Welcome to part 2 of my series on how code formatters can assist in producing easy-to-read code, and hopefully easy to maintain too.

On this installment I will discuss how I use tools like black, isort, flake8, and how to put it all together using pre-commit.

In, what is now, part 1 I mentioned that due to some work-related projects I still write Python 2 code, but as everyone is dropping support for Python 2, I have decided to use Python 3 tools to format my code.

So let’s begin by describing each tool, and how I use them.


The Uncompromising Code Formatter

With black you can format Python code from 2.7 all the way to 3.8 (as of version 20.8b1), which makes for a great replacement of YAPF which can only format code depending on the Python version being used to run it.

My preference is using PEP 8 as my style guide, and so, 79-characters per line of code is what I use. So it’s as simple as running the following code at the root of my project and all non-compliant files will be reformatted:

black --line-length 79 --target-version py27 .

Let’s explain each option.

  • -l or --line-length: How many characters per line to allow. [default: 88]
  • -t or --target-version: Python versions that should be supported by Black’s output. [default: per-file auto-detection]

Fairly simple. Allow 79 characters per line, and use py27 as the targetted version.


A Python utility / library to sort imports.

And just as their slogan states: “isort your imports, so you don’t have to.”


isort --multi-line 3 --profile black --python-version 27 .

The options used are mainly to be compatible with black (see here):

  • --multi-line: Multi line output (0-grid, 1-vertical, 2-hanging, 3-vert-hanging, 4-vert-grid, 5-vert-grid-grouped, 6-vert-grid-grouped-no-comma, 7-noqa, 8-vertical-hanging-indent-bracket, 9-vertical-prefix-from-module-import, 10-hanging-indent-with-parentheses).
    • 3-vert-hanging
  • --profile: Base profile type to use for configuration. Profiles include: black, django, pycharm, google, open_stack, plone, attrs, hug. As well as any shared profiles.
    • black
  • --python-version: Tells isort to set the known standard library based on the specified Python version. Default is to assume any Python 3 version could be the target, and use a union of all stdlib modules across versions. If auto is specified, the version of the interpreter used to run isort (currently: 39) will be used.
    • 27 for Python 2.7

But there’s still something missing. black does not care about comments or docstrings, and isort cares even less, for obvious reasons; enter flake8.


flake8 is a python tool that glues together pep8, pyflakes, mccabe, and third-party plugins to check the style and quality of some python code.

Anthony Sottile (@asottile) has mentioned that he plans to drop support for Python 2.7 in future releases, maybe in version 3.9 or 4.0.

Fortunately I can still use it for Python 2 by running the following command:

flake8 --max-doc-length=72 --ignore=E211,E999,F401,F821,W503

PEP 8 recommends limiting docstrings or comments to 72 characters, which is exactly what I’m using for flake8.

So let’s explain each option used.

  • --max-doc-length: Maximum allowed doc line length for the entirety of this run. (Default: None)
  • --ignore: Comma-separated list of errors and warnings to ignore (or skip). For example, --ignore=E4,E51,W234. (Default: [‘E226’, ‘E123’, ‘W504’, ‘E121’, ‘W503’, ‘E126’, ‘E704’, ‘E24’])

In my case I am using 72 as the maximum allowed characters for my docstrings, in accordance to PEP 8, and ignoring the following errors:

  • E211: whitespace before ‘(‘
    • Since in Python 2 print is not a function, black adds a space between the print statement from Python 2, and the openning parenthesis
  • E999: SyntaxError: invalid syntax
    • In my case this occurs again with the print statement where I am printing just one arguments like this print arg
  • F401: module imported but unused
    • I do import some modules in order to get “Intellisense” when I peek into the details in PyCharm
  • F821: undefined name name
    • In one of my libraries I am checking if an argument is a string, and in order to cover my bases with plain strings (str) and unicode, I found that using basestring would work for all characters, including non-Latin characters
  • W503: line break before binary operator
    • It doesn’t like when binary operators are broken into multi-line statements


A framework for managing and maintaining multi-language pre-commit hooks.

Finally, let’s put it all together with pre-commit.

So in order to use flake8 you’ll have to create a .flake8 file. Mine looks like this:

ignore = E211, E999, F401, F821, W503
max-doc-length = 72

A pyproject.toml file that in my case looks like this:

line-length = 79
target-version = ['py27']

profile = "black"
multi_line_output = 3
py_version = 27

And finally my .pre-commit-config.yaml file:

  - repo: https://github.com/psf/black
    rev: 20.8b1
      - id: black
  - repo: https://github.com/PyCQA/isort
    rev: 5.7.0
      - id: isort
  - repo: https://github.com/PyCQA/flake8
    rev: 3.8.4
      - id: flake8

After you’ve configured all of this for the first time, first run the install command for pre-commit and to run tests I use run with the --all-files option, just like this:

$ pre-commit install
pre-commit installed at .git/hooks/pre-commit
$ pre-commit run --all-files

So every time you try to commit something to your Git repo, all tests should be marked as Passed, otherwise the commit will fail.


At the moment of writing this post both black and isort do support the use of pyproject.toml, something that flake8 still hasn’t implemented unlike flake9 or FlakeHell, which I have not integrated into my workflow; I’m still using flake8 because I’ve installed it via Homebrew.

While you have the option to “pip-install” all of these tools, currently I decided to use Homebrew because I don’t usually check if my packages are outdated, something that Homebrew contributors actually do with each new release. See: black, flake8, and isort, which will install python@3.9 as they all depend on it.

But if you do use pip, I recommend adding an alias for updating all of your outdated packages that should run the following command:

python -m pip list --outdated --format=freeze | grep -v '^\-e' | cut -d = -f 1 | xargs -n1 python -m pip install --upgrade

Other useful pip packages

  • pip-autoremove for removing packages and all of their dependencies.
  • pylint, a static code analysis tool which looks for programming errors, helps enforcing a coding standard, sniffs for code smells and offers simple refactoring suggestions.

Happy coding!