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Python Popen


Python is a programming language that provides several built-in functions used to interact with the operating system. One of these functions is Popen, which is used to run external commands from within a Python script. In this article, we are going to discuss how to use Popen, its syntax, and its various parameters.

What is Popen?

popen() is a function in the Python os module that allows you to spawn a new process and execute a command in it. The popen() function returns a file object the programmer can use to communicate with the process.


The Popen function is part of the subprocess module in Python. Its basic syntax is as follows:

Here, args is the command executed as a string or a list of strings. The other parameters are optional, and these can be used to customize the behavior of the command.

Let's take a simple example to understand how to use Popen. Suppose we want to run the "ls" command on a Unix-like system. This is done in the below program.

Program 1:


Python Popen


In the above code, we pass an additional argument stdout=subprocess.PIPE to the subprocess.Popen method to redirect the output to a pipe. Then we call the communicate() method to get the output and error streams. Finally, we print the decoded output using the decode() method on the bytes returned from communicate().

Program 2:


Python Popen


In the above program, the subprocess.Popen() function executes the script, which prints the "Hello, world!" to the console. The stdout=subprocess.PIPE argument is passed to Popen() to capture the output of the script, which is then stored in the output variable using result.communicate()[0]. Finally, print(output.decode("utf-8")) is used to print the captured output of the script to the console.

Parameters of Popen

There are some important parameters of the Popen function. These are as follows/

  1. bufsize: This parameter shows the buffer size for the input and output streams. By default, it is set to -1, which means the system's default buffer size is used.
  2. stdin, stdout, stderr: These parameters can be used to specify the input and output streams for the command. By default, they are set to None, which means the standard input/output/error streams are used.
  3. shell: This parameter shows whether to run the command in a shell or not. By default, it is set to False, which means the command is executed directly.
  4. cwd: This parameter specifies the current working directory for the command.
  5. env: This parameter is used to set the environment variables for the command.
  6. universal_newlines: This parameter specifies whether to use universal newlines or not. By default, it is set to False.
  7. preexec_fn: This parameter can be used to specify a function to be called before the command is executed.

Advantages of Popen

  1. Cross-platform: Popen is a part of the Python standard library and can be used on various platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Unix-like systems.
  2. Versatile: Popen is a versatile function that can be used to run external commands, shell scripts, and Python scripts.
  3. Flexible: Popen provides several parameters that allow you to customize the behavior of the command, such as setting the input/output streams, working directories, environment variables, and more.
  4. Powerful: Popen can be used to automate various tasks on the operating system, such as running system commands, managing files, and more.

Disadvantages of Popen

  1. Security: Popen can be used to execute arbitrary commands on the system, which can pose a security risk if the input is not properly sanitized. It is important to validate the input before passing it to Popen to prevent command injection attacks.
  2. Blocking: Popen is a blocking function, which means that the program will wait for the command to complete before moving on to the next line of code. If the command takes a long time to execute, it can cause the program to hang or become unresponsive.
  3. Complexity: Popen can be complex to use, especially for beginners. It requires a good understanding of subprocesses, pipes, and input/output streams to use it effectively.


Overall, Popen is a powerful tool for running external commands and automating tasks on the operating system. It provides several parameters that allow the programmer to customize the behavior of the command and is cross-platform, versatile, and flexible.

However, it is important to be aware of the security risks and blocking nature of Popen and to ensure that the input is properly validated before passing it to the function. With proper use, Popen can be a valuable tool in your Python programming arsenal.

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