Argparse: Way to include default values in '–help'?


Suppose I have the following argparse snippet:

diags.cmdln_parser.add_argument( '--scan-time',
                     action  = 'store',
                     nargs   = '?',
                     type    = int,
                     default = 5,
                     help    = "Wait SCAN-TIME seconds between status checks.")

Currently, --help returns:

usage: [-h]
                             [--version] [--scan-time [SCAN_TIME]]

          Test the reliability/uptime of a connection.

optional arguments:
-h, --help            show this help message and exit
--version             show program's version number and exit
--scan-time [SCAN_TIME]
                    Wait SCAN-TIME seconds between status checks.

I would prefer something like:

--scan-time [SCAN_TIME]
                    Wait SCAN-TIME seconds between status checks.
                    (Default = 5)

Peeking at the help formatter code revealed limited options. Is there a clever way to get argparse to print the default value for --scan-time in a similar fashion, or should I just subclass the help formatter?

Asked By: JS.



Use the argparse.ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter formatter:

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(
    # ... other options ...

To quote the documentation:

The other formatter class available, ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter, will add information about the default value of each of the arguments.

Note that this only applies to arguments that have help text defined; with no help value for an argument, there is no help message to add information about the default value to.

The exact output for your scan-time option then becomes:

  --scan-time [SCAN_TIME]
                        Wait SCAN-TIME seconds between status checks.
                        (default: 5)
Answered By: Martijn Pieters

Add '%(default)s' to the help parameter to control what is displayed.

parser.add_argument("--type", default="toto", choices=["toto","titi"],
                              help = "type (default: %(default)s)")


  • It is %+ default in parenthesis + format characters (not to be confused with curly brackets {default} we find in format or f-string)
  • Don’t forget to add the "specifier character" for the type representation at the end (i.e. s for strings, d for integers, f for floats, etc.)
  • You can also add the usual "printf" format specifiers (like number of digits for floats, leading zeros, etc.)

You can refer to printf documentation for more details.

Answered By: polux.moon

Wrapper class

This is the most reliable and DRY approach I’ve found so far to both show defaults and use another formatter such as argparse.RawTextHelpFormatter at the same time:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import argparse

class ArgumentParserWithDefaults(argparse.ArgumentParser):
    def add_argument(self, *args, help=None, default=None, **kwargs):
        if help is not None:
            kwargs['help'] = help
        if default is not None and args[0] != '-h':
            kwargs['default'] = default
            if help is not None:
                kwargs['help'] += ' Default: {}'.format(default)
        super().add_argument(*args, **kwargs)

parser = ArgumentParserWithDefaults(
parser.add_argument('-a', default=13, help='''my help
for a''')
parser.add_argument('-b', default=42, help='''my help
for b''')
parser.add_argument('--no-default', help='''my help
for no-default''')
parser.add_argument('--no-help', default=101)



usage: [-h] [-a A] [-b B] [--no-default NO_DEFAULT]
               [--no-help NO_HELP]

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -a A                  my help
                        for a Default: 13
  -b B                  my help
                        for b Default: 42
  --no-default NO_DEFAULT
                        my help
                        for no-default
  --no-help NO_HELP

Namespace(a=13, b=42, no_default=None, no_help=101)

ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter + RawTextHelpFormatter multiple inheritance

Multiple inheritance just works, but it does not seem to be public API:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import argparse

class RawTextArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter(

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(
parser.add_argument('-a', default=13, help='''my help
for a''')
parser.add_argument('-b', default=42, help='''my help
for b''')


usage: [-h] [-a A] [-b B]

optional arguments:
  -h, --help  show this help message and exit
  -a A        my help
              for a (default: 13)
  -b B        my help
              for b (default: 42)

It just works works because as we can see trivially from the sources that:

  • RawTextHelpFormatter implements _split_lines
  • ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter implements _get_help_string

so we can guess that they will work together just fine.

However, this does not seem to be public API, and neither are the methods of formatter_class, so I don’t think there is a public API way to do it currently. argparse docstring says:

All other classes in this module are considered implementation details.
(Also note that HelpFormatter and RawDescriptionHelpFormatter are only
considered public as object names — the API of the formatter objects is
still considered an implementation detail.)

See also: Customize argparse help message

Tested on Python 3.6.5.

It is often useful to be able to automatically include the default values in the help output, but only those that were explicitly specified (with default=..). The methods already mentioned have some shortcomings in this respect:

  • The ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter method prints out (default: None) for every argument whose default was not explicitly specified, and (default: False) for ‘flags’ (action='store_true'). This clutters the help output. To avoid it, default=argparse.SUPPRESS needs to be manually added for each such argument.

  • The '%(default)s' method requires manually adding it to all the arguments’ help strings that we do want printed in help.

Both methods end up needing manual intervention to print out only the "right" defaults.
One way to do this automatically is to augment the ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter to ignore the Nones and Falses default values:

class ExplicitDefaultsHelpFormatter(argparse.ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter):
    def _get_help_string(self, action):
        if action.default in (None, False):
        return super()._get_help_string(action)

Use it in place of ArgumentDefaultsHelpFormatter:

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(

This will print only the explicitly set default values in the help output.

Note: if an argument’s default was explicitly set as None or False, it won’t be shown in help with this class; add %(default)s string to help for that argument if you want it in the help output.

Answered By: exquo
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