I can use ~ instead of /home/username/ to point to a file path when, for example, unzipping a .zip file.

However, today when I followed the same way to run a RNN example in terminal, tensorflow.python.framework.errors_impl.NotFoundError was thrown.

$ python ptb_word_lm.py --data_path=~/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/models-master/tutorials/rnn/simple-examples/data/ --model=small 
I tensorflow/stream_executor/dso_loader.cc:135] successfully opened CUDA library libcublas.so.8.0 locally
I tensorflow/stream_executor/dso_loader.cc:135] successfully opened CUDA library libcudnn.so.5 locally
I tensorflow/stream_executor/dso_loader.cc:135] successfully opened CUDA library libcufft.so.8.0 locally
I tensorflow/stream_executor/dso_loader.cc:135] successfully opened CUDA library libcuda.so.1 locally
I tensorflow/stream_executor/dso_loader.cc:135] successfully opened CUDA library libcurand.so.8.0 locally
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "ptb_word_lm.py", line 374, in <module>
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/python/platform/app.py", line 44, in run
    _sys.exit(main(_sys.argv[:1] + flags_passthrough))
  File "ptb_word_lm.py", line 321, in main
    raw_data = reader.ptb_raw_data(FLAGS.data_path)
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/models-master/tutorials/rnn/ptb/reader.py", line 73, in ptb_raw_data
    word_to_id = _build_vocab(train_path)
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/models-master/tutorials/rnn/ptb/reader.py", line 34, in _build_vocab
    data = _read_words(filename)
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/models-master/tutorials/rnn/ptb/reader.py", line 30, in _read_words
    return f.read().decode("utf-8").replace("\n", "<eos>").split()
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/python/lib/io/file_io.py", line 106, in read
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/python/lib/io/file_io.py", line 73, in _preread_check
    compat.as_bytes(self.__name), 1024 * 512, status)
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/contextlib.py", line 24, in __exit__
  File "/home/hok/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/python/framework/errors_impl.py", line 469, in raise_exception_on_not_ok_status
tensorflow.python.framework.errors_impl.NotFoundError: ~/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/site-packages/tensorflow/models-master/tutorials/rnn/simple-examples/data/ptb.train.txt

Then I replaced ~ with /home/username/, and it worked properly.

Why couldn't I use ~ instead of /home/username/ to point to the file path when runing a RNN example?

Could you tell me in detail?


You need to understand that ~ is normally expanded by the shell; the programs you call never see it, they see the full pathname as inserted by bash. But this only happens when the tilde is at the start of an argument (and is not quoted).

If the Python program you are running uses a module like getopt to parse its commandline, you can give the argument of the --data-path option as a separate "word" to allow tilde expansion:

$ python ptb_word_lm.py --data_path ~/anaconda2/lib/python2.7/...

In your own code, you can use getopt or argparse for argument processing, and could also manually expand tildes as @JacobVlijm's answer suggested.

PS. The tilde is also expanded at the start of a shell variable assignment expression like DIRNAME=~/anaconda2; although the tilde in your question also follows an equals sign, this usage doesn't have special meaning for the shell (it's just something passed to a program) and doesn't trigger expansion.

  • 7
    Unless you know getopt already, use argparse if you're writing Python.
    – Nick T
    Mar 7 '17 at 22:05
  • I've added argparse to the answer since it's the main alternative, but personally I find it much harder to use than getopt, not easier. YMMV.
    – alexis
    Mar 7 '17 at 23:50

Tilde expansion in python

The answer is short & simple:

python does not expand ~ unless you use:

import os

See also here:

On Unix and Windows, return the argument with an initial component of ~ or ~user replaced by that user‘s home directory.

On Unix, an initial ~ is replaced by the environment variable HOME if it is set; otherwise the current user’s home directory is looked up in the password directory through the built-in module pwd. An initial ~user is looked up directly in the password directory.

  • 12
    In general, you should never assume that tilde expansion is done at an OS level, it is something that unix shells (and not all of them!) do for you.
    – farsil
    Mar 7 '17 at 10:10
  • 1
    I think the more relevant issue is lined out in alexis' answer: the position of ~ in the shell argument list. Mar 7 '17 at 12:28
  • @farsil, I disagree. Programs can be made portable, but when you run them from the command line, you do so on a specific system. And let's not forget that this is askubuntu.com, and Ubuntu is always Unix (as far as we know :-)
    – alexis
    Mar 7 '17 at 12:52
  • 1
    @alexis: Ubuntu doesn't do tilde expansion at OS level either. It's still shell functionality. Mar 7 '17 at 21:59
  • 1
    Methinks you're splitting hairs. Nobody said the kernel is doing it. The point is, it's not done by the program that takes the arguments.
    – alexis
    Mar 7 '17 at 23:45

Tilde expansion is only done in a few contexts that vary slightly between shells.

While it is performed in:



export var=~

in some shells. It's not in

echo var=~
env var=~ cmd
./configure --prefix=~

in POSIX shells.

It is in bash though when not in POSIX conformance mode (like when called as sh, or when POSIXLY_CORRECT is in the environment):

$ bash -c 'echo a=~'
$ POSIXLY_CORRECT= bash -c 'echo a=~'
$ SHELLOPTS=posix bash -c 'echo a=~'
$ (exec -a sh bash -c 'echo a=~')

However that's only when what's on the left of the = is shaped like an unquoted valid variable name, so while it would be expanded in cmd prefix=~, it would not be in cmd --prefix=~ (as --prefix is not a valid variable name) nor in cmd "p"refix=~ (because of that quoted p) nor in var=prefix; cmd $var=~.

In zsh, you can set the magic_equal_subst option for ~ to be expanded after any unquoted =.

$ zsh -c 'echo a=~'
$ zsh -o magic_equal_subst -c 'echo a=~'
$ zsh -o magic_equal_subst -c 'echo --a=~'

In the case of ~ (as opposed to ~user), you can just use $HOME instead:

cmd --whatever="$HOME/whatever"

~ expands to the value of $HOME. If $HOME is not set, behaviour varies between shells. Some shells query the user database. If you want to take that into account, you could do (and that's also what you would have to do for ~user):

dir=~ # or dir=~user
cmd --whatever="$dir/whatever"

In any case, in shells other than zsh remember you need to quote variable expansions!

  • 1
    Bash's reference manual seems to say that tildes are expanded only on variable assignments and at the start of a word, so expanding it onecho a=~ seems to contradict the manual.
    – ilkkachu
    Mar 8 '17 at 10:21
  • @ilkkachu, yes the manual is incomplete. It also doesn't specify clearly in what context ~ will be expanded (what is meant by "word"). See the link at the top of the answer for more details. Mar 8 '17 at 16:25

~ has particular expansion rules, which your command doesn't satisfy. Specifically, it is expanded only when unquoted, either at the beginning of a word (e.g. python ~/script.py) or at the beginning of a variable assignment (e.g. PYTHONPATH=~/scripts python script.py). What you have is --data_path=~/blabla which is a single word in shell terms, so expansion is not performed.

An immediate fix is to use $HOME shell variable, which follows regular variable expansion rules:

python ptb_word_lm.py --data_path=$HOME/blabla
  • 1
    That's a bit oversimplified, there are other contexts were tilde expansion is performed like in PATH=$PATH:~/bin. Also that $HOME needs to be quoted or split+glob applies in shells other than zsh. Mar 7 '17 at 10:59
  • @sch sorry, but the link you provided in the comment there leads to a question about optical mouse, with no mention of tilde expansion. Can you please explain that? Mar 8 '17 at 6:57
  • Good answer. It summarizes basically what bash manual states in the Tilde Expansion section. +1 Mar 8 '17 at 6:58
  • 1
    Sorry, I'm so used to using intra-site links in unix.SE as in [link](/a/146697) that I didn't realise we were on a different site here. The link should be to there Mar 8 '17 at 8:08

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