--no options with argparse and python

Ruby has this very nice feature when you define options with optparse:

opts.on('--[no-]flag', "Set flag.") do |p|

which allows you to have the --flag and --no-flag options for free. Python does not have this, but there are a 3 options to go around that.

The verbose way

Just define 2 options.

    help='Set flag',
    help='Unset flag',

Custom action

You can give a custom action to the action parameter of add_argument. This custom action can look at the actual option given and act accordingly.

    '--flag', '--no-flag',
    help='Set flag',

BooleanAction is just a tiny 6 lines class, defined as follow:

class BooleanAction(argparse.Action):
    def __init__(self, option_strings, dest, nargs=None, **kwargs):
        super(BooleanAction, self).__init__(option_strings, dest, nargs=0, **kwargs)

    def __call__(self, parser, namespace, values, option_string=None):
        setattr(namespace, self.dest, False if option_string.startswith('--no') else True)

As you can see, it just looks at the name of the flag, and if it starts with --no, the destination will be set to False.

Custom parser

Create your own add_argument method, which can then automagically add the --no option for you.
First define your own parser:

class BoolArgParse(argparse.ArgumentParser):
    def add_bool_arguments(self, *args, **kw):
        grp = self.add_mutually_exclusive_group()
        # add --flag
        grp.add_argument(*args, action='store_true', **kw)
        nohelp = 'no ' + kw['help']
        del kw['help']
        # add --no-flag
        grp.add_argument('--no-' + args[0][2:], *args[1:], action='store_false', help=nohelp, **kw)

Then use it:

parser = BoolArgParse()
parser.add_bool_arguments('--flag',dest='flag', help='set flag.')


I do not want to say plus and min points as not all use cases want the same features, but there you are:

  • Verbose way:
    • More lines of code (need to define 2 flags),
    • Help more verbose,
    • Easy (no extra class),
    • Possibility to have the same parameter multiple times, the last one wins (eg. --flag --no-flag).
  • Custom action:
    • Less lines of code,
    • Help not verbose (only one line of help),
    • Possibility to have the same parameter multiple times, the last one wins (eg. --flag --no-flag).
  • Custom parser
    • The most lines of codes,
    • Help verbose but grouped,
    • Cannot have the same flag repeated.

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