopen, write:'
pipe_stdin = os.popen('cat -', 'w')
try:
    pipe_stdin.write('\tstdin: to stdin\n')
finally:
    pipe_stdin.close()

The descriptions of the streams also assume Unix-like terminology:

  • stdin - The “standard input” stream for a process (file descriptor 0) is readable by the process. This is usually where terminal input goes.
  • stdout - The “standard output” stream for a process (file descriptor 1) is writable by the process, and is used for displaying regular output to the user.
  • stderr - The “standard error” stream for a process (file descriptor 2) is writable by the process, and is used for conveying error messages.
$ python -u os_popen.py

popen, read:
        stdout: 'to stdout\n'

popen, write:
        stdin: to stdin

The caller can only read from or write to the streams associated with the child process, which limits the usefulness. The other popen() variants provide additional streams so it is possible to work with stdin, stdout, and stderr as needed.

For example, popen2() returns a write-only stream attached to stdin of the child process, and a read-only stream attached to its stdout.

import os

print 'popen2:'
pipe_stdin, pipe_stdout = os.popen2('cat -')
try:
    pipe_stdin.write('through stdin to stdout')
finally:
    pipe_stdin.close()
try:
    stdout_value = pipe_stdout.read()
finally:
    pipe_stdout.close()
print '\tpass through:', repr(stdout_value)

This simplistic example illustrates bi-directional communication. The value written to stdin is read by cat (because of the '-' argument), then written back to stdout. A more complicated process could pass other types of messages back and forth through the pipe; even serialized objects.

$ python -u os_popen2.py

popen2:
        pass through: 'through stdin to stdout'

In most cases, it is desirable to have access to both stdout and stderr. The stdout stream is used for message passing and the stderr stream is used for errors, so reading from it separately reduces the complexity for parsing any error messages. The popen3() function returns three open streams tied to stdin, stdout, and stderr of the new process.

import os

print 'popen3:'
pipe_stdin, pipe_stdout, pipe_stderr = os.popen3('cat -; echo ";to stderr" 1>&2')
try:
    pipe_stdin.write('through stdin to stdout')
finally:
    pipe_stdin.close()
try:
    stdout_value = pipe_stdout.read()
finally:
    pipe_stdout.close()
print '\tpass through:', repr(stdout_value)
try:
    stderr_value = pipe_stderr.read()
finally:
    pipe_stderr.close()
print '\tstderr:', repr(stderr_value)

Notice that the program has to read from and close both stdout and stderr separately. There are some related to flow control and sequencing when dealing with I/O for multiple processes. The I/O is buffered, and if the caller expects to be able to read all of the data from a stream then the child process must close that stream to indicate the end-of-file. For more information on these issues, refer to the Flow Control Issues section of the Python library documentation.

$ python -u os_popen3.py

popen3:
        pass through: 'through stdin to stdout'
        stderr: ';to stderr\n'

And finally, popen4() returns 2 streams, stdin and a merged stdout/stderr. This is useful when the results of the command need to be logged, but not parsed directly.

import os

print 'popen4:'
pipe_stdin, pipe_stdout_and_stderr = os.popen4('cat -; echo ";to stderr" 1>&2')
try:
    pipe_stdin.write('through stdin to stdout')
finally:
    pipe_stdin.close()
try:
    stdout_value = pipe_stdout_and_stderr.read()
finally:
    pipe_stdout_and_stderr.close()
print '\tcombined output:', repr(stdout_value)

All of the messages written to both stdout and stderr are read together.

$ python -u os_popen4.py

popen4:
        combined output: 'through stdin to stdout;to stderr\n'

Besides accepting a single string command to be given to the shell for parsing, popen2(), popen3(), and popen4() also accept a sequence of strings (command, followed by arguments).

import os

print 'popen2, cmd as sequence:'
pipe_stdin, pipe_stdout = os.popen2(['cat', '-'])
try:
    pipe_stdin.write('through stdin to stdout')
finally:
    pipe_stdin.close()
try:
    stdout_value = pipe_stdout.read()
finally:
    pipe_stdout.close()
print '\tpass through:', repr(stdout_value)

In this case, the arguments are not processed by the shell.

$ python -u os_popen2_seq.py

popen2, cmd as sequence:
        pass through: 'through stdin to stdout'

File Descriptors

os includes the standard set of functions for working with low-level file descriptors (integers representing open files owned by the current process). This is a lower-level API than is provided by file objects. They are not covered here because it is generally easier to work directly with file objects. Refer to the library documentation for details.

Filesystem Permissions

The function access() can be used to test the access rights a process has for a file.

import os

print 'Testing:', __file__
print 'Exists:', os.access(__file__, os.F_OK)
print 'Readable:', os.access(__file__, os.R_OK)
print 'Writable:', os.access(__file__, os.W_OK)
print 'Executable:', os.access(__file__, os.X_OK)

The results will vary depending on how the example code is installed, but it will look something like this:

$ python os_access.py

Testing: os_access.py
Exists: True
Readable: True
Writable: True
Executable: False

The library documentation for access() includes two special warnings. First, there isn’t much sense in calling access() to test whether a file can be opened before actually calling open() on it. There is a small, but real, window of time between the two calls during which the permissions on the file could change. The other warning applies mostly to networked filesystems that extend the POSIX permission semantics. Some filesystem types may respond to the POSIX call that a process has permission to access a file, then report a failure when the attempt is made using open() for some reason not tested via the POSIX call. All in all, it is better to call open() with the required mode and catch the IOError raised if there is a problem.

More detailed information about the file can be accessed using stat() or lstat() (for checking the status of something that might be a symbolic link).

import os
import sys
import time

if len(sys.argv) == 1:
    filename = __file__
else:
    filename = sys.argv[1]

stat_info = os.stat(filename)

print 'os.stat(%s):' % filename
print '\tSize:', stat_info.st_size
print '\tPermissions:', oct(stat_info.st_mode)
print '\tOwner:', stat_info.st_uid
print '\tDevice:', stat_info.st_dev
print '\tLast modified:', time.ctime(stat_info.st_mtime)

Once again, the output will vary depending on how the example code was installed. Try passing different filenames on the command line to os_stat.py.

$ python os_stat.py

os.stat(os_stat.py):
        Size: 1516
        Permissions: 0100644
        Owner: 527
        Device: 234881026
        Last modified: Sat Feb 19 19:18:23 2011

On Unix-like systems, file permissions can be changed using chmod(), passing the mode as an integer. Mode values can be constructed using constants defined in the stat module. This example toggles the user’s execute permission bit:

import os
import stat

filename = 'os_stat_chmod_example.txt'
if os.path.exists(filename):
    os.unlink(filename)
f = open(filename, 'wt')
f.write('contents')
f.close()

# Determine what permissions are already set using stat
existing_permissions = stat.S_IMODE(os.stat(filename).st_mode)

if not os.access(filename, os.X_OK):
    print 'Adding execute permission'
    new_permissions = existing_permissions | stat.S_IXUSR
else:
    print 'Removing execute permission'
    # use xor to remove the user execute permission
    new_permissions = existing_permissions ^ stat.S_IXUSR

os.chmod(filename, new_permissions)
    

The script assumes it has the permissions necessary to modify the mode of the file when run.

$ python os_stat_chmod.py

Adding execute permission

Directories

There are several functions for working with directories on the filesystem, including creating, listing contents, and removing them.

import os

dir_name = 'os_directories_example'

print 'Creating', dir_name
os.makedirs(dir_name)

file_name = os.path.join(dir_name, 'example.txt')
print 'Creating', file_name
f = open(file_name, 'wt')
try:
    f.write('example file')
finally:
    f.close()

print 'Listing', dir_name
print os.listdir(dir_name)

print 'Cleaning up'
os.unlink(file_name)
os.rmdir(dir_name)

There are two sets of functions for creating and deleting directories. When creating a new directory with mkdir(), all of the parent directories must already exist. When removing a directory with rmdir(), only the leaf directory (the last part of the path) is actually removed. In contrast, makedirs() and removedirs() operate on all of the nodes in the path. makedirs() will create any parts of the path which do not exist, and removedirs() will remove all of the parent directories (assuming it can).

$ python os_directories.py

Creating os_directories_example
Creating os_directories_example/example.txt
Listing os_directories_example
['example.txt']
Cleaning up

Walking a Directory Tree

The function walk() traverses a directory recursively and for each directory generates a tuple containing the directory path, any immediate sub-directories of that path, and the names of any files in that directory.

import os, sys

# If we are not given a path to list, use /tmp
if len(sys.argv) == 1:
    root = '/tmp'
else:
    root = sys.argv[1]

for dir_name, sub_dirs, files in os.walk(root):
    print '\n', dir_name
    # Make the subdirectory names stand out with /
    sub_dirs = [ '%s/' % n for n in sub_dirs ]
    # Mix the directory contents together
    contents = sub_dirs + files
    contents.sort()
    # Show the contents
    for c in contents:
        print '\t%s' % c

This example shows a recursive directory listing.

$ python os_walk.py ../zipimport


../zipimport
        __init__.py
        __init__.pyc
        example_package/
        index.rst
        zipimport_example.zip
        zipimport_find_module.py
        zipimport_find_module.pyc
        zipimport_get_code.py
        zipimport_get_code.pyc
        zipimport_get_data.py
        zipimport_get_data.pyc
        zipimport_get_data_nozip.py
        zipimport_get_data_nozip.pyc
        zipimport_get_data_zip.py
        zipimport_get_data_zip.pyc
        zipimport_get_source.py
        zipimport_get_source.pyc
        zipimport_is_package.py
        zipimport_is_package.pyc
        zipimport_load_module.py
        zipimport_load_module.pyc
        zipimport_make_example.py
        zipimport_make_example.pyc

../zipimport/example_package
        README.txt
        __init__.py
        __init__.pyc

Running External Commands

Warning

Many of these functions for working with processes have limited portability. For a more consistent way to work with processes in a platform independent manner, see the subprocess module instead.

The simplest way to run a separate command, without interacting with it at all, is system(). It takes a single string which is the command line to be executed by a sub-process running a shell.

import os

# Simple command
os.system('ls -l')

The return value of system() is the exit value of the shell running the program packed into a 16 bit number, with the high byte the exit status and the low byte the signal number that caused the process to die, or zero.

$ python -u os_system_example.py

total 248
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann      0 Feb 19  2011 __init__.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann  22700 Jul  8  2011 index.rst
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1360 Feb 19  2011 os_access.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1292 Feb 19  2011 os_cwd_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1499 Feb 19  2011 os_directories.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1573 Feb 19  2011 os_environ_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1241 Feb 19  2011 os_exec_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1267 Feb 19  2011 os_fork_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1703 Feb 19  2011 os_kill_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1476 Feb 19  2011 os_popen.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1506 Feb 19  2011 os_popen2.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1528 Feb 19  2011 os_popen2_seq.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1658 Feb 19  2011 os_popen3.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1567 Feb 19  2011 os_popen4.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1395 Feb 19  2011 os_process_id_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1896 Feb 19  2011 os_process_user_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1206 Feb 19  2011 os_spawn_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1516 Feb 19  2011 os_stat.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1751 Feb 19  2011 os_stat_chmod.py
-rwxr--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann      8 Feb 21 06:36 os_stat_chmod_example.txt
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1421 Feb 19  2011 os_symlinks.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1250 Feb 19  2011 os_system_background.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1191 Feb 19  2011 os_system_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1214 Feb 19  2011 os_system_shell.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1499 Feb 19  2011 os_wait_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1555 Feb 19  2011 os_waitpid_example.py
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann  dhellmann   1643 Feb 19  2011 os_walk.py

Since the command is passed directly to the shell for processing, it can even include shell syntax such as globbing or environment variables:

import os

# Command with shell expansion
os.system('ls -ld $TMPDIR')
$ python -u os_system_shell.py

drwx------  10 dhellmann  dhellmann  340 Feb 21 06:36 /var/folders/5q/8gk0wq888xlggz008k8dr7180000hg/T/

Unless the command is explicitly run in the background, the call to system() blocks until it is complete. Standard input, output, and error from the child process are tied to the appropriate streams owned by the caller by default, but can be redirected using shell syntax.

import os
import time

print 'Calling...'
os.system('date; (sleep 3; date) &')

print 'Sleeping...'
time.sleep(5)

This is getting into shell trickery, though, and there are better ways to accomplish the same thing.

$ python -u os_system_background.py

Calling...
Thu Feb 21 06:36:14 EST 2013
Sleeping...
Thu Feb 21 06:36:18 EST 2013

Creating Processes with os.fork()

The POSIX functions fork() and exec*() (available under Mac OS X, Linux, and other UNIX variants) are exposed via the os module. Entire books have been written about reliably using these functions, so check the library or bookstore for more details than are presented here.

To create a new process as a clone of the current process, use fork():

import os

pid = os.fork()

if pid:
    print 'Child process id:', pid
else:
    print 'I am the child'

The output will vary based on the state of the system each time the example is run, but it will look something like:

$ python -u os_fork_example.py

Child process id: 14167
I am the child

After the fork, there are two processes running the same code. For a program to tell which one it is in, it needs to check the return value of fork(). If the value is 0, the current process is the child. If it is not 0, the program is running in the parent process and the return value is the process id of the child process.

From the parent process, it is possible to send the child signals. This is a bit more complicated to set up, and uses the signal module. First, define a signal handler to be invoked when the signal is received.

import os
import signal
import time

def signal_usr1(signum, frame):
    "Callback invoked when a signal is received"
    pid = os.getpid()
    print 'Received USR1 in process %s' % pid

Then fork(), and in the parent pause a short amount of time before sending a USR1 signal using kill(). The short pause gives the child process time to set up the signal handler.

print 'Forking...'
child_pid = os.fork()
if child_pid:
    print 'PARENT: Pausing before sending signal...'
    time.sleep(1)
    print 'PARENT: Signaling %s' % child_pid
    os.kill(child_pid, signal.SIGUSR1)

In the child, set up the signal handler and go to sleep for a while to give the parent time to send the signal:

else:
    print 'CHILD: Setting up signal handler'
    signal.signal(signal.SIGUSR1, signal_usr1)
    print 'CHILD: Pausing to wait for signal'
    time.sleep(5)

A real application, wouldn’t need (or want) to call sleep().

$ python os_kill_example.py

Forking...
PARENT: Pausing before sending signal...
PARENT: Signaling 14170
Forking...
CHILD: Setting up signal handler
CHILD: Pausing to wait for signal
Received USR1 in process 14170

A simple way to handle separate behavior in the child process is to check the return value of fork() and branch. More complex behavior may call for more code separation than a simple branch. In other cases, there may be an existing program that needs to be wrapped. For both of these situations, the exec*() series of functions can be used to run another program.

import os

child_pid = os.fork()
if child_pid:
    os.waitpid(child_pid, 0)
else:
    os.execlp('ls', 'ls', '-l', '/tmp/')

When a program is “execed”, the code from that program replaces the code from the existing process.

$ python os_exec_example.py

total 320
-rw-r-----  1 root        _lp         1193 Feb 21 06:26 025c6512ef714
-rw-r--r--  1 root        wheel      70150 Feb 19 09:01 Carbon Copy Cloner-96-8F64ABE0-B932-4033-B71B-8815A11C13F1.growlRegDict
-rw-r--r--  1 root        wheel      70150 Feb 19 09:01 Carbon Copy Cloner-96-F29FA27F-20E9-45F4-8FEB-B5BE8104239A.growlRegDict
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel          0 Feb 19 09:03 CrashReportCopyLock-Doug Hellmann’s iPhone
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel          0 Feb 19 23:52 CrashReportCopyLock-Fry
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel          0 Feb 19 10:02 CrashReportCopyLock-Nibbler
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel      12288 Feb 21 06:35 example.db
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-CRQRox
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 15:39 launch-EId8eS
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-XiBNeS
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-m0jqKW
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-n4P253
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launchd-328.RnuGVc
drwx------  3 _spotlight  wheel        102 Feb 19 09:06 launchd-587.onAzLG
drwx------  2 dhellmann   wheel         68 Feb 19 15:46 ssh-DUxXnX9KUd
drwxr-xr-x  2 dhellmann   dhellmann     68 Feb 20 03:15 var_backups

There are many variations of exec*(), depending on the form in which the arguments are available, whether the path and environment of the parent process should be be copied to the child, etc. Refer to the library documentation for complete details.

For all variations, the first argument is a path or filename and the remaining arguments control how that program runs. They are either passed as command line arguments or override the process “environment” (see os.environ and os.getenv).

Waiting for a Child

Many computationally intensive programs use multiple processes to work around the threading limitations of Python and the Global Interpreter Lock. When starting several processes to run separate tasks, the master will need to wait for one or more of them to finish before starting new ones, to avoid overloading the server. There are a few different ways to do that using wait() and related functions.

When it does not matter which child process might exit first, use wait(). It returns as soon as any child process exits.

import os
import sys
import time

for i in range(3):
    print 'PARENT: Forking %s' % i
    worker_pid = os.fork()
    if not worker_pid:
        print 'WORKER %s: Starting' % i
        time.sleep(2 + i)
        print 'WORKER %s: Finishing' % i
        sys.exit(i)

for i in range(3):
    print 'PARENT: Waiting for %s' % i
    done = os.wait()
    print 'PARENT:', done

The return value from wait() is a tuple containing the process id and exit status (“a 16-bit number, whose low byte is the signal number that killed the process, and whose high byte is the exit status”).

$ python os_wait_example.py

PARENT: Forking 0
WORKER 0: Starting
WORKER 0: Finishing
PARENT: Forking 0
PARENT: Forking 1
WORKER 1: Starting
WORKER 1: Finishing
PARENT: Forking 0
PARENT: Forking 1
PARENT: Forking 2
WORKER 2: Starting
WORKER 2: Finishing
PARENT: Forking 0
PARENT: Forking 1
PARENT: Forking 2
PARENT: Waiting for 0
PARENT: (14176, 0)
PARENT: Waiting for 1
PARENT: (14177, 256)
PARENT: Waiting for 2
PARENT: (14178, 512)

To wait for a specific process, use waitpid().

import os
import sys
import time

workers = []
for i in range(3):
    print 'PARENT: Forking %s' % i
    worker_pid = os.fork()
    if not worker_pid:
        print 'WORKER %s: Starting' % i
        time.sleep(2 + i)
        print 'WORKER %s: Finishing' % i
        sys.exit(i)
    workers.append(worker_pid)

for pid in workers:
    print 'PARENT: Waiting for %s' % pid
    done = os.waitpid(pid, 0)
    print 'PARENT:', done

Pass the process id of the target process, and waitpid() blocks until that process exits.

$ python os_waitpid_example.py

PARENT: Forking 0
WORKER 0: Starting
WORKER 0: Finishing
PARENT: Forking 0
PARENT: Forking 1
WORKER 1: Starting
WORKER 1: Finishing
PARENT: Forking 0
PARENT: Forking 1
PARENT: Forking 2
WORKER 2: Starting
WORKER 2: Finishing
PARENT: Forking 0
PARENT: Forking 1
PARENT: Forking 2
PARENT: Waiting for 14181
PARENT: (14181, 0)
PARENT: Waiting for 14182
PARENT: (14182, 256)
PARENT: Waiting for 14183
PARENT: (14183, 512)

wait3() and wait4() work in a similar manner, but return more detailed information about the child process with the pid, exit status, and resource usage.

Spawn

As a convenience, the spawn*() family of functions handles the fork() and exec*() in one statement:

import os

os.spawnlp(os.P_WAIT, 'ls', 'ls', '-l', '/tmp/')

The first argument is a mode indicating whether or not to wait for the process to finish before returning. This example waits. Use P_NOWAIT to let the other process start, but then resume in the current process.

$ python os_spawn_example.py

total 320
-rw-r-----  1 root        _lp         1193 Feb 21 06:26 025c6512ef714
-rw-r--r--  1 root        wheel      70150 Feb 19 09:01 Carbon Copy Cloner-96-8F64ABE0-B932-4033-B71B-8815A11C13F1.growlRegDict
-rw-r--r--  1 root        wheel      70150 Feb 19 09:01 Carbon Copy Cloner-96-F29FA27F-20E9-45F4-8FEB-B5BE8104239A.growlRegDict
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel          0 Feb 19 09:03 CrashReportCopyLock-Doug Hellmann’s iPhone
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel          0 Feb 19 23:52 CrashReportCopyLock-Fry
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel          0 Feb 19 10:02 CrashReportCopyLock-Nibbler
-rw-r--r--  1 dhellmann   wheel      12288 Feb 21 06:35 example.db
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-CRQRox
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 15:39 launch-EId8eS
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-XiBNeS
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-m0jqKW
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launch-n4P253
drwx------  3 dhellmann   wheel        102 Feb 19 09:00 launchd-328.RnuGVc
drwx------  3 _spotlight  wheel        102 Feb 19 09:06 launchd-587.onAzLG
drwx------  2 dhellmann   wheel         68 Feb 19 15:46 ssh-DUxXnX9KUd
drwxr-xr-x  2 dhellmann   dhellmann     68 Feb 20 03:15 var_backups

See also

os
Standard library documentation for this module.
subprocess
The subprocess module supersedes os.popen().
multiprocessing
The multiprocessing module makes working with extra processes easier than doing all of the work yourself.
tempfile
The tempfile module for working with temporary files.
Unix Manual Page Introduction

Includes definitions of real and effective ids, etc.

http://www.scit.wlv.ac.uk/cgi-bin/mansec?2+intro

Speaking UNIX, Part 8.

Learn how UNIX multitasks.

http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/aix/library/au-speakingunix8/index.html

Unix Concepts

For more discussion of stdin, stdout, and stderr.

http://www.linuxhq.com/guides/LUG/node67.html

Delve into Unix Process Creation

Explains the life cycle of a UNIX process.

http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/aix/library/au-unixprocess.html

Advanced Programming in the UNIX(R) Environment
Covers working with multiple processes, such as handling signals, closing duplicated file descriptors, etc.

File Access

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