What’s the difference between subprocess Popen and call (how can I use them)? Code Answer

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I want to call an external program from Python. I have used both Popen() and call() to do that.

What’s the difference between the two?

My specific goal is to run the following command from Python. I am not sure how redirects work.

./my_script.sh > output

I read the documentation and it says that call() is a convenience function or a shortcut function. Do we lose any power by using call() instead of Popen()?


There are two ways to do the redirect. Both apply to either subprocess.Popen or subprocess.call.

  1. Set the keyword argument shell = True or executable = /path/to/the/shell and specify the command just as you have it there.

  2. Since you’re just redirecting the output to a file, set the keyword argument

    stdout = an_open_writeable_file_object

    where the object points to the output file.

subprocess.Popen is more general than subprocess.call.

Popen doesn’t block, allowing you to interact with the process while it’s running, or continue with other things in your Python program. The call to Popen returns a Popen object.

call does block. While it supports all the same arguments as the Popen constructor, so you can still set the process’ output, environmental variables, etc., your script waits for the program to complete, and call returns a code representing the process’ exit status.

returncode = call(*args, **kwargs) 

is basically the same as calling

returncode = Popen(*args, **kwargs).wait()

call is just a convenience function. It’s implementation in CPython is in subprocess.py:

def call(*popenargs, timeout=None, **kwargs):
    """Run command with arguments.  Wait for command to complete or
    timeout, then return the returncode attribute.

    The arguments are the same as for the Popen constructor.  Example:

    retcode = call(["ls", "-l"])
    with Popen(*popenargs, **kwargs) as p:
            return p.wait(timeout=timeout)

As you can see, it’s a thin wrapper around Popen.

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