IO Redirection With Python's Subprocess Module

The example code below demonstrates the following concepts using Python’s subprocess module.

  • Launching two processes, piping stdout from the first to stdin of the second
  • Waiting for both to finish with a timeout in case either process takes too long
  • Checking the exit code for each process independently
from subprocess import PIPE, Popen, TimeoutExpired

ls = Popen(['ls', '-la'], stdout=PIPE)
grep = Popen(['grep', 'Pipfile'], stdin=ls.stdout, stdout=PIPE)

for process in [ls, grep]:
    except TimeoutExpired:
        # You could raise a different exception, or log and re-raise
        msg = 'This process ran longer than expected: {0}'
        print(msg.format(' '.join(process.args)))

    if process.returncode != 0:
      # You could rasie an exception here indicating which process failed
      msg = 'This process did not return a 0 exit code: {0}'
      print(msg.format(' '.join(process.args)))

# This loop is just to show the final output from the grep process
for line in grep.stdout:


  • In order for a process to make its stdout stream available to another, it needs to receive subprocess.PIPE for the stdout argument in the Popen constructor.
  • Processes launched with Popen release the GIL and execute without blocking. In the example above, we use the wait() method to block our code until both finish execution.