[Solved] How to modify the metavar for a positional argument in pythons argparse?

In the argparse package the metavar parameter modifies the displayed help message of a program. The following program is not intended to work, it is simply used to demonstrate the behavior of the metavar parameter.

import argparse
if __name__ == '__main__':
    parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description = "Print a range.")

    parser.add_argument("-range1", nargs = 3, type = int, help = "Specify range with: start, stop, step.", metavar = ("start", "stop", "step"))
    parser.add_argument("-range2", nargs = 3, type = int, help = "Specify range with: start, stop, step.", metavar = "r2")

The corresponding help message is:

usage: main.py [-h] [-range1 start stop step] [-range2 r2 r2 r2]

Print a range.

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -range1 start stop step
                        Specify range with: start, stop, step.
  -range2 r2 r2 r2      Specify range with: start, stop, step.

Please note the differences behind -range1 and -range2. Clearly -range1 is the preferred way of the help message.

Up to this point everything is clear to me. However, if I change the optional -range1 argument to a positional range1 argument, argparse cannot deal with the tuple of the metavar parameter (ValueError: too many values to unpack).
The only way I was able to get it work was in the way -range2 is done. But then the help message is by far not as good as for the -range1 case.

Is there a way to get the same help message as for the -range1 case but for a positional argument instead of an optional?

Enquirer: Woltan

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Solution #1:

How about:

import argparse
if __name__ == '__main__':
    parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description = "Print a range.")

    parser.add_argument("start", type = int, help = "Specify start.", )
    parser.add_argument("stop", type = int, help = "Specify stop.", )
    parser.add_argument("step", type = int, help = "Specify step.", )

    args=parser.parse_args()
    print(args)

which yields

% test.py -h
usage: test.py [-h] start stop step

Print a range.

positional arguments:
  start       Specify start.
  stop        Specify stop.
  step        Specify step.

optional arguments:
  -h, --help  show this help message and exit
Respondent: Woltan

Solution #2:

However, if I change the optional -range1 argument to a positional range1 argument, argparse cannot deal with the tuple of the metavar parameter (ValueError: too many values to unpack).

argparse shouldn’t be giving that too many values to unpack error message. It’s produced by metavar, = self._metavar_formatter(action, default)(1). Normally this function produces a single item list or tuple, but in your case it returns the tuple metavar. It needs to give a more informative error message (tuple metavar not allowed with positionals ?), or gracefully adapt the metavar (start|stop|step ?). Another option is to use the default metavar in the help line instead of the tuple.

The tuple metavar works ok on the usage line.

I think the help formatting was written with uniform positionals in mind. On the usage line it might show X [X [X ...]], but on the help line just X ... description of X.

Your 3 items have distinct names, so unutbu’s suggestion of 3 separate positionals is probably what the argparse designers had in mind.

This issue has been raised (but not patched)

http://bugs.python.org/issue14074
“argparse allows nargs>1 for positional arguments but doesn’t allow metavar to be a tuple”

Respondent: unutbu

The answers/resolutions are collected from stackoverflow, are licensed under cc by-sa 2.5 , cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0 .

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