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4.6 User-Friendly Program Launchers

Suppose, for just a moment, that you wish to ship Python programs to an audience that may be in the very early stages of evolving from computer user to computer programmer. Maybe you are shipping a Python application to nontechnical users; or perhaps you're interested in shipping a set of cool Python demo programs on a Python book's CD-ROM (see http://examples.oreilly.com/python2). Whatever the reason, some of the people who will use your software can't be expected to do any more than click a mouse -- much less edit their system configuration files to set things like PATH and PYTHONPATH per your programs' assumptions. Your software will have to configure itself.

Luckily, Python scripts can do that too. In the next two sections, we're going to see two modules that aim to automatically launch programs with minimal assumptions about the environment on the host machine:

  • Launcher.py is a library of tools for automatically configuring the shell environment in preparation for launching a Python script. It can be used to set required shell variables -- both the PATH system program search path (used to find the "python" executable), and the PYTHONPATH module search path (used to resolve imports within scripts). Because such variable settings made in a parent program are inherited by spawned child programs, this interface lets scripts preconfigure search paths for other scripts.

  • LaunchBrowser.py aims to portably locate and start an Internet browser program on the host machine to view a local file or remote web page. It uses tools in Launcher.py to search for a reasonable browser to run.

Both of these modules are designed to be reusable in any context where you want your software to be user-friendly. By searching for files and configuring environments automatically, your users can avoid (or at least postpone) having to learn the intricacies of environment configuration.

4.6.1 Launcher Module Clients

The two modules in this section see action in many of this book's examples. In fact, we've already used some of these tools. The launchmodes script we met at the end of the prior chapter imported Launcher functions to hunt for the local python.exe interpreter's path, needed by os.spawnv calls. That script could have assumed that everyone who installs it on their machine will edit its source code to add their own Python location; but the technical know-how required for even that task is already light-years beyond many potential users.[4] It's much nicer to invest a negligible amount of startup time to locate Python automatically.

[4] You gurus and wizards out there will just have to take my word for it. One of the very first things you learn from flying around the world teaching Python to beginners is just how much knowledge developers take for granted. In the book Learning Python, for example, my co-author and I directed readers to do things like "open a file in your favorite text editor" and "start up a DOS command console." We had no shortage of email from beginners wondering what in the world we meant.

The two modules listed in Examples Example 4-14 and Example 4-15, together with launchmodes, also form the core of the demo-launcher programs at the top of the examples distribution on this book's CD (see http://examples.oreilly.com/python2). There's nothing quite like being able to witness programs in action first-hand, so I wanted to make it as easy as possible to launch Python examples in the book. Ideally, they should run straight off the CD when clicked, and not require readers to wade through a complex environment installation procedure.

However, many demos perform cross-directory imports, and so require the book's module package directories to be installed in PYTHONPATH; it is not enough just to click on some programs' icons at random. Moreover, when first starting out, users can't be assumed to have added the Python executable to their system search path either; the name "python" might not mean anything in the shell.

At least on platforms tested thus far, the following modules solve such configuration problems. For example, script Launch_PyDemos.pyw in the root directory automatically configures the system and Python execution environments using Launcher.py tools, and then spawns PyDemos.py, a Tkinter GUI Demo interface we'll meet later in this book. PyDemos in turn uses launchmodes to spawn other programs, that also inherit the environment settings made at the top. The net effect is that clicking any of the Launch_* scripts starts Python programs even if you haven't touched your environment settings at all.

You still need to install Python if it's not present, of course, but the Python Windows self-installer is a simple point-and-click affair too. Because searches and configuration take extra time, it's still to your advantage to eventually configure your environment settings and run programs like PyDemos directly, instead of through the launcher scripts. But there's much to be said for instant gratification when it comes to software.

These tools will show up in other contexts later in this text, too. For instance, the PyMail email interface we'll meet in Chapter 11 uses Launcher to locate its own source code file; since it's impossible to know what directory it will be run from, the best it can do is search. Another GUI example, big_gui, will use a similar Launcher tool to locate canned Python source-distribution demo programs in arbitrary and unpredictable places on the underlying computer.

The LaunchBrowser script in Example 4-15 also uses Launcher to locate suitable web browsers, and is itself used to start Internet demos in the PyDemos and PyGadgets launcher GUIs -- that is, Launcher starts PyDemos, which starts LaunchBrowser, which uses Launcher. By optimizing generality, these modules also optimize reusability.

4.6.2 Launching Programs Without Environment Settings

Because the Launcher.py file is heavily documented, I won't go over its fine points in narrative here. Instead, I'll just point out that all of its functions are useful by themselves, but the main entry point is the launchBookExamples function near the end; you need to work your way from the bottom of this file up to glimpse its larger picture.

The launchBookExamples function uses all the others, to configure the environment and then spawn one or more programs to run in that environment. In fact, the top-level demo launcher scripts shown in Examples Example 4-12 and Example 4-13 do nothing more than ask this function to spawn GUI demo interface programs we'll meet later (e.g., PyDemos.pyw, PyGadgets_bar.pyw). Because the GUIs are spawned indirectly through this interface, all programs they spawn inherit the environment configurations too.

Example 4-12. PP2E\Launch_PyDemos.pyw
#!/bin/env python
# PyDemos + environment search/config first
# run this if you haven't setup your paths yet
# you still must install Python first, though

import Launcher
Launcher.launchBookExamples(['PyDemos.pyw'], 0)
Example 4-13. PP2E\Launch_PyGadgets_bar.pyw
#!/bin/env python
# PyGadgets_bar + environment search/config first
# run this if you haven't setup your paths yet
# you still must install Python first, though

import Launcher
Launcher.launchBookExamples(['PyGadgets_bar.pyw'], 0)

When run directly, PyDemos.pyw and PyGadgets_bar.pyw instead rely on the configuration settings on the underlying machine. In other words, Launcher effectively hides configuration details from the GUI interfaces, by enclosing them in a configuration program layer. To understand how, study Example 4-14.

Example 4-14. PP2E\Launcher.py
#!/usr/bin/env python
Tools to find files, and run Python demos even if your environment has
not been manually configured yet.  For instance, provided you have already
installed Python, you can launch Tk demos directly off the book's CD by 
double-clicking this file's icon, without first changing your environment
config files.  Assumes Python has been installed first (double-click on the
python self-install exe on the CD), and tries to guess where Python and the 
examples distribution live on your machine.  Sets Python module and system
search paths before running scripts: this only works because env settings 
are inherited by spawned programs on both windows and linux.  You may want
to tweak the list of directories searched for speed, and probably want to 
run one of the Config/setup-pp files at startup time to avoid this search.
This script is friendly to already-configured path settings, and serves to 
demo platform-independent directory path processing.  Python programs can 
always be started under the Windows port by clicking (or spawning a 'start'
DOS command), but many book examples require the module search path too.

import sys, os, string

def which(program, trace=1):
    Look for program in all dirs in the system's search 
    path var, PATH; return full path to program if found, 
    else None. Doesn't handle aliases on Unix (where we 
    could also just run a 'which' shell cmd with os.popen),
    and it might help to also check if the file is really 
    an executable with os.stat and the stat module, using
    code like this: os.stat(filename)[stat.ST_MODE] & 0111
        ospath = os.environ['PATH']
        ospath = '' # okay if not set
    systempath = string.split(ospath, os.pathsep)
    if trace: print 'Looking for', program, 'on', systempath
    for sysdir in systempath:
        filename = os.path.join(sysdir, program)      # adds os.sep between
        if os.path.isfile(filename):                  # exists and is a file?
            if trace: print 'Found', filename
            return filename
            if trace: print 'Not at', filename
    if trace: print program, 'not on system path'
    return None

def findFirst(thisDir, targetFile, trace=0):    
    Search directories at and below thisDir for a file
    or dir named targetFile.  Like find.find in standard
    lib, but no name patterns, follows unix links, and
    stops at the first file found with a matching name.
    targetFile must be a simple base name, not dir path.
    if trace: print 'Scanning', thisDir
    for filename in os.listdir(thisDir):                    # skip . and ..
        if filename in [os.curdir, os.pardir]:              # just in case
        elif filename == targetFile:                        # check name match
            return os.path.join(thisDir, targetFile)        # stop at this one
            pathname = os.path.join(thisDir, filename)      # recur in subdirs
            if os.path.isdir(pathname):                     # stop at 1st match
                below = findFirst(pathname, targetFile, trace)  
                if below: return below

def guessLocation(file, isOnWindows=(sys.platform[:3]=='win'), trace=1):
    Try to find directory where file is installed
    by looking in standard places for the platform.
    Change tries lists as needed for your machine.
    cwd = os.getcwd(  )                             # directory where py started
    tryhere = cwd + os.sep + file                 # or os.path.join(cwd, file)
    if os.path.exists(tryhere):                   # don't search if it is here
        return tryhere                            # findFirst(cwd,file) descends
    if isOnWindows:
        tries = []
        for pydir in [r'C:\Python20', r'C:\Program Files\Python']:
            if os.path.exists(pydir):
        tries = tries + [cwd, r'C:\Program Files']
        for drive in 'CGDEF':
            tries.append(drive + ':\\')
        tries = [cwd, os.environ['HOME'], '/usr/bin', '/usr/local/bin']
    for dir in tries:
        if trace: print 'Searching for %s in %s' % (file, dir)
            match = findFirst(dir, file)
        except OSError: 
            if trace: print 'Error while searching', dir     # skip bad drives
            if match: return match
    if trace: print file, 'not found! - configure your environment manually'
    return None

PP2EpackageRoots = [                               # python module search path
   #'%sPP2E' % os.sep,                             # pass in your own elsewhere
    '']                                            # '' adds examplesDir root

def configPythonPath(examplesDir, packageRoots=PP2EpackageRoots, trace=1):
    Setup the Python module import search-path directory 
    list as necessary to run programs in the book examples 
    distribution, in case it hasn't been configured already.
    Add examples package root, plus nested package roots.
    This corresponds to the setup-pp* config file settings.
    os.environ assignments call os.putenv internally in 1.5,
    so these settings will be inherited by spawned programs.
    Python source lib dir and '.' are automatically searched;
    unix|win os.sep is '/' | '\\', os.pathsep is ':' | ';'.
    sys.path is for this process only--must set os.environ.
    adds new dirs to front, in case there are two installs.
    could also try to run platform's setup-pp* file in this
    process, but that's non-portable, slow, and error-prone.
        ospythonpath = os.environ['PYTHONPATH']
        ospythonpath = '' # okay if not set 
    if trace: print 'PYTHONPATH start:\n', ospythonpath
    addList = []
    for root in packageRoots:
        importDir = examplesDir + root
        if importDir in sys.path:
            if trace: print 'Exists', importDir
            if trace: print 'Adding', importDir
    if addList:
        addString = string.join(addList, os.pathsep) + os.pathsep
        os.environ['PYTHONPATH'] = addString + ospythonpath
        if trace: print 'PYTHONPATH updated:\n', os.environ['PYTHONPATH']
        if trace: print 'PYTHONPATH unchanged'

def configSystemPath(pythonDir, trace=1):
    Add python executable dir to system search path if needed
        ospath = os.environ['PATH']
        ospath = '' # okay if not set  
    if trace: print 'PATH start', ospath
    if (string.find(ospath, pythonDir) == -1 and                # not found?
        string.find(ospath, string.upper(pythonDir)) == -1):    # case diff?
        os.environ['PATH'] = ospath + os.pathsep + pythonDir
        if trace: print 'PATH updated:', os.environ['PATH']
        if trace: print 'PATH unchanged'

def runCommandLine(pypath, exdir, command, isOnWindows=0, trace=1):
    Run python command as an independent program/process on 
    this platform, using pypath as the Python executable,
    and exdir as the installed examples root directory.
    Need full path to python on windows, but not on unix.
    On windows, a os.system('start ' + command) is similar,
    except that .py files pop up a dos console box for i/o.
    Could use launchmodes.py too but pypath is already known. 
    command = exdir + os.sep + command          # rooted in examples tree
    os.environ['PP2E_PYTHON_FILE'] = pypath     # export directories for
    os.environ['PP2E_EXAMPLE_DIR'] = exdir      # use in spawned programs

    if trace: print 'Spawning:', command
    if isOnWindows:
        os.spawnv(os.P_DETACH, pypath, ('python', command))
        cmdargs = [pypath] + string.split(command)
        if os.fork(  ) == 0:
            os.execv(pypath, cmdargs)           # run prog in child process

def launchBookExamples(commandsToStart, trace=1):
    Toplevel entry point: find python exe and 
    examples dir, config env, spawn programs
    isOnWindows  = (sys.platform[:3] == 'win')
    pythonFile   = (isOnWindows and 'python.exe') or 'python'
    examplesFile = 'README-PP2E.txt'
    if trace: 
        print os.getcwd(  ), os.curdir, os.sep, os.pathsep
        print 'starting on %s...' % sys.platform

    # find python executable: check system path, then guess
    pypath = which(pythonFile) or guessLocation(pythonFile, isOnWindows) 
    assert pypath
    pydir, pyfile = os.path.split(pypath)               # up 1 from file
    if trace:
        print 'Using this Python executable:', pypath
        raw_input('Press <enter> key')
    # find examples root dir: check cwd and others
    expath = guessLocation(examplesFile, isOnWindows)
    assert expath
    updir  = string.split(expath, os.sep)[:-2]          # up 2 from file
    exdir  = string.join(updir,   os.sep)               # to PP2E pkg parent
    if trace:
        print 'Using this examples root directory:', exdir
        raw_input('Press <enter> key')
    # export python and system paths if needed
    if trace:
        print 'Environment configured'
        raw_input('Press <enter> key')

    # spawn programs
    for command in commandsToStart:
        runCommandLine(pypath, os.path.dirname(expath), command, isOnWindows)

if __name__ == '__main__':
    # if no args, spawn all in the list of programs below
    # else rest of cmd line args give single cmd to be spawned
    if len(sys.argv) == 1:
        commandsToStart = [
            'Gui/TextEditor/textEditor.pyw',        # either slash works
            'Lang/Calculator/calculator.py',        # os normalizes path
        commandsToStart = [ string.join(sys.argv[1:], ' ') ]
    import time
    if sys.platform[:3] == 'win': time.sleep(10)   # to read msgs if clicked

One way to understand the Launcher script is to trace the messages it prints along the way. When run by itself without a PYTHONPATH setting, the script finds a suitable Python and the examples root directory (by hunting for its README file), uses those results to configure PATH and PYTHONPATH settings if needed, and spawns a precoded list of program examples. To illustrate, here is a launch on Windows with an empty PYTHONPATH:

C:\temp\examples>set PYTHONPATH=

C:\temp\examples>python Launcher.py
C:\temp\examples . \ ;
starting on win32...
Looking for python.exe on ['C:\\WINDOWS', 'C:\\WINDOWS', 
Not at C:\WINDOWS\python.exe
Not at C:\WINDOWS\python.exe
Not at C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\python.exe
Not at C:\STUFF\BIN.MKS\python.exe
Found C:\PROGRAM FILES\PYTHON\python.exe
Using this Python executable: C:\PROGRAM FILES\PYTHON\python.exe
Press <enter> key
Using this examples root directory: C:\temp\examples
Press <enter> key
PATH unchanged

Adding C:\temp\examples\Part3
Adding C:\temp\examples\Part2
Adding C:\temp\examples\Part2\Gui
Adding C:\temp\examples
Environment configured
Press <enter> key
Spawning: C:\temp\examples\Part2/Gui/TextEditor/textEditor.pyw
Spawning: C:\temp\examples\Part2/Lang/Calculator/calculator.py
Spawning: C:\temp\examples\PyDemos.pyw
Spawning: C:\temp\examples\echoEnvironment.pyw

Four programs are spawned with PATH and PYTHONPATH preconfigured according to the location of your Python interpreter program, the location of your examples distribution tree, and the list of required PYTHONPATH entries in script variable PP2EpackageRoots.

The PYTHONPATH directories that are added by preconfiguration steps may be different when you run this script, because the PP2EpackageRoots variable may have an arbitrarily different setting by the time this book's CD is burned. In fact, to make this example more interesting, the outputs listed were generated at a time when the book's PYTHONPATH requirements were much more complex than they are now:

PP2EpackageRoots = [
 '%sPart3' % os.sep, # python module search
 '%sPart2' % os.sep, # required
by book demos 
 '%sPart2%sGui' %
 ''] # '' adds
examplesDir root

Since then, the tree has been reorganized so that only one directory needs to be added to the module search path -- the one containing the PP2E root directory. That makes it easier to configure (only one entry is added to PYTHONPATH now), but the code still supports a list of entries for generality. Like most developers, I can't resist playing with the directories.

When used by the PyDemos launcher script, Launcher does not pause for key presses along the way (the trace argument is passed in false). Here is the output generated when using the module to launch PyDemos with PYTHONPATH already set to include all the required directories; the script both avoids adding settings redundantly, and retains any exiting settings already in your environment:

C:\PP2ndEd\examples>python Launch_PyDemos.pyw
Looking for python.exe on ['C:\\WINDOWS', 'C:\\WINDOWS', 
Not at C:\WINDOWS\python.exe
Not at C:\WINDOWS\python.exe
Not at C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\python.exe
Not at C:\STUFF\BIN.MKS\python.exe
Found C:\PROGRAM FILES\PYTHON\python.exe
PATH unchanged
Exists C:\PP2ndEd\examples\Part3
Exists C:\PP2ndEd\examples\Part2
Exists C:\PP2ndEd\examples\Part2\Gui
Exists C:\PP2ndEd\examples
PYTHONPATH unchanged
Spawning: C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PyDemos.pyw

And finally, here is the trace output of a launch on my Linux system; because Launcher is written with portable Python code and library calls, environment configuration and directory searches work just as well there:

[mark@toy ~/PP2ndEd/examples]$ unsetenv PYTHONPATH
[mark@toy ~/PP2ndEd/examples]$ python Launcher.py
/home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples . / :
starting on linux2...
Looking for python on ['/home/mark/bin', '.', '/usr/bin', '/usr/bin', '/usr/local/
bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin', '/bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin', '/home/mark/
bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin', '/home/mark/bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin']
Not at /home/mark/bin/python
Not at ./python
Found /usr/bin/python
Using this Python executable: /usr/bin/python
Press <enter> key
Using this examples root directory: /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples
Press <enter> key
PATH start /home/mark/bin:.:/usr/bin:/usr/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/X11R6/bin:/bin:/
PATH unchanged

Adding /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/Part3
Adding /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/Part2
Adding /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/Part2/Gui
Adding /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples
Environment configured
Press <enter> key
Spawning: /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/Part2/Gui/TextEditor/textEditor.py
Spawning: /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/Part2/Lang/Calculator/calculator.py
Spawning: /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/PyDemos.pyw
Spawning: /home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/echoEnvironment.pyw

In all of these launches, the Python interpreter was found on the system search-path, so no real searches were performed (the "Not at" lines near the top represent the module's which function). In a moment, we'll also use the Launcher's which and guessLocation functions to look for web browsers in a way that kicks off searches in standard install directory trees. Later in the book, we'll use this module in other ways -- for instance, to search for demo programs and source code files somewhere on the machine, with calls of this form:

>>> from PP2E.Launcher import guessLocation
>>> guessLocation('hanoi.py')
Searching for hanoi.py in C:\Program Files\Python
Searching for hanoi.py in C:\temp\examples
Searching for hanoi.py in C:\Program Files
Searching for hanoi.py in C:\

>>> from PP2E.Launcher import findFirst
>>> findFirst('.', 'PyMailGui.py')

Such searches aren't necessary if you can rely on an environment variable to give at least part of the path to a file; for instance, paths scripts within the PP2E examples tree can be named by joining the PP2EHOME shell variable, with the rest of the script's path (assuming the rest of the script's path won't change, and we can rely on that shell variable being set everywhere).

Some scripts may also be able to compose relative paths to other scripts using the sys.path[0] home-directory indicator added for imports (see Section 2.7). But in cases where a file can appear at arbitrary places, searches like those shown previously are sometimes the best scripts can do. The earlier hanoi.py program file, for example, can be anywhere on the underlying machine (if present at all); searching is a more user-friendly final alternative than simply giving up.

Finding Programs on Windows

Per a tip from a Python Windows guru, it may also be possible to determine the location of the installed Python interpreter on Windows with platform-specific code like this:

import _winreg
   keyname = "SOFTWARE\\Microsoft\\Windows\\"
   pyexe   =_winreg.QueryValue(
            _winreg.HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, keyname)
except _winreg.error:
    # not found

This code uses the _winreg module (new as of Python 1.6) to find Python if it has been installed correctly. The same sort of code will work for most other well-installed applications (e.g., web browsers), but not for some other kinds of files (e.g., Python scripts). It's also too Windows-specific to cover better in this text; see Windows resources for more details.

4.6.3 Launching Web Browsers Portably

Web browsers can do amazing things these days. They can serve as document viewers, remote program launchers, database interfaces, media players, and more. Being able to open a browser on a local or remote page file from within a script opens up all kinds of interesting user-interface possibilities. For instance, a Python system might automatically display its HTML-coded documentation when needed, by launching the local web browser on the appropriate page file.[5] Because most browsers know how to present pictures, audio files, and movie clips, opening a browser on such a file is also a simple way for scripts to deal with multimedia.

[5] For example, the PyDemosdemo bar GUI we'll meet in Chapter 8, has buttons that automatically open a browser on web pages related to this book when pressed -- the publisher's site, the Python home page, my update files, and so on.

The last script listed in this chapter is less ambitious than Launcher.py, but equally reusable: LaunchBrowser.py attempts to provide a portable interface for starting a web browser. Because techniques for launching browsers vary per platform, this script provides an interface that aims to hide the differences from callers. Once launched, the browser runs as an independent program, and may be opened to view either a local file or a remote page on the Web.

Here's how it works. Because most web browsers can be started with shell command lines, this script simply builds and launches one as appropriate. For instance, to run a Netscape browser on Linux, a shell command of the form netscape url is run, where url begins with "file://" for local files, and "http://" for live remote-page accesses (this is per URL conventions we'll meet in more detail later, in Chapter 12). On Windows, a shell command like start url achieves the same goal. Here are some platform-specific highlights:

Windows platforms

On Windows, the script either opens browsers with DOS start commands, or searches for and runs browsers with the os.spawnv call. On this platform, browsers can usually be opened with simple start commands (e.g., os.system("start xxx.html")). Unfortunately, start relies on the underlying filename associations for web page files on your machine, picks a browser for you per those associations, and has a command-line length limit that this script might exceed for long local file paths or remote page addresses.

Because of that, this script falls back on running an explicitly named browser with os.spawnv, if requested or required. To do so, though, it must find the full path to a browser executable. Since it can't assume that users will add it to the PATH system search path (or this script's source code), the script searches for a suitable browser with Launcher module tools in both directories on PATH and in common places where executables are installed on Windows.

Unix-like platforms

On other platforms, the script relies on os.system and the system PATH setting on the underlying machine. It simply runs a command line naming the first browser on a candidates list that it can find on your PATH setting. Because it's much more likely that browsers are in standard search directories on platforms like Unix and Linux (e.g., /usr/bin), the script doesn't look for a browser elsewhere on the machine. Notice the & at the end of the browser command-line run; without it, os.system calls block on Unix-like platforms.

All of this is easily customized (this is Python code, after all), and you may need to add additional logic for other platforms. But on all of my machines, the script makes reasonable assumptions that allow me to largely forget most of the platform-specific bits previously discussed; I just call the same launchBrowser function everywhere. For more details, let's look at Example 4-15.

Example 4-15. PP2E\LaunchBrowser.py
#!/bin/env python
# Launch a web browser to view a web page, portably.  If run 
# in '-live' mode, assumes you have a Internet feed and opens
# a page at a remote site.  Otherwise, assumes the page is a 
# full file path name on your machine, and opens the page file
# locally.  On Unix/Linux, finds first browser on your $PATH.
# On Windows, tries DOS "start" command first, or searches for
# the location of a browser on your machine for os.spawnv by 
# checking PATH and common Windows executable directories. You 
# may need to tweak browser executable name/dirs if this fails.
# This has only been tested in Win98 and Linux, so you may need 
# to add more code for other machines (mac: ic.launcurl(url)?).

import os, sys
from Launcher import which, guessLocation     # file search utilities
useWinStart = 1                               # 0=ignore name associations
onWindows   = sys.platform[:3] == 'win'
helptext    = "Usage: LaunchBrowser.py [ -file path | -live path site ]"
#browser    = r'c:\"Program Files"\Netscape\Communicator\Program\netscape.exe'

# defaults
Mode = '-file'
Page = os.getcwd(  ) + '/Internet/Cgi-Web/PyInternetDemos.html'
Site = 'starship.python.net/~lutz'

def launchUnixBrowser(url, verbose=1):            # add your platform if unique
    tries = ['netscape', 'mosaic', 'lynx']        # order your preferences here
    for program in tries:
        if which(program): break                  # find one that is on $path
        assert 0, 'Sorry - no browser found'
    if verbose: print 'Running', program
    os.system('%s %s &' % (program, url))         # or fork+exec; assumes $path

def launchWindowsBrowser(url, verbose=1):
    if useWinStart and len(url) <= 400:           # on windows: start or spawnv
        try:                                      # spawnv works if cmd too long
            if verbose: print 'Starting'       
            os.system('start ' + url)             # try name associations first
            return                                # fails if cmdline too long
        except: pass
    browser = None                                # search for a browser exe
    tries   = ['IEXPLORE.EXE', 'netscape.exe']    # try explorer, then netscape
    for program in tries:
        browser = which(program) or guessLocation(program, 1)
        if browser: break
    assert browser != None, 'Sorry - no browser found'
    if verbose: print 'Spawning', browser
    os.spawnv(os.P_DETACH, browser, (browser, url))

def launchBrowser(Mode='-file', Page=Page, Site=None, verbose=1):
    if Mode == '-live':
        url = 'http://%s/%s' % (Site, Page)       # open page at remote site
        url = 'file://%s' % Page                  # open page on this machine
    if verbose: print 'Opening', url
    if onWindows:
        launchWindowsBrowser(url, verbose)        # use windows start, spawnv
        launchUnixBrowser(url, verbose)           # assume $path on unix, linux

if __name__ == '__main__':
    # get command-line args
    argc = len(sys.argv)
    if argc > 1:  Mode = sys.argv[1]
    if argc > 2:  Page = sys.argv[2]
    if argc > 3:  Site = sys.argv[3]
    if Mode not in ['-live', '-file']:
        print helptext
        launchBrowser(Mode, Page, Site) Launching browsers with command lines

This module is designed to be both run and imported. When run by itself on my Windows machine, Internet Explorer starts up. The requested page file is always displayed in a new browser window when os.spawnv is applied, but in the currently open browser window (if any) when running a start command:

C:\...\PP2E>python LaunchBrowser.py
Opening file://C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E/Internet/Cgi-Web/PyInternetDemos.html

The seemingly odd mix of forward and backward slashes in the URL here works fine within the browser; it pops up the window shown in Figure 4-2.

Figure 4-2. Launching a Windows browser on a local file

By default, a start command is spawned; to see the browser search procedure in action on Windows, set the script's useWinStart variable to 0. The script will search for a browser on your PATH settings, and then in common Windows install directories hardcoded in Launcher.py :

C:\...\PP2E>python LaunchBrowser.py 
                       -file C:\Stuff\Website\public_html\about-pp.html
Opening file://C:\Stuff\Website\public_html\about-pp.html
Looking for IEXPLORE.EXE on ['C:\\WINDOWS', 'C:\\WINDOWS', 
IEXPLORE.EXE not on system path
Searching for IEXPLORE.EXE in C:\Program Files\Python
Searching for IEXPLORE.EXE in C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E
Searching for IEXPLORE.EXE in C:\Program Files
Spawning C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\IEXPLORE.EXE

If you study these trace message you'll notice that the browser wasn't on the system search path, but was eventually located in a local C:\Program Files subdirectory -- this is just the Launcher module's which and guessLocation functions at work. As coded, the script searches for Internet Explorer first; if that's not to your liking, try changing the script's tries list to make Netscape first:

C:\...\PP2E>python LaunchBrowser.py
Opening file://C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E/Internet/Cgi-Web/PyInternetDemos.html
Looking for netscape.exe on ['C:\\WINDOWS', 'C:\\WINDOWS', 
Not at C:\WINDOWS\netscape.exe
Not at C:\WINDOWS\netscape.exe
Not at C:\WINDOWS\COMMAND\netscape.exe
Not at C:\STUFF\BIN.MKS\netscape.exe
Not at C:\PROGRAM FILES\PYTHON\netscape.exe
netscape.exe not on system path
Searching for netscape.exe in C:\Program Files\Python
Searching for netscape.exe in C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E
Searching for netscape.exe in C:\Program Files
Spawning C:\Program Files\Netscape\Communicator\Program\netscape.exe

Here, the script eventually found Netscape in a different install directory on the local machine. Besides automatically finding a user's browser for them, this script also aims to be portable. When running this file unchanged on Linux, the local Netscape browser starts, if it lives on your PATH; otherwise, others are tried:

[mark@toy ~/PP2ndEd/examples/PP2E]$ python LaunchBrowser.py
Opening file:///home/mark/PP2ndEd/examples/PP2E/Internet/Cgi-
Looking for netscape on ['/home/mark/bin', '.', '/usr/bin', '/usr/bin',
'/usr/local/bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin', '/bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin', '/home/mark/
bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin', '/home/mark/bin', '/usr/X11R6/bin']
Not at /home/mark/bin/netscape
Not at ./netscape
Found /usr/bin/netscape
Running netscape
[mark@toy ~/PP2ndEd/examples/PP2E]$

I have Netscape installed, so running the script this way on my machine generates the window shown in Figure 4-3, seen under the KDE window manager.

Figure 4-3. Launching a browser on Linux

If you have an Internet connection, you can open pages at remote servers too -- the next command opens the root page at my site on the starship.python.netserver, located somewhere on the East Coast the last time I checked:

C:\...\PP2E>python LaunchBrowser.py -live ~lutz starship.python.net
Opening http://starship.python.net/~lutz

In Chapter 8, we'll see that this script is also run to start Internet examples in the top-level demo launcher system: the PyDemos script presented in that chapter portably opens local or remote web page files with this button-press callback:

[File mode]
    pagepath = os.getcwd(  ) + '/Internet/Cgi-Web'
               'Internet-based errata report system',
               'LaunchBrowser.py -file %s/PyErrata/pyerrata.html' % pagepath)

[Live mode]
    site = 'starship.python.net/~lutz'
               'Internet-based errata report system',
               'LaunchBrowser.py -live PyErrata/pyerrata.html ' + site) Launching browsers with function calls

Other programs can spawn LaunchBrowser.py command lines like those shown previously with tools like os.system, as usual; but since the script's core logic is coded in a function, it can just as easily be imported and called:

>>> from PP2E.LaunchBrowser import launchBrowser
>>> launchBrowser(Page=r'C:\Stuff\Website\Public_html\about-pp.html')
Opening file://C:\Stuff\Website\Public_html\about-pp.html

When called like this, launchBrowser isn't much different from spawning a start command on DOS or a netscape command on Linux, but the Python launchBrowser function is designed to be a portable interface for browser startup across platforms. Python scripts can use this interface to pop up local HTML documents in web browsers; on machines with live Internet links, this call even lets scripts open browsers on remote pages on the Web:

>>> launchBrowser(Mode='-live', Page='index.html', Site='www.python.org')
Opening http://www.python.org/index.html

>>> launchBrowser(Mode='-live', Page='~lutz/PyInternetDemos.html',
...                             Site='starship.python.net')
Opening http://starship.python.net/~lutz/PyInternetDemos.html

On my computer, the first call here opens a new Internet Explorer GUI window if needed, dials out through my modem, and fetches the Python home page from http://www.python.org on both Windows and Linux -- not bad for a single function call. The second call does the same, but with a web demos page we'll explore later. A Python "multimedia extravaganza"

I mentioned earlier that browsers are a cheap way to present multimedia. Alas, this sort of thing is best viewed live, so the best I can do is show startup commands here. The next command line and function call, for example, display two GIF images in Internet Explorer on my machine (be sure to use full local pathnames). The result of the first of these is captured in Figure 4-4.

C:\...\PP2E>python LaunchBrowser.py 
                         -file C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E\Gui\gifs\hills.gif
Opening file://C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E\Gui\gifs\hills.gif

>>> from LaunchBrowser import launchBrowser
>>> launchBrowser(Page=r'C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E\Gui\gifs\mp_lumberjack.gif')
Opening file://C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E\Gui\gifs\mp_lumberjack.gif
Figure 4-4. Launching a browser on an image file

The next command line and call open the sousa.au audio file on my machine too; the second of these downloads the file from http://www.python.org first. If all goes as planned, they'll make the Monty Python theme song play on your computer too:

C:\PP2ndEd\examples>python LaunchBrowser.py
                         -file C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E\Internet\Ftp\sousa.au
Opening file://C:\PP2ndEd\examples\PP2E\Internet\Ftp\sousa.au

>>> launchBrowser(Mode='-live',
...               Site='www.python.org',
...               Page='ftp/python/misc/sousa.au',
...               verbose=0)

Of course, you could just pass these filenames to a spawned start command on Windows, or run the appropriate handler program directly with something like os.system. But opening these files in a browser is a more portable approach -- you don't need to keep track of a set of file-handler programs per platform. Provided your scripts use a portable browser launcher like LaunchBrowser, you don't even need to keep track of a browser per platform.

In closing, I want to point out that LaunchBrowser reflects browsers that I tend to use. For instance, it tries to find Internet Explorer before Netscape on Windows, and prefers Netscape over Mosaic and Lynx on Linux, but you should feel free to change these choices in your copy of the script. In fact, both LaunchBrowser and Launcher make a few heuristic guesses when searching for files that may not make sense on every computer. As always, hack on; this is Python, after all.

Reptilian Minds Think Alike

A postscript: roughly one year after I wrote the LaunchBrowser script, Python release 2.0 sprouted a new standard library module that serves a similar purpose: webbrowser.open(url) also attempts to provide a portable interface for launching browsers from scripts. This module is more complex, but likely to support more options than the LaunchBrowser script presented here (e.g., Macintosh browsers are directly supported with the Mac ic.launcurl(url) call -- a call I'd add to LaunchBrowser too, if I had a Mac lying around the office). See the library manual in releases 2.0 and later for details.

Just before publication, I stumbled onto another script called FixTk.py in the lib-tk subdirectory of the Python source library; at least in Python 1.5.2, this script tries to locate the Tcl/Tk 8.0 DLLs on Windows by checking common install directories, in order to allow Python/Tkinter programs to work without Tcl/Tk PATH settings. It doesn't recursively search directory trees like the Launcher module presented in this chapter, and may be defunct by the time you read this (Tk is copied into Python's own install directory as of Python 2.0), but it is similar in spirit to some of the tools in this chapter's last section.

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