Tuesday 16 April 2019

Someone recently asked how to permanently change the prompt in the Python interactive REPL. The answer is you can point the PYTHONSTARTUP environment variable at a Python file, and that file will be executed every time you enter the interactive prompt.

I use this to import modules I often want to use, define helpers, and configure my command history.

In my .bashrc I have:


Then my file is:

# Ned's file, loaded into interactive python prompts.
# Has to work on both 2.x and 3.x


import collections, datetime, itertools, math, os, pprint, re, sys, time
print("(imported collections, datetime, itertools, math, os, pprint, re, sys, time)")

pp = pprint.pprint

# A function for pasting code into the repl.
def paste():
    import textwrap
    exec(textwrap.dedent(, globals())

# Readline and history support
def hook_up_history():
        # Not sure why this module is missing in some places, but deal with it.
        import readline
    except ImportError:
        print("No readline, use ^H")
        import atexit
        import os
        import rlcompleter

        history_path = os.path.expanduser(

        def save_history(history_path=history_path):
            import readline

        if os.path.exists(history_path):


# Don't do history stuff if we are IPython, it has its own thing.
is_ipython = 'In' in globals()
if not is_ipython:

# Get rid of globals we don't want.
del is_ipython, hook_up_history

A few things could us an explanation. The paste() function lets me paste code into the REPL that has blank lines in it, or is indented. Basically, I can copy code from somewhere, and use paste() to paste it into the prompt without having to fix those things first. Run paste(), then paste the code, then type an EOF indicator (Ctrl-D or Ctrl-Z, depending on your OS). The pasted code will be run as if it had been entered correctly.

The history stuff gives me history that persists across Python invocations, and keeps the Python 2 history separate from the Python 3 history. “pp” is very handy to have as a short alias.

Of course, you can put anything you want in your own file. It’s only run for interactive sessions, not when you are running programs, so you don’t have to worry that you will corrupt important programs.


Tosin Animashaun 3:08 PM on 17 Apr 2019

This is a really nifty hack. Thanks for sharing, Ned.

Greatbahram 12:02 PM on 19 Apr 2019

It's a great helper, Thanks for sharing.
However, I think these are only few things that all of us suffer from pure python REPL, it would be much more better if python foundation add some of Ipython REPL things to their implementaion. Such as prettyprinted, indentation support and enhance history and so on.

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