Pretty Print JSON & Move it to Command Line

Written on June 16, 2017

Pretty printing JSON is a very common operation. In this post, I show how to build the code and make the script an executable as a first-class command.

Command Prompt

Building Pretty Print program

In python, pretty-printing is very straight forward. It only needs the use of the built-in library json and using the dumps method. Given any data, the following code can format and sort the keys of JSON and print it to console.

import json
json.dumps(json_data, indent=4, sort_keys=True)

Creating work-flow

To this single line, we need to add the argsparse code so that it can take input parameters, and add a help function as well.

In this code I have added the ability to:

  • specify the JSON file that is the input
  • specify an optional output file that will contain the formated JSON. By default, we over-write the incoming JSON file.

That’s pretty much it. There is not much of error handling since we don’t really need a lot of it required.

The code is available here:

#! /usr/bin/env python
# Author: akshayranganath
# Gihub link:
import json
import argparse

def getFileData(fileName):
		Open a file, and read the contents. The operation will auto-close the file as well.
	with open(fileName) as handle:
		data =

	return data

def prettyPrint(data, outfile):
		Pretty print and write the file back to the argument 'outfile'
	with open(outfile, "wb") as handle:
		handle.write ( json.dumps(json.loads(data), indent=4, sort_keys=True) )

if __name__=="__main__":
	parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description='Pretty print JSON')
	parser.add_argument('--file', help="JSON file. If no --outfile is provided, this file will be over-written",required=True )
	parser.add_argument('--outfile', help="Output file to pretty print the JSON", required=False )

	args = parser.parse_args()        
	outfile = args.file if args.outfile is None else args.outfile

	jsondata = getFileData(args.file)
	prettyPrint(jsondata, outfile)
	print 'Pretty printer complete.'

Converting to command line

Converting this script to a command line is a two step process:

  • add execute permission
  • move code to a folder in the shell PATH

Add execute permission

To give execute permission to the script, simple run this command:

chmod +x

This will provide execute access only for the user running the command. If you want all users on this system to have the execute permission, issue this command instead:

chmod a+x

Making script a command

To make the script work like a regular command, move it to a location that is on the shell’s PATH list. On Linux/Mac, you can get this with the echo command

echo $PATH

On Windows system, execute the set command and look for PATH.

Based on the output, move the to a location specified in the PATH directory list. For Linux/Mac users, you could move it to /usr/local/bin. Once done, you can execute this as a built-in command from any folder.

After it is setup correctly, you can execute it like this.

$ --file rules.json
Pretty printer complete.