Invoke offers a fully fleshed out configuration mechanism allowing you to configure both its core behavior (and that of your tasks) via a hierarchy of configuration files, environment variables, task namespaces and CLI flags.

The end result of configuration seeking, loading, parsing & merging, is a Config object, which behaves like a (nested) Python dictionary. Invoke references this object when it runs (determining the default behavior of methods like and exposes it to users’ tasks as Context.config and as shorthand attribute access on the Context itself.

The configuration hierarchy

In brief, the order in which configuration values override one another is as follows:

  1. Internal default values for behaviors which are controllable via configuration. See Default configuration values for details.

  2. Collection-driven configurations defined in tasks modules via Collection.configure. (See Collection-based configuration below for details.)

    • Sub-collections’ configurations get merged into the top level collection and the final result forms the basis of the overall configuration setup.
    • Since the root collection is loaded at runtime, configuration settings modifying the load process itself obviously won’t take effect if defined at this level.
  3. System-level configuration file stored in /etc/, such as /etc/invoke.yaml. (See Configuration files for details on this and the other config-file entries.)

  4. User-level configuration file found in the running user’s home directory, e.g. ~/.invoke.yaml.

  5. Project-level configuration file living next to your top level For example, if your run of Invoke loads /home/user/myproject/ (see our docs on the load process), this might be /home/user/myproject/invoke.yaml.

  6. Environment variables found in the invoking shell environment.

    • These aren’t as strongly hierarchical as the rest, nor is the shell environment namespace owned wholly by Invoke, so we must rely on slightly verbose prefixing instead - see Environment variables for details.
  7. Runtime configuration file whose path is given to -f, e.g. inv -f /random/path/to/config_file.yaml.

  8. Command-line flags for certain core settings, such as -e.

  9. Modifications made by user code at runtime.

Default configuration values

Below is a list of all the configuration values and/or section Invoke itself uses to control behaviors such as‘s echo and pty flags, task deduplication, and so forth.

For convenience, we refer to nested setting names with a dotted syntax, so e.g. refers to what would be (in a Python config context) {'foo': {'bar': <value here>}}. Typically, these can be read or set on Config and Context objects using attribute syntax, which looks nearly identical:

  • The tasks config tree holds settings relating to task execution.

  • The run tree controls the behavior of Each member of this tree (such as run.echo or run.pty) maps directly to a keyword argument of the same name; see that method’s docstring for details on what these settings do & what their default values are.

  • The sudo tree controls the behavior of Context.sudo:

    • sudo.password controls the autoresponse password submitted to sudo’s password prompt. Default: None.


      While it’s possible to store this setting, like any other, in configuration files – doing so is inherently insecure. We highly recommend filling this config value in at runtime from a secrets management system of some kind.

    • sudo.prompt holds the sudo password prompt text, which is both supplied to sudo -p, and searched for when performing auto-response. Default: [sudo] password:.

  • A top level config setting, debug, controls whether debug-level output is logged; it defaults to False.

    debug can be toggled via the -d CLI flag, which enables debugging after CLI parsing runs. It can also be toggled via the INVOKE_DEBUG environment variable which - unlike regular env vars - is honored from the start of execution and is thus useful for troubleshooting parsing and/or config loading.

Configuration files


For each configuration file location mentioned in the previous section, we search for files ending in .yaml, .json or .py (in that order!), load the first one we find, and ignore any others that might exist.

For example, if Invoke is run on a system containing both /etc/invoke.yaml and /etc/invoke.json, only the YAML file will be loaded. This helps keep things simple, both conceptually and in the implementation.


Invoke’s configuration allows arbitrary nesting, and thus so do our config file formats. All three of the below examples result in a configuration equivalent to {'debug': True, 'run': {'echo': True}}:

  • YAML

    debug: true
        echo: true
  • JSON

        "debug": true,
        "run": {
            "echo": true
  • Python:

    debug = True
    run = {
        "echo": True

For further details, see these languages’ own documentation.

Environment variables

Environment variables are a bit different from other configuration-setting methods, since they don’t provide a clean way to nest configuration keys, and are also implicitly shared amongst the entire system’s installed application base.

In addition, due to implementation concerns, env vars must be pre-determined by the levels below them in the config hierarchy (in other words - env vars may only be used to override existing config values). If you need Invoke to understand a FOOBAR environment variable, you must first declare a foobar setting in a configuration file or in your task collections.

Basic rules

To mitigate the shell namespace problem, we simply prefix all our env vars with INVOKE_.

Nesting is performed via underscore separation, so a setting that looks like e.g. {'run': {'echo': True}} at the Python level becomes INVOKE_RUN_ECHO=1 in a typical shell. See Nesting vs underscored names below for more on this.

Type casting

Since env vars can only be used to override existing settings, the previous value of a given setting is used as a guide in casting the strings we get back from the shell:

  • If the current value is a string or Unicode object, it is replaced with the value from the environment, with no casting whatsoever;

    • Depending on interpreter and environment, this means that a setting defaulting to a non-Unicode string type (eg a str on Python 2) may end up replaced with a Unicode string, or vice versa. This is intentional as it prevents users from accidentally limiting themselves to non-Unicode strings.
  • If the current value is None, it too is replaced with the string from the environment;

  • Booleans are set as follows: 0 and the empty value/string (e.g. SETTING=, or unset SETTING, or etc) evaluate to False, and any other value evaluates to True.

  • Lists and tuples are currently unsupported and will raise an exception;

    • In the future we may implement convenience transformations, such as splitting on commas to form a list; however since users can always perform such operations themselves, it may not be a high priority.
  • All other types - integers, longs, floats, etc - are simply used as constructors for the incoming value.

    • For example, a foobar setting whose default value is the integer 1 will run all env var inputs through int, and thus FOOBAR=5 will result in the Python value 5, not "5".

Nesting vs underscored names

Since environment variable keys are single strings, we must use some form of string parsing to allow access to nested configuration settings. As mentioned above, in basic use cases this just means using an underscore character: {'run': {'echo': True}} becomes INVOKE_RUN_ECHO=1.

However, ambiguity is introduced when the settings names themselves contain underscores: is INVOKE_FOO_BAR=baz equivalent to {'foo': {'bar': 'baz'}}, or to {'foo_bar': 'baz'}? Thankfully, because env vars can only be used to modify settings declared at the Python level or in config files, we simply look at the current state of the config to determine the answer.

There is still a corner case where both possible interpretations exist as valid config paths (e.g. {'foo': {'bar': 'default'}, 'foo_bar': 'otherdefault'}). In this situation, we honor the Zen of Python and refuse to guess; an error is raised instead, counseling users to modify their configuration layout or avoid using env vars for the setting in question.

Collection-based configuration

Collection objects may contain a config mapping, set via Collection.configure, and (as per the hierarchy) this typically forms the lowest level of configuration in the system.

When collections are nested, configuration is merged ‘downwards’ by default: when conflicts arise, outer namespaces closer to the root will win, versus inner ones closer to the task being invoked.


‘Inner’ tasks here are specifically those on the path from the root to the one housing the invoked task. ‘Sibling’ subcollections are ignored.

A quick example of what this means:

from invoke import Collection, task

# This task & collection could just as easily come from
# another module somewhere.
def mytask(ctx):
inner = Collection('inner', mytask)
inner.configure({'conflicted': 'default value'})

# Our project's root namespace.
ns = Collection(inner)
ns.configure({'conflicted': 'override value'})

The result of calling inner.mytask:

$ inv inner.mytask
override value

Example of real-world config use

The previous sections had small examples within them; this section provides a more realistic-looking set of examples showing how the config system works.


We’ll start out with semi-realistic tasks that hardcode their values, and build up to using the various configuration mechanisms. A small module for building Sphinx docs might begin like this:

from invoke import task

def clean(ctx):"rm -rf docs/_build")

def build(ctx):"sphinx-build docs docs/_build")

Then maybe you refactor the build target:

target = "docs/_build"

def clean(ctx):"rm -rf {0}".format(target))

def build(ctx):"sphinx-build docs {0}".format(target))

We can also allow runtime parameterization:

default_target = "docs/_build"

def clean(ctx, target=default_target):"rm -rf {0}".format(target))

def build(ctx, target=default_target):"sphinx-build docs {0}".format(target))

This task module works for a single set of users, but what if we want to allow reuse? Somebody may want to use this module with a different default target. Using the configuration data (made available via the context arg) to configure these settings is usually the better solution [1].

Configuring via task collection

The configuration setting and getting APIs make it easy to move otherwise ‘hardcoded’ default values into a config structure which downstream users are free to redefine. Let’s apply this to our example. First we add an explicit namespace object:

from invoke import Collection, task

default_target = "docs/_build"

def clean(ctx, target=default_target):"rm -rf {0}".format(target))

def build(ctx, target=default_target):"sphinx-build docs {0}".format(target))

ns = Collection(clean, build)

Then we can move the default build target value into the collection’s default configuration, and refer to it via the context. At this point we also change our kwarg default value to be None so we can determine whether or not a runtime value was given. The result:

def clean(ctx, target=None):
    if target is None:
        target ="rm -rf {0}".format(target))

def build(ctx, target=None):
    if target is None:
        target ="sphinx-build docs {0}".format(target))

ns = Collection(clean, build)
ns.configure({'sphinx': {'target': "docs/_build"}})

The result isn’t significantly more complex than what we began with, and as we’ll see next, it’s now trivial for users to override your defaults in various ways.

Configuration overriding

The lowest-level override is, of course, just modifying the local Collection tree into which a distributed module has been imported. E.g. if the above module is distributed as, someone can define a that does this:

from invoke import Collection, task
from myproject import docs

def mylocaltask(ctx):
    # Some local stuff goes here

# Add 'docs' to our local root namespace, plus our own task
ns = Collection(mylocaltask, docs)

And then they can simply add this to the bottom:

# Our docs live in 'built_docs', not 'docs/_build'
ns.configure({'sphinx': {'target': "built_docs"}})

Now we have a docs sub-namespace whose build target defaults to built_docs instead of docs/_build. Runtime users can still override this via flags (e.g. inv --target='some/other/dir') just as before.

If you prefer configuration files over in-Python tweaking of your namespace tree, that works just as well; instead of adding the line above to the previous snippet, instead drop this into a file next to named invoke.yaml:

    target: built_docs

For this example, that sort of local-to-project conf file makes the most sense, but don’t forget that the config hierarchy offers additional configuration methods which may be suitable depending on your needs.


[1]Copying and modifying the file breaks code reuse; overriding the module-level default_path variable won’t play well with concurrency; wrapping the tasks with different default arguments works but is fragile and adds boilerplate.