IPython Documentation

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IPython reference

Command-line usage

You start IPython with the command:

$ ipython [options] files

If invoked with no options, it executes all the files listed in sequence and drops you into the interpreter while still acknowledging any options you may have set in your ipython_config.py. This behavior is different from standard Python, which when called as python -i will only execute one file and ignore your configuration setup.

Please note that some of the configuration options are not available at the command line, simply because they are not practical here. Look into your ipythonrc configuration file for details on those. This file is typically installed in the IPYTHON_DIR directory. For Linux users, this will be $HOME/.config/ipython, and for other users it will be $HOME/.ipython. For Windows users, $HOME resolves to C:\Documents and Settings\YourUserName in most instances.

Eventloop integration

Previously IPython had command line options for controlling GUI event loop integration (-gthread, -qthread, -q4thread, -wthread, -pylab). As of IPython version 0.11, these have been removed. Please see the new %gui magic command or this section for details on the new interface, or specify the gui at the commandline:

$ ipython --gui=qt

Regular Options

After the above threading options have been given, regular options can follow in any order. All options can be abbreviated to their shortest non-ambiguous form and are case-sensitive. One or two dashes can be used. Some options have an alternate short form, indicated after a |.

Most options can also be set from your ipythonrc configuration file. See the provided example for more details on what the options do. Options given at the command line override the values set in the ipythonrc file.

All options with a [no] prepended can be specified in negated form (–no-option instead of –option) to turn the feature off.

-h, --help print a help message and exit.

--pylab, pylab=<name> See Matplotlib support for more details.

Make IPython automatically call any callable object even if you didn’t type explicit parentheses. For example, ‘str 43’ becomes ‘str(43)’ automatically. The value can be ‘0’ to disable the feature, ‘1’ for smart autocall, where it is not applied if there are no more arguments on the line, and ‘2’ for full autocall, where all callable objects are automatically called (even if no arguments are present). The default is ‘1’.
Turn automatic indentation on/off.
make magic commands automatic (without needing their first character to be %). Type %magic at the IPython prompt for more information.
When a syntax error occurs after editing a file, automatically open the file to the trouble causing line for convenient fixing.
Print the initial information banner (default on).
execute the given command string. This is similar to the -c option in the normal Python interpreter.
size of the output cache (maximum number of entries to hold in memory). The default is 1000, you can change it permanently in your config file. Setting it to 0 completely disables the caching system, and the minimum value accepted is 20 (if you provide a value less than 20, it is reset to 0 and a warning is issued) This limit is defined because otherwise you’ll spend more time re-flushing a too small cache than working.
Gives IPython a similar feel to the classic Python prompt.
Color scheme for prompts and exception reporting. Currently implemented: NoColor, Linux and LightBG.

IPython can display information about objects via a set of functions, and optionally can use colors for this, syntax highlighting source code and various other elements. However, because this information is passed through a pager (like ‘less’) and many pagers get confused with color codes, this option is off by default. You can test it and turn it on permanently in your ipythonrc file if it works for you. As a reference, the ‘less’ pager supplied with Mandrake 8.2 works ok, but that in RedHat 7.2 doesn’t.

Test it and turn it on permanently if it works with your system. The magic function %color_info allows you to toggle this interactively for testing.

Show information about the loading process. Very useful to pin down problems with your configuration files or to get details about session restores.

IPython can use the deep_reload module which reloads changes in modules recursively (it replaces the reload() function, so you don’t need to change anything to use it). deep_reload() forces a full reload of modules whose code may have changed, which the default reload() function does not.

When deep_reload is off, IPython will use the normal reload(), but deep_reload will still be available as dreload(). This feature is off by default [which means that you have both normal reload() and dreload()].

Which editor to use with the %edit command. By default, IPython will honor your EDITOR environment variable (if not set, vi is the Unix default and notepad the Windows one). Since this editor is invoked on the fly by IPython and is meant for editing small code snippets, you may want to use a small, lightweight editor here (in case your default EDITOR is something like Emacs).
name of your IPython configuration directory IPYTHON_DIR. This can also be specified through the environment variable IPYTHON_DIR.

specify the name of your logfile.

This implies %logstart at the beginning of your session

generate a log file of all input. The file is named ipython_log.py in your current directory (which prevents logs from multiple IPython sessions from trampling each other). You can use this to later restore a session by loading your logfile with ipython --i ipython_log.py



you can replay a previous log. For restoring a session as close as possible to the state you left it in, use this option (don’t just run the logfile). With -logplay, IPython will try to reconstruct the previous working environment in full, not just execute the commands in the logfile.

When a session is restored, logging is automatically turned on again with the name of the logfile it was invoked with (it is read from the log header). So once you’ve turned logging on for a session, you can quit IPython and reload it as many times as you want and it will continue to log its history and restore from the beginning every time.

Caveats: there are limitations in this option. The history variables _i*,_* and _dh don’t get restored properly. In the future we will try to implement full session saving by writing and retrieving a ‘snapshot’ of the memory state of IPython. But our first attempts failed because of inherent limitations of Python’s Pickle module, so this may have to wait.

Print messages which IPython collects about its startup process (default on).
Automatically call the pdb debugger after every uncaught exception. If you are used to debugging using pdb, this puts you automatically inside of it after any call (either in IPython or in code called by it) which triggers an exception which goes uncaught.
ipython can optionally use the pprint (pretty printer) module for displaying results. pprint tends to give a nicer display of nested data structures. If you like it, you can turn it on permanently in your config file (default off).


Select the IPython profile by name.

This is a quick way to keep and load multiple config files for different tasks, especially if you use the include option of config files. You can keep a basic IPYTHON_DIR/profile_default/ipython_config.py file and then have other ‘profiles’ which include this one and load extra things for particular tasks. For example:

  1. $IPYTHON_DIR/profile_default : load basic things you always want.
  2. $IPYTHON_DIR/profile_math : load (1) and basic math-related modules.
  3. $IPYTHON_DIR/profile_numeric : load (1) and Numeric and plotting modules.

Since it is possible to create an endless loop by having circular file inclusions, IPython will stop if it reaches 15 recursive inclusions.


Specify the string used for input prompts. Note that if you are using numbered prompts, the number is represented with a ‘#’ in the string. Don’t forget to quote strings with spaces embedded in them. Default: ‘In [#]:’. The prompts section discusses in detail all the available escapes to customize your prompts.
Similar to the previous option, but used for the continuation prompts. The special sequence ‘D’ is similar to ‘#’, but with all digits replaced dots (so you can have your continuation prompt aligned with your input prompt). Default: ‘ .D.:’ (note three spaces at the start for alignment with ‘In [#]’).
String used for output prompts, also uses numbers like prompt_in1. Default: ‘Out[#]:’
start in bare bones mode (no config file loaded).

name of your IPython resource configuration file. Normally IPython loads ipython_config.py (from current directory) or IPYTHON_DIR/profile_default.

If the loading of your config file fails, IPython starts with a bare bones configuration (no modules loaded at all).


use the readline library, which is needed to support name completion and command history, among other things. It is enabled by default, but may cause problems for users of X/Emacs in Python comint or shell buffers.

Note that X/Emacs ‘eterm’ buffers (opened with M-x term) support IPython’s readline and syntax coloring fine, only ‘emacs’ (M-x shell and C-c !) buffers do not.


number of lines of your screen. This is used to control printing of very long strings. Strings longer than this number of lines will be sent through a pager instead of directly printed.

The default value for this is 0, which means IPython will auto-detect your screen size every time it needs to print certain potentially long strings (this doesn’t change the behavior of the ‘print’ keyword, it’s only triggered internally). If for some reason this isn’t working well (it needs curses support), specify it yourself. Otherwise don’t change the default.


separator before input prompts. Default: ‘n’
separator before output prompts. Default: nothing.
separator after output prompts. Default: nothing. For these three options, use the value 0 to specify no separator.

shorthand for setting the above separators to empty strings.

Simply removes all input/output separators.

allows you to initialize a profile dir for configuration when you install a new version of IPython or want to use a new profile. Since new versions may include new command line options or example files, this copies updated config files. Note that you should probably use %upgrade instead,it’s a safer alternative.

--version print version information and exit.


Mode for exception reporting.

Valid modes: Plain, Context and Verbose.

  • Plain: similar to python’s normal traceback printing.
  • Context: prints 5 lines of context source code around each line in the traceback.
  • Verbose: similar to Context, but additionally prints the variables currently visible where the exception happened (shortening their strings if too long). This can potentially be very slow, if you happen to have a huge data structure whose string representation is complex to compute. Your computer may appear to freeze for a while with cpu usage at 100%. If this occurs, you can cancel the traceback with Ctrl-C (maybe hitting it more than once).

Interactive use

IPython is meant to work as a drop-in replacement for the standard interactive interpreter. As such, any code which is valid python should execute normally under IPython (cases where this is not true should be reported as bugs). It does, however, offer many features which are not available at a standard python prompt. What follows is a list of these.

Caution for Windows users

Windows, unfortunately, uses the ‘\’ character as a path separator. This is a terrible choice, because ‘\’ also represents the escape character in most modern programming languages, including Python. For this reason, using ‘/’ character is recommended if you have problems with \. However, in Windows commands ‘/’ flags options, so you can not use it for the root directory. This means that paths beginning at the root must be typed in a contrived manner like: %copy \opt/foo/bar.txt \tmp

Magic command system

IPython will treat any line whose first character is a % as a special call to a ‘magic’ function. These allow you to control the behavior of IPython itself, plus a lot of system-type features. They are all prefixed with a % character, but parameters are given without parentheses or quotes.

Example: typing %cd mydir changes your working directory to ‘mydir’, if it exists.

If you have ‘automagic’ enabled (as it by default), you don’t need to type in the % explicitly. IPython will scan its internal list of magic functions and call one if it exists. With automagic on you can then just type cd mydir to go to directory ‘mydir’. The automagic system has the lowest possible precedence in name searches, so defining an identifier with the same name as an existing magic function will shadow it for automagic use. You can still access the shadowed magic function by explicitly using the % character at the beginning of the line.

An example (with automagic on) should clarify all this:

In [1]: cd ipython # %cd is called by automagic


In [2]: cd=1 # now cd is just a variable

In [3]: cd .. # and doesn't work as a function anymore


    File "<console>", line 1

      cd ..


SyntaxError: invalid syntax

In [4]: %cd .. # but %cd always works


In [5]: del cd # if you remove the cd variable

In [6]: cd ipython # automagic can work again


You can define your own magic functions to extend the system. The following example defines a new magic command, %impall:

ip = get_ipython()

def doimp(self, arg):

    ip = self.api

    ip.ex("import %s; reload(%s); from %s import *" % (



ip.expose_magic('impall', doimp)

Type %magic for more information, including a list of all available magic functions at any time and their docstrings. You can also type %magic_function_name? (see below <dynamic_object_info for information on the ‘?’ system) to get information about any particular magic function you are interested in.

The API documentation for the IPython.core.magic module contains the full docstrings of all currently available magic commands.

Access to the standard Python help

As of Python 2.1, a help system is available with access to object docstrings and the Python manuals. Simply type ‘help’ (no quotes) to access it. You can also type help(object) to obtain information about a given object, and help(‘keyword’) for information on a keyword. As noted here, you need to properly configure your environment variable PYTHONDOCS for this feature to work correctly.

Dynamic object information

Typing ?word or word? prints detailed information about an object. If certain strings in the object are too long (docstrings, code, etc.) they get snipped in the center for brevity. This system gives access variable types and values, full source code for any object (if available), function prototypes and other useful information.

Typing ??word or word?? gives access to the full information without snipping long strings. Long strings are sent to the screen through the less pager if longer than the screen and printed otherwise. On systems lacking the less command, IPython uses a very basic internal pager.

The following magic functions are particularly useful for gathering information about your working environment. You can get more details by typing %magic or querying them individually (use %function_name? with or without the %), this is just a summary:

  • %pdoc <object>: Print (or run through a pager if too long) the docstring for an object. If the given object is a class, it will print both the class and the constructor docstrings.
  • %pdef <object>: Print the definition header for any callable object. If the object is a class, print the constructor information.
  • %psource <object>: Print (or run through a pager if too long) the source code for an object.
  • %pfile <object>: Show the entire source file where an object was defined via a pager, opening it at the line where the object definition begins.
  • %who/%whos: These functions give information about identifiers you have defined interactively (not things you loaded or defined in your configuration files). %who just prints a list of identifiers and %whos prints a table with some basic details about each identifier.

Note that the dynamic object information functions (?/??, %pdoc, %pfile, %pdef, %psource) give you access to documentation even on things which are not really defined as separate identifiers. Try for example typing {}.get? or after doing import os, type os.path.abspath??.

Readline-based features

These features require the GNU readline library, so they won’t work if your Python installation lacks readline support. We will first describe the default behavior IPython uses, and then how to change it to suit your preferences.

Command line completion

At any time, hitting TAB will complete any available python commands or variable names, and show you a list of the possible completions if there’s no unambiguous one. It will also complete filenames in the current directory if no python names match what you’ve typed so far.

Search command history

IPython provides two ways for searching through previous input and thus reduce the need for repetitive typing:

  1. Start typing, and then use Ctrl-p (previous,up) and Ctrl-n (next,down) to search through only the history items that match what you’ve typed so far. If you use Ctrl-p/Ctrl-n at a blank prompt, they just behave like normal arrow keys.
  2. Hit Ctrl-r: opens a search prompt. Begin typing and the system searches your history for lines that contain what you’ve typed so far, completing as much as it can.

Persistent command history across sessions

IPython will save your input history when it leaves and reload it next time you restart it. By default, the history file is named $IPYTHON_DIR/profile_<name>/history.sqlite. This allows you to keep separate histories related to various tasks: commands related to numerical work will not be clobbered by a system shell history, for example.


IPython can recognize lines ending in ‘:’ and indent the next line, while also un-indenting automatically after ‘raise’ or ‘return’.

This feature uses the readline library, so it will honor your ~/.inputrc configuration (or whatever file your INPUTRC variable points to). Adding the following lines to your .inputrc file can make indenting/unindenting more convenient (M-i indents, M-u unindents):

$if Python
"\M-i": "    "
"\M-u": "\d\d\d\d"

Note that there are 4 spaces between the quote marks after “M-i” above.


Setting the above indents will cause problems with unicode text entry in the terminal.


Autoindent is ON by default, but it can cause problems with the pasting of multi-line indented code (the pasted code gets re-indented on each line). A magic function %autoindent allows you to toggle it on/off at runtime. You can also disable it permanently on in your ipython_config.py file (set TerminalInteractiveShell.autoindent=False).

If you want to paste multiple lines, it is recommended that you use %paste.

Customizing readline behavior

All these features are based on the GNU readline library, which has an extremely customizable interface. Normally, readline is configured via a file which defines the behavior of the library; the details of the syntax for this can be found in the readline documentation available with your system or on the Internet. IPython doesn’t read this file (if it exists) directly, but it does support passing to readline valid options via a simple interface. In brief, you can customize readline by setting the following options in your ipythonrc configuration file (note that these options can not be specified at the command line):

  • readline_parse_and_bind: this option can appear as many times as you want, each time defining a string to be executed via a readline.parse_and_bind() command. The syntax for valid commands of this kind can be found by reading the documentation for the GNU readline library, as these commands are of the kind which readline accepts in its configuration file.

  • readline_remove_delims: a string of characters to be removed from the default word-delimiters list used by readline, so that completions may be performed on strings which contain them. Do not change the default value unless you know what you’re doing.

  • readline_omit__names: when tab-completion is enabled, hitting <tab> after a ‘.’ in a name will complete all attributes of an object, including all the special methods whose names include double underscores (like __getitem__ or __class__). If you’d rather not see these names by default, you can set this option to 1. Note that even when this option is set, you can still see those names by explicitly typing a _ after the period and hitting <tab>: ‘name._<tab>’ will always complete attribute names starting with ‘_’.

    This option is off by default so that new users see all attributes of any objects they are dealing with.

You will find the default values along with a corresponding detailed explanation in your ipythonrc file.

Session logging and restoring

You can log all input from a session either by starting IPython with the command line switch --logfile=foo.py (see here) or by activating the logging at any moment with the magic function %logstart.

Log files can later be reloaded by running them as scripts and IPython will attempt to ‘replay’ the log by executing all the lines in it, thus restoring the state of a previous session. This feature is not quite perfect, but can still be useful in many cases.

The log files can also be used as a way to have a permanent record of any code you wrote while experimenting. Log files are regular text files which you can later open in your favorite text editor to extract code or to ‘clean them up’ before using them to replay a session.

The %logstart function for activating logging in mid-session is used as follows:

%logstart [log_name [log_mode]]

If no name is given, it defaults to a file named ‘ipython_log.py’ in your current working directory, in ‘rotate’ mode (see below).

‘%logstart name’ saves to file ‘name’ in ‘backup’ mode. It saves your history up to that point and then continues logging.

%logstart takes a second optional parameter: logging mode. This can be one of (note that the modes are given unquoted):

  • [over:] overwrite existing log_name.
  • [backup:] rename (if exists) to log_name~ and start log_name.
  • [append:] well, that says it.
  • [rotate:] create rotating logs log_name.1~, log_name.2~, etc.

The %logoff and %logon functions allow you to temporarily stop and resume logging to a file which had previously been started with %logstart. They will fail (with an explanation) if you try to use them before logging has been started.

System shell access

Any input line beginning with a ! character is passed verbatim (minus the !, of course) to the underlying operating system. For example, typing !ls will run ‘ls’ in the current directory.

Manual capture of command output

If the input line begins with two exclamation marks, !!, the command is executed but its output is captured and returned as a python list, split on newlines. Any output sent by the subprocess to standard error is printed separately, so that the resulting list only captures standard output. The !! syntax is a shorthand for the %sx magic command.

Finally, the %sc magic (short for ‘shell capture’) is similar to %sx, but allowing more fine-grained control of the capture details, and storing the result directly into a named variable. The direct use of %sc is now deprecated, and you should ise the var = !cmd syntax instead.

IPython also allows you to expand the value of python variables when making system calls. Any python variable or expression which you prepend with $ will get expanded before the system call is made:

In [1]: pyvar='Hello world'
In [2]: !echo "A python variable: $pyvar"
A python variable: Hello world

If you want the shell to actually see a literal $, you need to type it twice:

In [3]: !echo "A system variable: $$HOME"
A system variable: /home/fperez

You can pass arbitrary expressions, though you’ll need to delimit them with {} if there is ambiguity as to the extent of the expression:

In [5]: x=10
In [6]: y=20
In [13]: !echo $x+y
In [7]: !echo ${x+y}

Even object attributes can be expanded:

In [12]: !echo $sys.argv

System command aliases

The %alias magic function and the alias option in the ipythonrc configuration file allow you to define magic functions which are in fact system shell commands. These aliases can have parameters.

%alias alias_name cmd defines ‘alias_name’ as an alias for ‘cmd’

Then, typing %alias_name params will execute the system command ‘cmd params’ (from your underlying operating system).

You can also define aliases with parameters using %s specifiers (one per parameter). The following example defines the %parts function as an alias to the command ‘echo first %s second %s’ where each %s will be replaced by a positional parameter to the call to %parts:

In [1]: alias parts echo first %s second %s
In [2]: %parts A B
first A second B
In [3]: %parts A
Incorrect number of arguments: 2 expected.
parts is an alias to: 'echo first %s second %s'

If called with no parameters, %alias prints the table of currently defined aliases.

The %rehashx magic allows you to load your entire $PATH as ipython aliases. See its docstring for further details.

Recursive reload

The dreload function does a recursive reload of a module: changes made to the module since you imported will actually be available without having to exit.

Verbose and colored exception traceback printouts

IPython provides the option to see very detailed exception tracebacks, which can be especially useful when debugging large programs. You can run any Python file with the %run function to benefit from these detailed tracebacks. Furthermore, both normal and verbose tracebacks can be colored (if your terminal supports it) which makes them much easier to parse visually.

See the magic xmode and colors functions for details (just type %magic).

These features are basically a terminal version of Ka-Ping Yee’s cgitb module, now part of the standard Python library.

Input caching system

IPython offers numbered prompts (In/Out) with input and output caching (also referred to as ‘input history’). All input is saved and can be retrieved as variables (besides the usual arrow key recall), in addition to the %rep magic command that brings a history entry up for editing on the next command line.

The following GLOBAL variables always exist (so don’t overwrite them!):

  • _i, _ii, _iii: store previous, next previous and next-next previous inputs.
  • In, _ih : a list of all inputs; _ih[n] is the input from line n. If you overwrite In with a variable of your own, you can remake the assignment to the internal list with a simple In=_ih.

Additionally, global variables named _i<n> are dynamically created (<n> being the prompt counter), so _i<n> == _ih[<n>] == In[<n>].

For example, what you typed at prompt 14 is available as _i14, _ih[14] and In[14].

This allows you to easily cut and paste multi line interactive prompts by printing them out: they print like a clean string, without prompt characters. You can also manipulate them like regular variables (they are strings), modify or exec them (typing exec _i9 will re-execute the contents of input prompt 9.

You can also re-execute multiple lines of input easily by using the magic %macro function (which automates the process and allows re-execution without having to type ‘exec’ every time). The macro system also allows you to re-execute previous lines which include magic function calls (which require special processing). Type %macro? for more details on the macro system.

A history function %hist allows you to see any part of your input history by printing a range of the _i variables.

You can also search (‘grep’) through your history by typing %hist -g somestring. This is handy for searching for URLs, IP addresses, etc. You can bring history entries listed by ‘%hist -g’ up for editing with the %recall command, or run them immediately with %rerun.

Output caching system

For output that is returned from actions, a system similar to the input cache exists but using _ instead of _i. Only actions that produce a result (NOT assignments, for example) are cached. If you are familiar with Mathematica, IPython’s _ variables behave exactly like Mathematica’s % variables.

The following GLOBAL variables always exist (so don’t overwrite them!):

  • [_] (a single underscore) : stores previous output, like Python’s default interpreter.
  • [__] (two underscores): next previous.
  • [___] (three underscores): next-next previous.

Additionally, global variables named _<n> are dynamically created (<n> being the prompt counter), such that the result of output <n> is always available as _<n> (don’t use the angle brackets, just the number, e.g. _21).

These global variables are all stored in a global dictionary (not a list, since it only has entries for lines which returned a result) available under the names _oh and Out (similar to _ih and In). So the output from line 12 can be obtained as _12, Out[12] or _oh[12]. If you accidentally overwrite the Out variable you can recover it by typing ‘Out=_oh’ at the prompt.

This system obviously can potentially put heavy memory demands on your system, since it prevents Python’s garbage collector from removing any previously computed results. You can control how many results are kept in memory with the option (at the command line or in your ipythonrc file) cache_size. If you set it to 0, the whole system is completely disabled and the prompts revert to the classic ‘>>>’ of normal Python.

Directory history

Your history of visited directories is kept in the global list _dh, and the magic %cd command can be used to go to any entry in that list. The %dhist command allows you to view this history. Do cd -<TAB> to conveniently view the directory history.

Automatic parentheses and quotes

These features were adapted from Nathan Gray’s LazyPython. They are meant to allow less typing for common situations.

Automatic parentheses

Callable objects (i.e. functions, methods, etc) can be invoked like this (notice the commas between the arguments):

>>> callable_ob arg1, arg2, arg3

and the input will be translated to this:

-> callable_ob(arg1, arg2, arg3)

You can force automatic parentheses by using ‘/’ as the first character of a line. For example:

>>> /globals # becomes 'globals()'

Note that the ‘/’ MUST be the first character on the line! This won’t work:

>>> print /globals # syntax error

In most cases the automatic algorithm should work, so you should rarely need to explicitly invoke /. One notable exception is if you are trying to call a function with a list of tuples as arguments (the parenthesis will confuse IPython):

In [1]: zip (1,2,3),(4,5,6) # won't work

but this will work:

In [2]: /zip (1,2,3),(4,5,6)
---> zip ((1,2,3),(4,5,6))
Out[2]= [(1, 4), (2, 5), (3, 6)]

IPython tells you that it has altered your command line by displaying the new command line preceded by ->. e.g.:

In [18]: callable list
----> callable (list)

Automatic quoting

You can force automatic quoting of a function’s arguments by using ‘,’ or ‘;’ as the first character of a line. For example:

>>> ,my_function /home/me # becomes my_function("/home/me")

If you use ‘;’ instead, the whole argument is quoted as a single string (while ‘,’ splits on whitespace):

>>> ,my_function a b c # becomes my_function("a","b","c")

>>> ;my_function a b c # becomes my_function("a b c")

Note that the ‘,’ or ‘;’ MUST be the first character on the line! This won’t work:

>>> x = ,my_function /home/me # syntax error

IPython as your default Python environment

Python honors the environment variable PYTHONSTARTUP and will execute at startup the file referenced by this variable. If you put at the end of this file the following two lines of code:

from IPython.frontend.terminal.ipapp import launch_new_instance
raise SystemExit

then IPython will be your working environment anytime you start Python. The raise SystemExit is needed to exit Python when it finishes, otherwise you’ll be back at the normal Python ‘>>>’ prompt.

This is probably useful to developers who manage multiple Python versions and don’t want to have correspondingly multiple IPython versions. Note that in this mode, there is no way to pass IPython any command-line options, as those are trapped first by Python itself.

Embedding IPython

It is possible to start an IPython instance inside your own Python programs. This allows you to evaluate dynamically the state of your code, operate with your variables, analyze them, etc. Note however that any changes you make to values while in the shell do not propagate back to the running code, so it is safe to modify your values because you won’t break your code in bizarre ways by doing so.

This feature allows you to easily have a fully functional python environment for doing object introspection anywhere in your code with a simple function call. In some cases a simple print statement is enough, but if you need to do more detailed analysis of a code fragment this feature can be very valuable.

It can also be useful in scientific computing situations where it is common to need to do some automatic, computationally intensive part and then stop to look at data, plots, etc. Opening an IPython instance will give you full access to your data and functions, and you can resume program execution once you are done with the interactive part (perhaps to stop again later, as many times as needed).

The following code snippet is the bare minimum you need to include in your Python programs for this to work (detailed examples follow later):

from IPython import embed

embed() # this call anywhere in your program will start IPython

You can run embedded instances even in code which is itself being run at the IPython interactive prompt with ‘%run <filename>’. Since it’s easy to get lost as to where you are (in your top-level IPython or in your embedded one), it’s a good idea in such cases to set the in/out prompts to something different for the embedded instances. The code examples below illustrate this.

You can also have multiple IPython instances in your program and open them separately, for example with different options for data presentation. If you close and open the same instance multiple times, its prompt counters simply continue from each execution to the next.

Please look at the docstrings in the embed module for more details on the use of this system.

The following sample file illustrating how to use the embedding functionality is provided in the examples directory as example-embed.py. It should be fairly self-explanatory:

#!/usr/bin/env python

"""An example of how to embed an IPython shell into a running program.

Please see the documentation in the IPython.Shell module for more details.

The accompanying file example-embed-short.py has quick code fragments for
embedding which you can cut and paste in your code once you understand how
things work.

The code in this file is deliberately extra-verbose, meant for learning."""

# The basics to get you going:

# IPython sets the __IPYTHON__ variable so you can know if you have nested
# copies running.

# Try running this code both at the command line and from inside IPython (with
# %run example-embed.py)
from IPython.config.loader import Config
except NameError:
    nested = 0
    cfg = Config()
    shell_config = cfg.InteractiveShellEmbed
    shell_config.prompt_in1 = 'In <\\#>: '
    shell_config.prompt_in2 = '   .\\D.: '
    shell_config.prompt_out = 'Out<\\#>: '
    print "Running nested copies of IPython."
    print "The prompts for the nested copy have been modified"
    cfg = Config()
    nested = 1

# First import the embeddable shell class
from IPython.frontend.terminal.embed import InteractiveShellEmbed

# Now create an instance of the embeddable shell. The first argument is a
# string with options exactly as you would type them if you were starting
# IPython at the system command line. Any parameters you want to define for
# configuration can thus be specified here.
ipshell = InteractiveShellEmbed(config=cfg,
                       banner1 = 'Dropping into IPython',
                       exit_msg = 'Leaving Interpreter, back to program.')

# Make a second instance, you can have as many as you want.
cfg2 = cfg.copy()
shell_config = cfg2.InteractiveShellEmbed
shell_config.prompt_in1 = 'In2<\\#>: '
if not nested:
    shell_config.prompt_in1 = 'In2<\\#>: '
    shell_config.prompt_in2 = '   .\\D.: '
    shell_config.prompt_out = 'Out<\\#>: '
ipshell2 = InteractiveShellEmbed(config=cfg,
                        banner1 = 'Second IPython instance.')

print '\nHello. This is printed from the main controller program.\n'

# You can then call ipshell() anywhere you need it (with an optional
# message):
ipshell('***Called from top level. '
        'Hit Ctrl-D to exit interpreter and continue program.\n'
        'Note that if you use %kill_embedded, you can fully deactivate\n'
        'This embedded instance so it will never turn on again')

print '\nBack in caller program, moving along...\n'

# More details:

# InteractiveShellEmbed instances don't print the standard system banner and
# messages. The IPython banner (which actually may contain initialization
# messages) is available as get_ipython().banner in case you want it.

# InteractiveShellEmbed instances print the following information everytime they
# start:

# - A global startup banner.

# - A call-specific header string, which you can use to indicate where in the
# execution flow the shell is starting.

# They also print an exit message every time they exit.

# Both the startup banner and the exit message default to None, and can be set
# either at the instance constructor or at any other time with the
# by setting the banner and exit_msg attributes.

# The shell instance can be also put in 'dummy' mode globally or on a per-call
# basis. This gives you fine control for debugging without having to change
# code all over the place.

# The code below illustrates all this.

# This is how the global banner and exit_msg can be reset at any point
ipshell.banner = 'Entering interpreter - New Banner'
ipshell.exit_msg = 'Leaving interpreter - New exit_msg'

def foo(m):
    s = 'spam'
    ipshell('***In foo(). Try %whos, or print s or m:')
    print 'foo says m = ',m

def bar(n):
    s = 'eggs'
    ipshell('***In bar(). Try %whos, or print s or n:')
    print 'bar says n = ',n
# Some calls to the above functions which will trigger IPython:
print 'Main program calling foo("eggs")\n'

# The shell can be put in 'dummy' mode where calls to it silently return. This
# allows you, for example, to globally turn off debugging for a program with a
# single call.
ipshell.dummy_mode = True
print '\nTrying to call IPython which is now "dummy":'
print 'Nothing happened...'
# The global 'dummy' mode can still be overridden for a single call
print '\nOverriding dummy mode manually:'

# Reactivate the IPython shell
ipshell.dummy_mode = False

print 'You can even have multiple embedded instances:'

print '\nMain program calling bar("spam")\n'

print 'Main program finished. Bye!'

#********************** End of file <example-embed.py> ***********************

Once you understand how the system functions, you can use the following code fragments in your programs which are ready for cut and paste:

"""Quick code snippets for embedding IPython into other programs.

See example-embed.py for full details, this file has the bare minimum code for
cut and paste use once you understand how to use the system."""

# This code loads IPython but modifies a few things if it detects it's running
# embedded in another IPython session (helps avoid confusion)

except NameError:
    banner = '*** Nested interpreter ***'
    exit_msg = '*** Back in main IPython ***'

# First import the embed function
from IPython.frontend.terminal.embed import InteractiveShellEmbed
# Now create the IPython shell instance. Put ipshell() anywhere in your code
# where you want it to open.
ipshell = InteractiveShellEmbed(banner1=banner, exit_msg=exit_msg)
# This code will load an embeddable IPython shell always with no changes for
# nested embededings.

from IPython import embed
# Now embed() will open IPython anywhere in the code.

# This code loads an embeddable shell only if NOT running inside
# IPython. Inside IPython, the embeddable shell variable ipshell is just a
# dummy function.

except NameError:
    from IPython.frontend.terminal.embed import InteractiveShellEmbed
    ipshell = InteractiveShellEmbed()
    # Now ipshell() will open IPython anywhere in the code
    # Define a dummy ipshell() so the same code doesn't crash inside an
    # interactive IPython
    def ipshell(): pass

#******************* End of file <example-embed-short.py> ********************

Using the Python debugger (pdb)

Running entire programs via pdb

pdb, the Python debugger, is a powerful interactive debugger which allows you to step through code, set breakpoints, watch variables, etc. IPython makes it very easy to start any script under the control of pdb, regardless of whether you have wrapped it into a ‘main()’ function or not. For this, simply type ‘%run -d myscript’ at an IPython prompt. See the %run command’s documentation (via ‘%run?’ or in Sec. magic for more details, including how to control where pdb will stop execution first.

For more information on the use of the pdb debugger, read the included pdb.doc file (part of the standard Python distribution). On a stock Linux system it is located at /usr/lib/python2.3/pdb.doc, but the easiest way to read it is by using the help() function of the pdb module as follows (in an IPython prompt):

In [1]: import pdb
In [2]: pdb.help()

This will load the pdb.doc document in a file viewer for you automatically.

Automatic invocation of pdb on exceptions

IPython, if started with the -pdb option (or if the option is set in your rc file) can call the Python pdb debugger every time your code triggers an uncaught exception. This feature can also be toggled at any time with the %pdb magic command. This can be extremely useful in order to find the origin of subtle bugs, because pdb opens up at the point in your code which triggered the exception, and while your program is at this point ‘dead’, all the data is still available and you can walk up and down the stack frame and understand the origin of the problem.

Furthermore, you can use these debugging facilities both with the embedded IPython mode and without IPython at all. For an embedded shell (see sec. Embedding), simply call the constructor with ‘–pdb’ in the argument string and automatically pdb will be called if an uncaught exception is triggered by your code.

For stand-alone use of the feature in your programs which do not use IPython at all, put the following lines toward the top of your ‘main’ routine:

import sys
from IPython.core import ultratb
sys.excepthook = ultratb.FormattedTB(mode='Verbose',
color_scheme='Linux', call_pdb=1)

The mode keyword can be either ‘Verbose’ or ‘Plain’, giving either very detailed or normal tracebacks respectively. The color_scheme keyword can be one of ‘NoColor’, ‘Linux’ (default) or ‘LightBG’. These are the same options which can be set in IPython with -colors and -xmode.

This will give any of your programs detailed, colored tracebacks with automatic invocation of pdb.

Extensions for syntax processing

This isn’t for the faint of heart, because the potential for breaking things is quite high. But it can be a very powerful and useful feature. In a nutshell, you can redefine the way IPython processes the user input line to accept new, special extensions to the syntax without needing to change any of IPython’s own code.

In the IPython/extensions directory you will find some examples supplied, which we will briefly describe now. These can be used ‘as is’ (and both provide very useful functionality), or you can use them as a starting point for writing your own extensions.

Pasting of code starting with Python or IPython prompts

IPython is smart enough to filter out input prompts, be they plain Python ones (>>> and ...) or IPython ones (In [N]: and `` ...:``). You can therefore copy and paste from existing interactive sessions without worry.

The following is a ‘screenshot’ of how things work, copying an example from the standard Python tutorial:

In [1]: >>> # Fibonacci series:

In [2]: ... # the sum of two elements defines the next

In [3]: ... a, b = 0, 1

In [4]: >>> while b < 10:
   ...:     ...     print b
   ...:     ...     a, b = b, a+b

And pasting from IPython sessions works equally well:

In [1]: In [5]: def f(x):
   ...:        ...:     "A simple function"
   ...:        ...:     return x**2
   ...:    ...:

In [2]: f(3)
Out[2]: 9

GUI event loop support

New in version 0.11: The %gui magic and IPython.lib.inputhook.


All GUI support with the %gui magic, described in this section, applies only to the plain terminal IPython, not to the Qt console. The Qt console currently only supports GUI interaction via the --pylab flag, as explained in the matplotlib section.

We intend to correct this limitation as soon as possible, you can track our progress at issue #643_.

IPython has excellent support for working interactively with Graphical User Interface (GUI) toolkits, such as wxPython, PyQt4, PyGTK and Tk. This is implemented using Python’s builtin PyOSInputHook hook. This implementation is extremely robust compared to our previous thread-based version. The advantages of this are:

  • GUIs can be enabled and disabled dynamically at runtime.
  • The active GUI can be switched dynamically at runtime.
  • In some cases, multiple GUIs can run simultaneously with no problems.
  • There is a developer API in IPython.lib.inputhook for customizing all of these things.

For users, enabling GUI event loop integration is simple. You simple use the %gui magic as follows:

%gui [GUINAME]

With no arguments, %gui removes all GUI support. Valid GUINAME arguments are wx, qt4, gtk and tk.

Thus, to use wxPython interactively and create a running wx.App object, do:

%gui wx

For information on IPython’s Matplotlib integration (and the pylab mode) see this section.

For developers that want to use IPython’s GUI event loop integration in the form of a library, these capabilities are exposed in library form in the IPython.lib.inputhook and IPython.lib.guisupport modules. Interested developers should see the module docstrings for more information, but there are a few points that should be mentioned here.

First, the PyOSInputHook approach only works in command line settings where readline is activated. As indicated in the warning above, we plan on improving the integration of GUI event loops with the standalone kernel used by the Qt console and other frontends (issue 643).

Second, when using the PyOSInputHook approach, a GUI application should not start its event loop. Instead all of this is handled by the PyOSInputHook. This means that applications that are meant to be used both in IPython and as standalone apps need to have special code to detects how the application is being run. We highly recommend using IPython’s support for this. Since the details vary slightly between toolkits, we point you to the various examples in our source directory docs/examples/lib that demonstrate these capabilities.


The WX version of this is currently broken. While --pylab=wx works fine, standalone WX apps do not. See https://github.com/ipython/ipython/issues/645 for details of our progress on this issue.

Third, unlike previous versions of IPython, we no longer “hijack” (replace them with no-ops) the event loops. This is done to allow applications that actually need to run the real event loops to do so. This is often needed to process pending events at critical points.

Finally, we also have a number of examples in our source directory docs/examples/lib that demonstrate these capabilities.

PyQt and PySide

When you use --gui=qt or --pylab=qt, IPython can work with either PyQt4 or PySide. There are three options for configuration here, because PyQt4 has two APIs for QString and QVariant - v1, which is the default on Python 2, and the more natural v2, which is the only API supported by PySide. v2 is also the default for PyQt4 on Python 3. IPython’s code for the QtConsole uses v2, but you can still use any interface in your code, since the Qt frontend is in a different process.

The default will be to import PyQt4 without configuration of the APIs, thus matching what most applications would expect. It will fall back of PySide if PyQt4 is unavailable.

If specified, IPython will respect the environment variable QT_API used by ETS. ETS 4.0 also works with both PyQt4 and PySide, but it requires PyQt4 to use its v2 API. So if QT_API=pyside PySide will be used, and if QT_API=pyqt then PyQt4 will be used with the v2 API for QString and QVariant, so ETS codes like MayaVi will also work with IPython.

If you launch IPython in pylab mode with ipython --pylab=qt, then IPython will ask matplotlib which Qt library to use (only if QT_API is not set), via the ‘backend.qt4’ rcParam. If matplotlib is version 1.0.1 or older, then IPython will always use PyQt4 without setting the v2 APIs, since neither v2 PyQt nor PySide work.


Note that this means for ETS 4 to work with PyQt4, QT_API must be set to work with IPython’s qt integration, because otherwise PyQt4 will be loaded in an incompatible mode.

It also means that you must not have QT_API set if you want to use --gui=qt with code that requires PyQt4 API v1.

Plotting with matplotlib

Matplotlib provides high quality 2D and 3D plotting for Python. Matplotlib can produce plots on screen using a variety of GUI toolkits, including Tk, PyGTK, PyQt4 and wxPython. It also provides a number of commands useful for scientific computing, all with a syntax compatible with that of the popular Matlab program.

To start IPython with matplotlib support, use the --pylab switch. If no arguments are given, IPython will automatically detect your choice of matplotlib backend. You can also request a specific backend with --pylab=backend, where backend must be one of: ‘tk’, ‘qt’, ‘wx’, ‘gtk’, ‘osx’.

Interactive demos with IPython

IPython ships with a basic system for running scripts interactively in sections, useful when presenting code to audiences. A few tags embedded in comments (so that the script remains valid Python code) divide a file into separate blocks, and the demo can be run one block at a time, with IPython printing (with syntax highlighting) the block before executing it, and returning to the interactive prompt after each block. The interactive namespace is updated after each block is run with the contents of the demo’s namespace.

This allows you to show a piece of code, run it and then execute interactively commands based on the variables just created. Once you want to continue, you simply execute the next block of the demo. The following listing shows the markup necessary for dividing a script into sections for execution as a demo:

"""A simple interactive demo to illustrate the use of IPython's Demo class.

Any python script can be run as a demo, but that does little more than showing
it on-screen, syntax-highlighted in one shot.  If you add a little simple
markup, you can stop at specified intervals and return to the ipython prompt,
resuming execution later.

print 'Hello, welcome to an interactive IPython demo.'
print 'Executing this block should require confirmation before proceeding,'
print 'unless auto_all has been set to true in the demo object'

# The mark below defines a block boundary, which is a point where IPython will
# stop execution and return to the interactive prompt.
# Note that in actual interactive execution, 
# <demo> --- stop ---

x = 1
y = 2

# <demo> --- stop ---

# the mark below makes this block as silent
# <demo> silent

print 'This is a silent block, which gets executed but not printed.'

# <demo> --- stop ---
# <demo> auto
print 'This is an automatic block.'
print 'It is executed without asking for confirmation, but printed.'
z = x+y

print 'z=',x

# <demo> --- stop ---
# This is just another normal block.
print 'z is now:', z

print 'bye!'

In order to run a file as a demo, you must first make a Demo object out of it. If the file is named myscript.py, the following code will make a demo:

from IPython.lib.demo import Demo

mydemo = Demo('myscript.py')

This creates the mydemo object, whose blocks you run one at a time by simply calling the object with no arguments. If you have autocall active in IPython (the default), all you need to do is type:


and IPython will call it, executing each block. Demo objects can be restarted, you can move forward or back skipping blocks, re-execute the last block, etc. Simply use the Tab key on a demo object to see its methods, and call ‘?’ on them to see their docstrings for more usage details. In addition, the demo module itself contains a comprehensive docstring, which you can access via:

from IPython.lib import demo


Limitations: It is important to note that these demos are limited to fairly simple uses. In particular, you can not put division marks in indented code (loops, if statements, function definitions, etc.) Supporting something like this would basically require tracking the internal execution state of the Python interpreter, so only top-level divisions are allowed. If you want to be able to open an IPython instance at an arbitrary point in a program, you can use IPython’s embedding facilities, see IPython.embed() for details.