Executing Bash Commands from Python While Maintaining Context

What will you learn?

In this comprehensive guide, you will master the art of executing bash commands seamlessly within Python scripts. Learn how to maintain context between commands, capture outputs for processing, and display results live.

Introduction to the Problem and Solution

When working on projects that involve both Python and shell scripts, the need to run bash commands directly from Python arises. The challenge lies in executing these commands while preserving context – ensuring changes made by one command persist for subsequent ones. Additionally, capturing command outputs for further processing in Python and displaying them live can be complex.

Python’s subprocess module provides the necessary tools to address this challenge efficiently. By leveraging subprocess.Popen along with parameters like stdin, stdout, and environment management through env, you can achieve seamless integration of bash commands within your Python scripts.


import subprocess

# Function to run bash commands in python
def run_bash_command(command):
    process = subprocess.Popen(command,

    # Print real-time output
    while True:
        output = process.stdout.readline()
        if process.poll() is not None and output == b'':
        if output:

    rc = process.poll()
    return rc

# Example usage: Changing directory and listing contents.
run_bash_command('cd / && ls')

# Copyright PHD


The solution involves using subprocess.Popen to spawn new processes for executing bash commands. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Initialization: Initialize a new subprocess with the desired command using Popen. Setting shell=True ensures execution through an interactive shell session.

  • Real-Time Output: Capture real-time outputs (stdout and stderr) by reading each line from process.stdout.readline() until no more data is available.

  • Context Preservation: Running each command through its own shell instance (shell=True) means context changes aren’t automatically preserved across calls. Additional logic may be needed for maintaining context within a script execution.

  • Return Code: Check the final return code (poll()) to determine successful execution or encountered errors.

This approach allows seamless execution of complex bash workflows from Python while handling real-time outputs effectively.

  1. How do I pass environment variables?

  2. You can pass environment variables using the env parameter:

  3. environment_variables = {'MY_VAR': 'value'}
    process = subprocess.Popen(command,
  4. # Copyright PHD
  5. Can I suppress error messages?

  6. Yes! Replace stderr=subprocess.STDOUT with stderr=subprocess.DEVNULL.

  7. How do I run multiple dependent commands?

  8. Chain dependent commands with logical operators like ‘cd myDir && do_something’.

  9. Is it possible to interactively input data during execution?

  10. For simple cases, use .communicate(input=’your_input’). For complex interactions, consider using libraries like pexpect.

  11. Why does my script sometimes hang when reading outputs?

  12. Ensure you’re reading both STDOUT & STDERR or redirecting STDERR as needed; hanging could result from buffer overflow issues.


Executing Bash scripts from within Python offers powerful capabilities for integrating system-level tasks into applications. Careful consideration of security concerns and understanding limitations regarding context preservation & platform differences are crucial when combining strengths of Bash & Python ecosystems.

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