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How to Use Shebang in Python

Unraveling the Python Shebang: Usage, Best Practices, and More

The world of Python scripting is filled with numerous elements that can enhance your code execution process, and one such often-overlooked aspect is the 'Shebang'. Let's take a detailed dive into what a shebang is, how it works in Python, and best practices to follow while implementing it in your scripts.

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What Exactly is a Shebang in Python?

In the Python scripting language, and in fact, in many scripting languages in use on Unix-like systems, a 'shebang' is a special type of comment. It is the first line of a script and starts with #!. This #! is followed by the path to the interpreter that should execute the script. In the case of Python, a common shebang line might be:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

This shebang tells the Unix-like shell that the Python interpreter located via env should be used to execute the script.

Implementing a Shebang in Python Scripts

The shebang is a powerful tool to control the execution of Python scripts. It gives the script the ability to define which Python interpreter should be used, which can be particularly useful if you are working with multiple Python versions or environments.

Using a shebang in your Python scripts is straightforward. At the very top of your script, before any imports or function definitions, you simply add a line like the following:


In this case, /usr/local/bin/python3 points to the Python 3 interpreter's location. When you make your script executable and run it from the command line, the specified Python interpreter is used.

However, this method has a limitation: the shebang must point to the actual location of the Python interpreter. If Python is installed in a different location on another system, the shebang would fail. To avoid this issue, a more flexible and portable shebang is often used:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

Here, env is a Unix-like shell command that finds python3 in the system's PATH.

Making Python Scripts Executable with Shebang

A shebang not only defines which interpreter to use, but it also allows Python scripts to be run as standalone executable programs on Unix-like systems. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to achieve this:

  1. Include the shebang line at the start of your script.
  2. Save the script with a .py extension.
  3. In the command-line, navigate to the directory containing the script.
  4. Change the script's permissions to make it executable with the command chmod +x
  5. Run the script with ./

The script will execute using the interpreter specified in the shebang line.

Best Practices for Shebang in Python

There are several best practices to consider when using a shebang in your Python scripts.

  1. Use the env utility for portability: As discussed earlier, #!/usr/bin/env python3 is more portable than hard-coding the path to the Python interpreter.

  2. Specify the Python version: It's a good practice to include the version of Python in the shebang, especially if the script relies on features not available in earlier versions.

  3. Make scripts executable: If you plan on running your script from the command line, don't forget to make it executable with chmod +x.

Limitations and Considerations of Python's Shebang

While the shebang line is a powerful feature, it is important to be aware of its limitations.

  • Portability across different operating systems: The shebang works seamlessly in Unix-like systems, including Linux, MacOS, and the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). However, it does not work natively on Windows, which doesn't recognize the shebang line. One workaround for this is to use a tool like Cygwin or use the new WSL feature on Windows 10 and later versions.

  • Python version: If your script is dependent on a particular version of Python, the #!/usr/bin/env python3 shebang line ensures that Python 3 is used to run the script. However, it doesn't guarantee a specific minor version (like Python 3.6 or 3.7).

For the remaining part of this in-depth exploration of Python's shebang, we'll look at defining a custom interpreter, troubleshooting shebang errors, optimizing script execution using a shebang, and a lot more. Stay tuned for some real-life examples and sample codes to solidify your understanding of Python shebang.

Using Shebang with Custom Python Interpreters

In some cases, you might want to use a custom Python interpreter that isn't found on your system's PATH. You can do this by specifying the absolute path of the custom interpreter in the shebang line.


Keep in mind that this shebang isn't as portable because it depends on the interpreter being at the same location on every system the script is run on.

Optimizing Script Execution Using Shebang

For large Python scripts or applications, you might want to use a shebang that points to a Python interpreter with performance optimizations. Python's -O option can be used to remove assert statements and the __debug__ flag, potentially improving performance.

#!/usr/bin/env python3 -O

This shebang line executes the Python script with optimizations.

Troubleshooting Shebang Errors in Python

If you're experiencing errors when using a shebang in Python, the first step is to ensure the shebang line is the very first line in your script. If it isn't, the system won't recognize it as a shebang.

Next, verify that the path after #! points to a valid Python interpreter. You can check where your Python interpreter is located using the command which python3.

If you're using a custom interpreter, ensure that the path to the interpreter is correct.

Lastly, if you're running your Python script as an executable on a Unix-like system, make sure you've made the script executable using chmod +x.


The shebang line in Python is a powerful tool that enables scripts to be run from the command line on Unix-like systems using the specified interpreter. By understanding its usage, best practices, and how to troubleshoot potential issues, you can take full advantage of this feature to make your Python scripting more flexible and efficient.

To help you further with your Python shebang journey, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

  1. How does the Python shebang work in a Unix-like shell?

The shebang is a special comment line that tells the Unix-like shell which interpreter to use to run the script. It begins with #! followed by the path to the interpreter.

  1. Can I use a shebang with a custom interpreter in Python?

Yes, you can use a shebang with a custom interpreter by specifying the absolute path to the interpreter in the shebang line. Note that this isn't as portable because it depends on the interpreter being at the same location on every system the script is run on.

  1. What are the best practices for using a shebang in Python?

Use the env utility to increase portability, specify the Python version to ensure compatibility, and make your scripts executable if you plan to run them from the command line.