Running Python modules as scripts

Python has a pretty extensive standard library. This is great if you need to quickly hack together a script. There are also a large number of modules which can be run directly. To run a module directly the -m option can be used:

-m mod : run library module as a script (terminates option list)

This post is going to go over a few of the more useful modules that can be run directly.

Running a web server

Python ships with a complete web server implementation. This is very helpful if you quickly need to send files across a local network.

$ python -m http.server
Serving HTTP on port 8000 ... - - [01/Nov/2016 22:44:19] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200 -

You can also specify a port number as an additional argument:

$ python -m http.server 80
Serving HTTP on port 80 ... - - [01/Nov/2016 22:46:42] "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200 -

Note: In earlier versions of Python (2.x), the module is called SimpleHTTPServer.

Pretty JSON

RESTful APIs that return JSON are pretty ubiquitous. However it's not uncommon for responses to have no white space:

$ curl -s
[{"status":"good","body":"Everything operating normally.","created_on":"2016-11-01T03:44:22Z"},{"status":"minor","body":"We are investigating a high number of exceptions on","created_on":"2016-11-01T02:55:49Z"}]

The json.tool module can be used to pretty-print JSON, making it a little more human readable:

$ curl -s | python -m 'json.tool'
        "body": "Everything operating normally.",
        "created_on": "2016-11-01T03:44:22Z",
        "status": "good"
        "body": "We are investigating a high number of exceptions on",
        "created_on": "2016-11-01T02:55:49Z",
        "status": "minor"


The mimetypes modules is pretty self explanatory. It can be used to guess the mimetype of a file:

$ python -m mimetypes example.jpg
type: image/jpeg encoding: None

$ python -m mimetypes example.tar.gz
type: application/x-tar encoding: gzip

Note: unlike the file command, mimetypes only looks at the file extension, not the actual contents of the file.

Archive files

There are also modules which can be used to work with common archive formats such as tar and zip. The tarfile modules can be used to manipulate tar files:

$ python -m tarfile -h
usage: [-h] [-v] [-l <tarfile> | -e <tarfile> [<output_dir> ...] |
                  -c <name> [<file> ...] | -t <tarfile>]

A simple command line interface for tarfile module.

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -v, --verbose         Verbose output
  -l <tarfile>, --list <tarfile>
                        Show listing of a tarfile
  -e <tarfile> [<output_dir> ...], --extract <tarfile> [<output_dir> ...]
                        Extract tarfile into target dir
  -c <name> [<file> ...], --create <name> [<file> ...]
                        Create tarfile from sources
  -t <tarfile>, --test <tarfile>
                        Test if a tarfile is valid

And the zipfile module can be used to manipulate zip archives:

$ python -m zipfile -h
Usage: -l        # Show listing of a zipfile -t        # Test if a zipfile is valid -e target # Extract zipfile into target dir -c src ... # Create zipfile from sources

Note: the gzip module can be used to compress/decompress tar files, or any other file if required.

Telnet client

Although netcat is a far more flexible tool, the telnetlib module can be used as a basic telnet client. You could use it to connect to a telnet server, however it can also be used for other protocols, e.g. HTTP:

$ python -m telnetlib 80
GET / HTTP/1.1

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Cache-Control: max-age=604800
Content-Type: text/html

Note: it's worth pointing out that telnet does differ from a raw TCP socket. In addition to sending/receiving raw data, telnet also sends control information. See RFC854 if you're interested in the specifics.

Base64 and ROT13

The base64 modules can be used to, you guessed it, encode and decode Base64 data. By default data from stdin or a file will be read and encoded:

$ echo hello world | python -m base64
$ echo hello world > example.txt
$ python -m base64 example.txt

However the -d option can be used to decode data:

$ echo aGVsbG8gd29ybGQK | python -m base64 -d
hello world

There is also a ROT13 module (encodings.rot_13), which can be used to transform text using the ROT13 cipher:

$ echo uryyb jbeyq | python -m encodings.rot_13
hello world

Note: unlike base64, encodings.rot_13 will only read from stdin.

Turtles all the way down

Last, but not least, there is a demonstration of the turtle module:

$ python -m turtle