The Python IRC Bot

Sopel tutorial, Part 1: Introduction to writing plugins

NOTE: This guide is for Sopel 6.0+. If you are still using a version named “Willie”, we strongly encourage you to upgrade, as such old versions are no longer supported.

This tutorial is intended to give you an overview of all the features Sopel has to offer. In this part, we’ll make a simple “Hello, world!”” complete with proper documentation. If you don’t already have Sopel up and running, consult the installation guide. (We assume you are running version 6.0 or higher of Sopel. You can find this by giving Sopel the .version command.)

Sopel’s tutorials require at least some familiarity with programming. You should know the basics of what functions are and stuff like that. Since Sopel is written in Python, knowing Python will help—but if you’ve worked pretty much any other language(s) you should be able to infer enough from the examples to get things done.

While this guide does cover a lot of what is available, there is much more than can be described here. The API documentation is available online, and serves as a useful reference.

Now it’s time to start writing your own plugins!

Hello, World!

It’s not a programming tutorial without a “Hello, world”. We start by editing a file in ~/.sopel/modules. If you’ve run Sopel already, this folder should already exist. Sopel will find plugins in here by default, but you can add other folders for it to look in by modifying your config file.

A “Hello, world” command is very simple in Sopel. In the folder I mentioned above, make a file called In it, put the following and save:

from sopel import module

def helloworld(bot, trigger):
    bot.say('Hello, world!')

The first line imports the sopel.module library. In this plugin, we only really need this for the next line. This is called a decorator, and associates the command “helloworld” with the function that comes right after it. A command in Sopel is triggered when a line said in a channel starts with a period, followed by the command (the prefix can be changed in the config file).

The next line defines a function, which takes two arguments. This is the signature you’ll see in nearly every function in Sopel plugins. The first argument is usually called bot, and it represents the Sopel instance you’re running. It includes functions like msg and say, which we used above, that make the bot interact with the IRC network. It also includes access to the database and configuration, which will be discussed later. The second argument is usually called trigger, and gives you access to information about the line which “triggered” the “callable”, which is what we call the functions that the bot can call.

The last line does exactly as you’d expect; it says “Hello, world!” in the channel where the command was triggered. In other words, if someone says .helloworld, Sopel will say Hello, world!.

Let’s take a look at another short example:

from sopel import module

@module.commands('echo', 'repeat')
def echo(bot, trigger):

There are a few new concepts here. One is that I’ve imported the decorator a bit differently. This is pretty standard in Python. You could also do from sopel.module import commands, and then just do @commands for the decorator. They all work the same way. I’ve also given it two arguments. As you might expect, this means it’ll respond to either .echo or .repeat.

The next new thing is sopel.reply. This is the same as .say, but it puts the name of the person who triggered it at the beginning. Next, we have We’ll go more into groups in the next section, but for now you just need to know that, for commands like this, group 1 is the command (echo or repeat in this case), and group 2 is everything after it.

So if I say .echo Spam and eggs or .repeat Spam and eggs, Sopel will respond Embolalia, Spam and eggs.

Regex Rules

Regular expressions, or regexes, are incredibly powerful tools for matching patterns in text. I’ll explain the regexes I use in this section, but you should probably check out a quick guide to them before continuing. This page gives you a good quick overview, and the same site has a reference sheet which comes in handy. This site has a tool to test regexes, and show you what’s matching which part of the pattern.

To make a callable trigger on a rule, use the @sopel.module.rule decorator. It takes a string with a regex in it, and matches that against the lines it sees. Here’s an example:

from sopel import module

def hi(bot, trigger):
    bot.say('Hi, ' + trigger.nick)

The rule, hello!?, matches the word “hello”, possibly followed by an exclaimation point. So if someone says either “hello” or “hello!”, this rule will match, and this function will be called. Sopel will then say Hi, Embolalia, where “Embolalia” is the nickname of whoever triggered the callable ( trigger.nick gives you the triggerer’s nickname).

A trick you might want to keep in mind is Python’s “raw strings”. As you’ll shortly find, regular expressions contain quite a few backslashes, which can sometimes lead to unexpected results. Putting the letter r before a string means Python interprets that string exactly as it looks. So the string r'\n', for example, is actually a backslash and then an n, and not a newline character.

Nickname commands

Another decorator that takes rules, @sopel.module.nickname_command, is provided for convenience. This is basically the same as a regular rule, but it prefixes it with the name of the bot, followed by either a comma or a colon.

So, for example, if the above command had instead had the decorator @module.nickname_command('hello!?'), and if the bot were running with the nickname “Sopel”, it would have matched on Sopel, hello, Sopel: hello!, etc.

Regex groups

Using groups in your regular expressions is very helpful. For example, if you wanted to match a NANP phone number, you could use the regular expression \D?(\d{3})\s?\D(\d{3})\D(\d{4}). Going through this piece by piece, we have \D (which matches anything that isn’t a digit 0-9) followed by a question mark (which makes it optional). Then we have a group which matches exactly three digits (\d is any digit 0-9, and {3} means to repeat the previous thing three times). Then we have \s, which matches any space character, followed by a question mark to make it optional. Then another non-digit, another 3 digits, another non-digit, and then another four digits. This is a bit liberal, in that it will accept not just normally formatted numbers like (614)867-5309, but also some weird stuff like !614* 867+5309, and it doesn’t match numbers given without area codes. Finding a perfect regex for that is left as a reader exercise.

If this were assigned as a rule to a callable, any line which started with a NANP phone number would be matched. (You could add .*, which means any number of any characters, to the beginning to make it match if the number is anywhere in the line.) To get the pieces of the number out, you could use,, and Or, if for example you wanted to put it into a more common format, you could do '(%s) %s-%s' % trigger.groups(), which will give you (for example) (614) 867-5309.


The final basic thing to know is how to document your code in a way Sopel can use. This is done using Python’s “docstrings”. When a string is put immediately below a variable or function, or at the top of a file, without being assigned to anything else, it becomes that variable/function/file’s docstring. The first one you’ll want to do is one for your file. You should include a simple description of what the plugin does on the first line, with more detailed information below. For example:

"""Frobnication plugin for Sopel

Includes commands for frobnicating synchronous and asynchronous Werlingford
paradigms. Uses a configurable HPADP endpoint to defalicate user-provided
almication schemata.

The triple quotes are Python’s way of having a string across multiple lines. Yours doesn’t have to look exactly like this, of course, but it’ll give you a general idea of what to include.

You should also put a docstring on all of the callables you have. This should be a short message describing what the callable does. This is what Sopel will reply with when you use the .help command on something.

There is also a @sopel.module.example decorator, which you can give a string containing an example of a valid command. An example of an example might be .t America/New_York for the time command.


Rate-limiting scheduled commands

Note that if you use the Python sched package from within your callable to schedule commands to execute in the future, your callable will not return until that scheduler has finished. Sopel will therefore not update its last-used time until that point.

For commands that use @sopel.module.rate, it is better to use threading.Timer() instead of sched.scheduler() to ensure correct rate-limiting (see issue 824).

Want to learn about the configuration wizard? Continue to part 2!