This documentation covers IPython versions 6.0 and higher. Beginning with version 6.0, IPython stopped supporting compatibility with Python versions lower than 3.3 including all versions of Python 2.7.

If you are looking for an IPython version compatible with Python 2.7, please use the IPython 5.x LTS release and refer to its documentation (LTS is the long term support release).

Python vs IPython

This document is meant to highlight the main differences between the Python language and what are the specific construct you can do only in IPython.

Unless expressed otherwise all of the construct you will see here will raise a SyntaxError if run in a pure Python shell, or if executing in a Python script.

Each of these features are describe more in details in further part of the documentation.

Quick overview:

All the following construct are valid IPython syntax:

In [1]: ?
In [1]: ?object
In [1]: object?
In [1]: *pattern*?
In [1]: %shell like --syntax
In [1]: !ls
In [1]: my_files = !ls ~/
In [1]: for i,file in enumerate(my_file):
   ...:     raw = !echo $file
   ...:     !echo {files[0].upper()} $raw
In [1]: %%perl magic --function
   ...: @months = ("July", "August", "September");
   ...: print $months[0];

Each of these construct is compile by IPython into valid python code and will do most of the time what you expect it will do. Let see each of these example in more detail.

Accessing help

As IPython is mostly an interactive shell, the question mark is a simple shortcut to get help. A question mark alone will bring up the IPython help:

In [1]: ?

IPython -- An enhanced Interactive Python

IPython offers a combination of convenient shell features, special commands
and a history mechanism for both input (command history) and output (results
caching, similar to Mathematica). It is intended to be a fully compatible
replacement for the standard Python interpreter, while offering vastly
improved functionality and flexibility.

At your system command line, type 'ipython -h' to see the command line
options available. This document only describes interactive features.


A single question mark before, or after an object available in current namespace will show help relative to this object:

In [6]: object?
Docstring: The most base type
Type:      type

A double question mark will try to pull out more information about the object, and if possible display the python source code of this object.

In[1]: import collections
In[2]: collection.Counter??

Init signature: collections.Counter(*args, **kwds)
class Counter(dict):
    '''Dict subclass for counting hashable items.  Sometimes called a bag
    or multiset.  Elements are stored as dictionary keys and their counts
    are stored as dictionary values.

    >>> c = Counter('abcdeabcdabcaba')  # count elements from a string

    >>> c.most_common(3)                # three most common elements
    [('a', 5), ('b', 4), ('c', 3)]
    >>> sorted(c)                       # list all unique elements
    ['a', 'b', 'c', 'd', 'e']
    >>> ''.join(sorted(c.elements()))   # list elements with repetitions

If you are looking for an object, the use of wildcards * in conjunction with question mark will allow you to search current namespace for object with matching names:

In [24]: *int*?

Shell Assignment

When doing interactive computing it is common to need to access the underlying shell. This is doable through the use of the exclamation mark ! (or bang).

This allow to execute simple command when present in beginning of line:

In[1]: !pwd

Change directory:

In[1]: !cd /var/etc

Or edit file:

In[1]: !mvim myfile.txt

The line after the bang can call any program installed in the underlying shell, and support variable expansion in the form of $variable or {variable}. The later form of expansion supports arbitrary python expression:

In[1]: file = 'myfile.txt'

In[2]: !mv $file {file.upper()}

The bang can also be present in the right hand side of an assignment, just after the equal sign, or separated from it by a white space. In which case the standard output of the command after the bang ! will be split out into lines in a list-like object and assign to the left hand side.

This allow you for example to put the list of files of the current working directory in a variable:

In[1]: my_files = !ls

You can combine the different possibilities in for loops, condition, functions...:

my_files = !ls ~/
b = "backup file"
for i,file in enumerate(my_file):
    raw = !echo $backup $file
    !cp $file {file.split('.')[0]+'.bak'}


Magics function are often present in the form of shell-like syntax, but are under the hood python function. The syntax and assignment possibility are similar to the one with the bang (!) syntax, but with more flexibility and power. Magic function start with a percent sign (%) or double percent (%%).

A magic call with a sign percent will act only one line:

In[1]: %xmode
Exception reporting mode: Verbose

And support assignment:

In [1]: results = %timeit -r1 -n1 -o list(range(1000))
1 loops, best of 1: 21.1 µs per loop

In [2]: results
Out[2]: <TimeitResult : 1 loops, best of 1: 21.1 µs per loop>

Magic with two percent sign can spread over multiple lines, but do not support assignment:

In[1]: %%bash
...  : echo "My shell is:" $SHELL
...  : echo "My disk usage is:"
...  : df -h
My shell is: /usr/local/bin/bash
My disk usage is:
Filesystem      Size   Used  Avail Capacity  iused   ifree %iused  Mounted on
/dev/disk1     233Gi  216Gi   16Gi    94% 56788108 4190706   93%   /
devfs          190Ki  190Ki    0Bi   100%      656       0  100%   /dev
map -hosts       0Bi    0Bi    0Bi   100%        0       0  100%   /net
map auto_home    0Bi    0Bi    0Bi   100%        0       0  100%   /hom

Combining it all

find a snippet that combine all that into one thing!