Running Python

They are several ways to work with Python, each of which is best adapted to a certain type of task:

  • To write reusable python scripts, use a code editor (e.g. subl` (Sublime Text)), or an Integrated Development Environment (e.g. spyder), save the script and run it from a shell command line inside a Terminal.

  • To quickly test short pieces of code in an interactive manner, or to access the documentation of some functions or mudles, open a terminal and run ipython

  • To write a data analysis report use jupyter notebook

Running a python script from the command line

To run a python script, that is, a text file containing python code, you need to:

  1. Open a Terminal


Type terminal in the Spotlight search field.


Start Git Bash (This assumes that you have installed Git for windows as described in Instructions for software installation)


Launch Terminal from your application menu or use Ctrl-Alt-T (gnome, xfce), or Win+Return (i3)).

  1. If the script is not located in the current working directory (the user’s home directory), use the cd command to navigate to the relevant directory

  2. Type python followed by the script’s filename, then press the return key.

For example, let us suppose that you want to execute a script named located in a subdirectory PCBS/games of your home directory. Open a terminal and type:

cd PCBS/games


  • When the script has run to completion, you will be back interacting with the shell (see

  • It you need to interrupt a running python script, you can press Ctrl-C in the Terminal.

  • You can specify absolute or relative pathnames to specify the location of the scripts:

    python ~/PCBS/games/
  • A good practice is to always take a glance to the code before running it. Depending on your system, you might be able to do this with the commands cat or less or micro, …

Testing a short piece of python code

To quickly test some Python code, type ipython on a command line.


Then press ‘Return’; you should obtain a should display like the following:


A blinking cursor after [1]: indicates that ipython is ready and waiting for you to enter a Python statement that it will execute as soon as you press the “Return” key. For example, try:

2 ** 5
2 ** 64
import turtle

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np
t = np.linspace(0, 30, num=3001)
plt.plot(t, np.sin(t))

A Window should open with a graphical representation of the sine function, You can press ‘q’ in this Window to close it.

It is possible to execute a python script from within ipython. While in ipython, try:

cd PCBS/games

Finally, To quit ipython, type quit() or press Ctrl-D .

This approach is fine if you need to quickly test an idea. But as soon as you quit ipython, you lose all what you have done (technically, this is not entirely true: ipython saves the history of commands that you have typed).

To keep track of your work, you need to use a text editor and the Edit-run approach.

Write code inside a text editor (Edit-run cycle)

A script is nothing but a pure text file, that is, a sequence of characters.

A Python script is written with a text editor, saved on the disk, and then executed

  1. Open a Text-Editor (e.g. Sublime Text) and a Terminal window side-by-side:

Using Atom and a Terminal side by side
  1. Create a New File in the Editor and enter the following text:

import turtle
  1. Using ‘File/Save as’, save the this text under the filename in your personal (home) directory

  • run with a python interpreter, by typing python on a command line of the Terminal. Try it now.

Important: you must make sure that the current working directory of the terminal is the same directory where the file has been saved. Otherwise, you will get an error message such as ‘No such file or directory’. To fix this problem, you must use the cd command to navigate the directory structure.


  • You can learn more about Turtle graphics by reading the documentation at

  • WINDOWS Only: To be able to start ‘Sublime Text’ from the command line by just typing subl, copy the following command:

    export PATH=”/c/Program Files/SublimeText 3/”:”$PATH”

in the file $HOME/.bash_profile (create it if necessary)

Using an Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

Some people like to work within a single application and avoid going back and forth from the text editor to the terminal. The Anaconda Python distribution comes with and integrated development environment (IDE), Spyder, which provides an environment somewhat similar to the MATLAB IDE. PyCharm and Microsoft Visual Code are two other popular (and more powerful) IDEs.

The “spyder” Integrated Development Environment

The “Spyder” Integrated Development Environment

Visual Code, PyCharm, Spyder… are very nice IDEs but you should not use them to run python scripts that open new graphics windows (e.g. scripts using tkinter, pygame, …) because, when such scripts crash, they can leave the IDE in an unstable state. It is always safer to run a script directly from the command line in a terminal windows.

One commendable approach is to use an IDE to edit python code, but then use the command line to run the scripts.

Perform an interactive data analysis with jupyter-notebook or jupyter-lab

To perform a data analysis and produce a nicely formatter report, it is recommended to use jupyter-notebook or jupyter-lab (see

In practice, launch Jupyter Notebook from the Start Menu/Anaconda3 (in Windows) or type jupyter notebook in a terminal (Linux, MacOS). The “Jupyter homepage” should then open in your browser:

Jupyter homepage

Clicking New and selecting Python [root] will open a new tab containing a notebook where you can enter python code inside so-called ‘cells’. To execute the code in a cell, just move the cursor there and press Ctrl+Enter

Jupyter notebook

A nice feature of the Jupyter notebooks is persistence, i.e. they are saved automatically (in .ipynb files) and you can go on working on the same notebook whn you reopen it. This is also very handy, for example, to send a data analysis report by email.

Jupyter’s documentation is available at

Developping in Python with Emacs




Comment or Uncomment cleverly









Navigate the function definitions

C-c C-j


Move backward to block



Move forward to block



Checking for errors, etc.


Checking for errors, etc.


Reformat code to best practices


Launch the Python Debugger (Pdb)