Command Line Pecan

Any Pecan application can be controlled and inspected from the command line using the built-in pecan command. The usage examples of pecan in this document are intended to be invoked from your project’s root directory.

Serving a Pecan App For Development

Pecan comes bundled with a lightweight WSGI development server based on Python’s wsgiref.simple_server module.

Serving your Pecan app is as simple as invoking the pecan serve command:

$ pecan serve
Starting server in PID 000.
serving on, view at

and then visiting it in your browser.

The server host and port in your configuration file can be changed as described in Server Configuration.

Reloading Automatically as Files Change

Pausing to restart your development server as you work can be interruptive, so pecan serve provides a --reload flag to make life easier.

To provide this functionality, Pecan makes use of the Python watchdog library. You’ll need to install it for development use before continuing:

$ pip install watchdog
Downloading/unpacking watchdog
Successfully installed watchdog
$ pecan serve --reload
Monitoring for changes...
Starting server in PID 000.
serving on, view at

As you work, Pecan will listen for any file or directory modification events in your project and silently restart your server process in the background.

The Interactive Shell

Pecan applications also come with an interactive Python shell which can be used to execute expressions in an environment very similar to the one your application runs in. To invoke an interactive shell, use the pecan shell command:

$ pecan shell
Pecan Interactive Shell
Python 2.7.1 (r271:86832, Jul 31 2011, 19:30:53)
[GCC 4.2.1 (Based on Apple Inc. build 5658)

  The following objects are available:
  wsgiapp    - This project's WSGI App instance
  conf       - The current configuration
  app        - webtest.TestApp wrapped around wsgiapp

>>> conf
    'app': Config({
        'root': 'myapp.controllers.root.RootController',
        'modules': ['myapp'],
        'static_root': '/Users/somebody/myapp/public',
        'template_path': '/Users/somebody/myapp/project/templates',
        'errors': {'404': '/error/404'},
        'debug': True
    'server': Config({
        'host': '',
        'port': '8080'
>>> app
< object at 0x101a830>
>>> app.get('/')
<200 OK text/html body='<html>\n ...\n\n'/936>

Press Ctrl-D to exit the interactive shell (or Ctrl-Z on Windows).

Using an Alternative Shell

pecan shell has optional support for the IPython and bpython alternative shells, each of which can be specified with the --shell flag (or its abbreviated alias, -s), e.g.,

$ pecan shell --shell=ipython
$ pecan shell -s bpython

Configuration from an environment variable

In all the examples shown, you will see that the pecan commands accepted a file path to the configuration file. An alternative to this is to specify the configuration file in an environment variable (PECAN_CONFIG).

This is completely optional; if a file path is passed in explicitly, Pecan will honor that before looking for an environment variable.

For example, to serve a Pecan application, a variable could be exported and subsequently be re-used when no path is passed in.

$ export PECAN_CONFIG=/path/to/app/
$ pecan serve
Starting server in PID 000.
serving on, view at

Note that the path needs to reference a valid pecan configuration file, otherwise the command will error out with a message indicating that the path is invalid (for example, if a directory is passed in).

If PECAN_CONFIG is not set and no configuration is passed in, the command will error out because it will not be able to locate a configuration file.

Extending pecan with Custom Commands

While the commands packaged with Pecan are useful, the real utility of its command line toolset lies in its extensibility. It’s convenient to be able to write a Python script that can work “in a Pecan environment” with access to things like your application’s parsed configuration file or a simulated instance of your application itself (like the one provided in the pecan shell command).

Writing a Custom Pecan Command

As an example, let’s create a command that can be used to issue a simulated HTTP GET to your application and print the result. Its invocation from the command line might look something like this:

$ pecan wget /path/to/some/resource

Let’s say you have a distribution with a package in it named myapp, and that within this package is a module:

# myapp/myapp/
import pecan
from webtest import TestApp

class GetCommand(pecan.commands.BaseCommand):
    Issues a (simulated) HTTP GET and returns the request body.

    arguments = pecan.commands.BaseCommand.arguments + ({
        'name': 'path',
        'help': 'the URI path of the resource to request'

    def run(self, args):
        super(GetCommand, self).run(args)
        app = TestApp(self.load_app())
        print app.get(args.path).body

Let’s analyze this piece-by-piece.

Overriding the run Method

First, we’re subclassing BaseCommand and extending the run() method to:

  • Load a Pecan application - load_app()
  • Wrap it in a fake WGSI environment - TestApp
  • Issue an HTTP GET request against it - get()

Defining Custom Arguments

The arguments class attribute is used to define command line arguments specific to your custom command. You’ll notice in this example that we’re adding to the arguments list provided by BaseCommand (which already provides an argument for the config_file), rather than overriding it entirely.

The format of the arguments class attribute is a tuple of dictionaries, with each dictionary representing an argument definition in the same format accepted by Python’s argparse module (more specifically, add_argument()). By providing a list of arguments in this format, the pecan command can include your custom commands in the help and usage output it provides.

$ pecan -h
usage: pecan [-h] command ...

positional arguments:
    wget        Issues a (simulated) HTTP GET and returns the request body
    serve       Open an interactive shell with the Pecan app loaded

$ pecan wget -h
usage: pecan wget [-h] config_file path
$ pecan wget /path/to/some/resource

Additionally, you’ll notice that the first line of the docstring from GetCommandIssues a (simulated) HTTP GET and returns the request body – is automatically used to describe the wget command in the output for $ pecan -h. Following this convention allows you to easily integrate a summary for your command into the Pecan command line tool.

Registering a Custom Command

Now that you’ve written your custom command, you’ll need to tell your distribution’s about its existence and reinstall. Within your distribution’s file, you’ll find a call to setup().

# myapp/
    author='Joe Somebody',

Assuming it doesn’t exist already, we’ll add the entry_points argument to the setup() call, and define a [pecan.command] definition for your custom command:

# myapp/
    author='Joe Somebody',
    wget = myapp.wget:GetCommand

Once you’ve done this, reinstall your project in development to register the new entry point.

$ python develop

Then give it a try.

$ pecan wget /path/to/some/resource