So, how do you write a shebang for a Python program? Let’s first set aside the python2/python3 issue and focus on whether to use env. Which of the following is correct?
The first option seems to work in all environments, but it is banned in popular distros like Fedora (and I believe also Debian, but I can’t find a reference for this). Using env in shebangs is dangerous because it can result in system packages using non-system versions of python. python is used in so many places throughout modern systems, it’s not hard to see how using
#!/usr/bin/env in an important package could badly bork users’ operating systems if they install a custom version of python in /usr/local. Don’t do this.
The second option is broken too, because it doesn’t work in BSD environments. E.g. in FreeBSD, python is installed in /usr/local/bin. So FreeBSD contributors have been upstreaming patches to convert
#!/usr/bin/python shebangs to
#!/usr/bin/env python. Meanwhile, Fedora has begun automatically rewriting
#!/usr/bin/env python to
#!/usr/bin/python, but with a warning that this is temporary and that use of
#!/usr/bin/env python will eventually become a fatal error causing package builds to fail.
So obviously there’s no way to write a shebang that will work for both major Linux distros and major BSDs.
#!/usr/bin/env python seems to work today, but it’s subtly very dangerous. Lovely. I don’t even know what to recommend to upstream projects.
Next problem: python2 versus python3. By now, we should all be well-aware of PEP 394. PEP 394 says you should never write a shebang like this:
unless your python script is compatible with both python2 and python3, because you don’t know what version you’re getting. Your python script is almost certainly not compatible with both python2 and python3 (and if you think it is, it’s probably somehow broken, because I doubt you regularly test it with both). Instead, you should write the shebang like this:
This works as long as you only care about Linux and BSDs. It doesn’t work on macOS, which provides /usr/bin/python and /usr/bin/python2.7, but still no /usr/bin/python2 symlink, even though it’s now been six years since PEP 394. It’s hard to understate how frustrating this is.
So let’s say you are WebKit, and need to write a python script that will be truly cross-platform. How do you do it? WebKit’s scripts are only needed (a) during the build process or (b) by developers, so we get a pass on the first problem: using /usr/bin/env should be OK, because the scripts should never be installed as part of the OS. Using
#!/usr/bin/env python — which is actually what we currently do — is unacceptable, because our scripts are python2 and that’s broken on Arch, and some of our developers use that. Using
#!/usr/bin/env python2 would be dead on arrival, because that doesn’t work on macOS. Seems like the option that works for everyone is
#!/usr/bin/env python2.7. Then we just have to hope that the Python community sticks to its promise to never release a python2.8 (which seems likely).