7.2. Finding the path

When running Python scripts from the command line, it is sometimes useful to know where the currently running script is located on disk.

This is one of those obscure little tricks that is virtually impossible to figure out on your own, but simple to remember once you see it. The key to it is sys.argv. As we saw in XML Processing, this is a list that holds the list of command-line arguments. However, it also holds the name of the running script, exactly as it was called from the command line, and this is enough information to determine its location.

Example 7.3. fullpath.py

If you have not already done so, you can download this and other examples used in this book.

import sys, os

print 'sys.argv[0] =', sys.argv[0]             1
pathname = os.path.dirname(sys.argv[0])        2
print 'path =', pathname
print 'full path =', os.path.abspath(pathname) 3
1 Regardless of how you run a script, sys.argv[0] will always contain the name of the script, exactly as it appears on the command line. This may or may not include any path information, as we’ll see shortly.
2 os.path.dirname takes a filename as a string and returns the directory path portion. If the given filename does not include any path information, os.path.dirname returns an empty string.
3 os.path.abspath is the key here. It takes a pathname, which can be partial or even blank, and returns a fully qualified pathname.

os.path.abspath deserves further explanation. It is very flexible; it can take any kind of pathname.

Example 7.4. Further explanation of os.path.abspath

>>> import os
>>> os.getcwd()                        1
>>> os.path.abspath('')                2
>>> os.path.abspath('.ssh')            3
>>> os.path.abspath('/home/f8dy/.ssh') 4
>>> os.path.abspath('.ssh/../foo/')    5
1 os.getcwd() returns the current working directory.
2 Calling os.path.abspath with an empty string returns the current working directory, same as os.getcwd().
3 Calling os.path.abspath with a partial pathname constructs a fully qualified pathname out of it, based on the current working directory.
4 Calling os.path.abspath with a full pathname simply returns it.
5 os.path.abspath also normalizes the pathname it returns. Note that this example worked even though I don’t actually have a 'foo' directory. os.path.abspath never checks your actual disk; this is all just string manipulation.
The pathnames and filenames you pass to os.path.abspath do not need to exist.
os.path.abspath not only constructs full path names, it also normalizes them. If you are in the /usr/ directory, os.path.abspath('bin/../local/bin' will return /usr/local/bin. If you just want to normalize a pathname without turning it into a full pathname, use os.path.normpath instead.

Example 7.5. Sample output from fullpath.py

[f8dy@oliver py]$ python /home/f8dy/diveintopython/common/py/fullpath.py 1
sys.argv[0] = /home/f8dy/diveintopython/common/py/fullpath.py
path = /home/f8dy/diveintopython/common/py
full path = /home/f8dy/diveintopython/common/py
[f8dy@oliver diveintopython]$ python common/py/fullpath.py               2
sys.argv[0] = common/py/fullpath.py
path = common/py
full path = /home/f8dy/diveintopython/common/py
[f8dy@oliver diveintopython]$ cd common/py
[f8dy@oliver py]$ python fullpath.py                                     3
sys.argv[0] = fullpath.py
path = 
full path = /home/f8dy/diveintopython/common/py
1 In the first case, sys.argv[0] includes the full path of the script. We can then use the os.path.dirname function to strip off the script name and return the full directory name, and os.path.abspath simply returns what we give it.
2 If the script is run by using a partial pathname, sys.argv[0] will still contain exactly what appears on the command line. os.path.dirname will then give us a partial pathname (relative to the current directory), and os.path.abspath will construct a full pathname from the partial pathname.
3 If the script is run from the current directory without giving any path, os.path.dirname will simply return an empty string. Given an empty string, os.path.abspath returns the current directory, which is what we want, since the script was run from the current directory.
Like the other functions in the os and os.path modules, os.path.abspath is cross-platform. Your results will look slightly different than my examples if you’re running on Windows (which uses backslash as a path separator) or Mac OS (which uses colons), but they’ll still work. That’s the whole point of the os module.

Addendum. One reader was dissatisfied with this solution, and wanted to be able to run all the unit tests in the current directory, not the directory where regression.py is located. He suggests this approach instead:

Example 7.6. Running scripts in the current directory

import sys, os, re, unittest

def regressionTest():
    path = os.getcwd()       1
    sys.path.append(path)    2
    files = os.listdir(path) 3
1 Instead of setting path to the directory where the currently running script is located, we set it to the current working directory instead. This will be whatever directory you were in before you ran the script, which is not necessarily the same as the directory the script is in. (Read that sentence a few times until you get it.)
2 Append this directory to the Python library search path, so that when we dynamically import the unit test modules later, Python can find them. We didn’t have to do this when path was the directory of the currently running script, because Python always looks in that directory.
3 The rest of the function is the same.

This technique will allow you to re-use this regression.py script on multiple projects. Just put the script in a common directory, then change to the project’s directory before running it. All of that project’s unit tests will be found and tested, instead of the unit tests in the common directory where regression.py is located.