Using Invoke as a library

While most of our documentation involves the user/CLI facing use cases of task management and command execution, Invoke was designed for its constituent parts to be usable independently by advanced users - either out of the box or with a minimum of extra work. CLI parsing, subprocess command execution, task organization, etc, are all written as broadly separated concerns.

This document outlines use cases already known to work (because downstream tools like Fabric are already utilizing them).

Reusing Invoke’s CLI module as a distinct binary

A major use case is distribution of your own program using Invoke under the hood, bound to a different binary name, and usually setting a specific task namespace as the default. (This maps somewhat closely to things like argparse from the standard library.) In some cases, removing, replacing and/or adding core CLI flags is also desired.

Getting set up

Say you want to distribute a test runner called tester offering two subcommands, unit and integration, such that users could pip install tester and have access to commands like tester unit, tester integration, or tester integration --fail-fast.

First, as with any distinct Python package providing CLI ‘binaries’, you’d inform your of your entrypoint:

        'console_scripts': ['tester =']


This is just an example snippet and is not a fully valid; if you don’t know how Python packaging works, a good starting place is the Python Packaging User’s Guide.

Nothing here is specific to Invoke - it’s a standard way of telling Python to install a tester script that executes the run method of a program object defined inside the module tester.main.

Creating a Program

In our tester/, we start out importing Invoke’s public CLI functionality:

from invoke import Program

Then we define the program object we referenced in, which is a simple Program to do the heavy lifting, giving it our version number for starters:

program = Program(version='0.1.0')

At this point, installing tester would give you the same functionality as Invoke’s built-in CLI tool, except named tester and exposing its own version number:

$ tester --version
Tester 0.1.0
$ tester --help
Usage: tester [--core-opts] task1 [--task1-opts] ... taskN [--taskN-opts]

Core options:
    ... core Invoke options here ...

$ tester --list
Can't find any collection named 'tasks'!

This doesn’t do us much good yet - there aren’t any subcommands (and our users don’t care about arbitrary ‘tasks’, so Invoke’s own default --help and --list output isn’t a good fit).

Specifying subcommands

For tester to expose unit and integration subcommands, we need to define them, in a regular Invoke tasks module or namespace. For our example, we’ll just create tester/ (but as you’ll see in a moment, this too is arbitrary and can be whatever you like):

from invoke import task

def unit(c):
    print("Running unit tests!")

def integration(c):
    print("Running integration tests!")

As described in Constructing namespaces, you can arrange this module however you want - the above snippet uses an implicit namespace for brevity’s sake.


It’s important to realize that there’s nothing special about these “subcommands” - you could run them just as easily with vanilla Invoke, e.g. via invoke --collection=tester.tasks --list.

Now the useful part: telling our custom Program that this namespace of tasks should be used as the subcommands for tester, via the namespace kwarg:

from invoke import Collection, Program
from tester import tasks

program = Program(namespace=Collection.from_module(tasks), version='0.1.0')

The result?

$ tester --version
Tester 0.1.0
$ tester --help
Usage: tester [--core-opts] <subcommand> [--subcommand-opts] ...

Core options:
  ... core options here, minus task-related ones ...


$ tester --list
No idea what '--list' is!
$ tester unit
Running unit tests!

Notice how the ‘usage’ line changed (to specify ‘subcommands’ instead of ‘tasks’); the list of specific subcommands is now printed as part of --help; and --list has been removed from the options.

You can enable tab-completion for your distinct binary and subcommands.

Modifying core parser arguments

A common need for this use case is tweaking the core parser arguments. Program makes it easy: default core Arguments are returned by Program.core_args. Extend this method’s return value with super and you’re done:

# Presumably, this is your CLI module...

from invoke import Program, Argument

class MyProgram(Program):
    def core_args(self):
        core_args = super().core_args()
        extra_args = [
            Argument(names=('foo', 'f'), help="Foo the bars"),
            # ...
        return core_args + extra_args

program = MyProgram()


We don’t recommend omitting any of the existing core arguments; a lot of basic functionality relies on their existence, even when left to default values.

Customizing the configuration system’s defaults

Besides the CLI-oriented content of the previous section, another area of functionality that frequently needs updating when redistributing an Invoke codebase (CLI or no CLI) is configuration. There are typically two concerns here:

  • Configuration filenames and the env var prefix - crucial if you ever expect your users to use the configuration system;

  • Default configuration values - less critical (most defaults aren’t labeled with anything Invoke-specific) but still sometimes desirable.


Both of these involve subclassing Config (and, if using the CLI machinery, informing your Program to use that subclass instead of the default one.)

Changing filenames and/or env var prefix

By default, Invoke’s config system looks for files like /etc/invoke.yaml, ~/.invoke.json, etc. If you’re distributing client code named something else, like the Tester example earlier, you might instead want the config system to load /etc/tester.json or $CWD/

Similarly, the environment variable config level looks for env vars like INVOKE_RUN_ECHO; you might prefer TESTER_RUN_ECHO.

There are a few Config attributes controlling these values:

  • prefix: A generic, catchall prefix used directly as the file prefix, and used via all-caps as the env var prefix;

  • file_prefix: For overriding just the filename prefix - otherwise, it defaults to the value of prefix;

  • env_prefix: For overriding just the env var prefix - as you might have guessed, it too defaults to the value of prefix.

Continuing our ‘Tester’ example, you’d do something like this:

from invoke import Config

class TesterConfig(Config):
    prefix = 'tester'

Or, to seek tester.yaml as before, but TEST_RUN_ECHO instead of TESTER_RUN_ECHO:

class TesterConfig(Config):
    prefix = 'tester'
    env_prefix = 'TEST'

Modifying default config values

Default config values are simple - they’re just the return value of the staticmethod Config.global_defaults, so override that and return whatever you like - ideally something based on the superclass’ values, as many defaults are assumed to exist by the rest of the system. (The helper function invoke.config.merge_dicts can be useful here.)

For example, say you want Tester to always echo shell commands by default when your codebase calls

from invoke import Program
from invoke.config import Config, merge_dicts

class TesterConfig(Config):
    def global_defaults():
        their_defaults = Config.global_defaults()
        my_defaults = {
            'run': {
                'echo': True,
        return merge_dicts(their_defaults, my_defaults)

program = Program(config_class=TesterConfig, version='0.1.0')

For reference, Invoke’s own base defaults (the…default defaults, you could say) are documented at Default configuration values.