I'm trying to write a platform independent Python (>=3.6.5) package that has a handful of java .class files that need to compiled using javac and run using java. This is simple enough task but I need to know if user has these installed already and the location of the executable assuming that neither of them is on the system path. That way I can just call the executable by it's path using subprocess.run. Which bring me to the subject of this review a platform independent whereis command.

import os, subprocess
from subprocess import CalledProcessError

def whereis(app):
    """Return a list of locations a given application.

    Relies on the `where` system command in Windows and the `whereis` command in Unix.

    app : str
        Can be any application on the system path e.g. java.

    result : list
        A list of locations where applications is installed.

    'C:\\Program Files\\Java\\jdk1.8.0_162\\bin\\javac.exe'

    result = None

    if os.name == "nt":# Windows
            result = subprocess.check_output("where {}".format(app))

        except CalledProcessError as err:
            print("Application ,",app,", not forund.",err)

    else:# Unix
            result = subprocess.check_output("whereis {}".format(app))

        except CalledProcessError as err:
            print("Application ,",app,", not found.",err)

    if result is None:
        result = []
        return result

        result = result.decode().replace("\r", "").split("\n")
        result = list(filter(lambda x: len(x)>0, result))
        return result


  1. Is there a standard library function that already covers this? I couldn't find one but that doesn't mean anything.
  2. Are there any caveats or edge cases that I'm missing?
  3. Can any general improvements be made to the code or docstring?

4 Answers 4


A couple of small things:

  1. If you're specifically looking for executable files, you might use which instead of whereis command. From this answer, you can see the difference between the two using whatis:

    $  whatis which
    which                (1)  - shows the full path of (shell) commands
    $  whatis whereis
    whereis              (1)  - locate the binary, source, and manual page files for a command
  2. Be consistent. You've used two different formatting styles:

    "where {}".format(app)


    "Application ,",app,", not forund.",err  # you also have a spelling mistake here (forund -> found) 

    I'd recommend you use the former one

  3. You should have at least two spaces before an inline comment

  4. You should put a space after the comma in almost every situation. (e.g: print("Application,",app,", not found.",err) -> print("Application,", app, ", not found.", err))

Small nit:

# Split this into individual lines - much easier to read
import os, subprocess

Reduce duplicate code and nesting (and also use which) - this is way too complicated for what it needs to be (I didn't test it though):

def whereis(app):
    result = None

    command = 'where'
    if os.name != "nt":# Windows
        command = 'which'

        result = subprocess.check_output("{} {}".format(command, app))
    except CalledProcessError as err:
        print("Application ,",app,", not found.",err)

    if result is None:
        return []

    result = result.decode().splitlines()
    return [line for line in result if len(line)]

You can use a ternary conditional operator for determining the command per operating system, making that bit of logic a one liner. Unless necessary for your intended use, I don't see the point in returning an empty list, just return None if your script finds nothing. If you have a bit of code elsewhere that looks roughly like:

if not paths:
    # do something

If paths is an empty list, it'll work exactly the same if we change it to None.

import os
import subprocess

def whereis(app):
    command = 'which' if os.name != 'nt' else 'where'
        result = subprocess.check_output('{} {}'.format(command, app), stderr=subprocess.STDOUT)
        return result.decode().split()
    except subprocess.CalledProcessError:

if __name__ == '__main__':
    paths = whereis('notepad')


['C:\\Windows\\System32\\notepad.exe', 'C:\\Windows\\notepad.exe']

As far as I can see your code has zero escaping for spaces or shell characters, therefore I would assume it is highly insecure and could be easily used to take over / crash / ... the entire application when being passed malicious input.

You really need to be using shlex.quote or something similar, or use which as a non-bash built-in: subprocess.check_output(["which", your_argument])


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