The Python IRC Bot

Sopel 7.0 Migration

Sopel 7 lays the groundwork for a lot of awesome stuff! We have a major update to Sopel’s command-line interface in progress (which will be finished in Sopel 8), and some API updates that might affect a few existing plugins.

But first, we really need to talk briefly about Python.

A note about Python versions

If you still use Sopel under Python 2, you might notice that Sopel 7 emits warnings about version compatibility. The sad reality is, as of January 1, 2020, Python 2.7 no longer receives any updates. While this doesn’t mean we will simply drop support for running Sopel under Python 2 immediately, it does mean that we will no longer reject ideas that would require doing so.

For the life of Sopel 7.x, we still plan to maintain compatibility with Python 2.7 unless it becomes absolutely necessary to drop it. For example, if a severe bug is found in one of Sopel’s dependencies, and the fix is only released for Python 3, we would consider dropping Python 2 support in the next minor version.

From Sopel 8 onward, it would be much easier to implement new features and enhancements if we dropped support for very old Python releases. For example, Sopel’s support for reloading plugins during runtime can be made much more robust using features added to the language in Python 3.4.

The crux of the matter is this: Sopel’s range of supported Python releases remained stagnant for far too long. While the Sopel project was effectively unmaintained between late 2016 and early 2018, Python 3.3 reached end-of-life (September 29, 2017). During the lengthy development period of Sopel 7, Python 3.4 reached end-of-life (March 18, 2019). Sopel 7 was released very close to the EOL of Python 2.7 (January 1, 2020).

We can’t keep testing support for these old versions forever. At some point, Sopel’s core developers will lose the ability to run them locally. (Python 3.3 is already difficult—though not impossible—to install on current popular Linux systems like Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.) Travis CI, our continuous integration testing provider for contributions from both maintainers and the community alike, won’t keep supporting the installation of EOL Python releases indefinitely. We can’t support what we can’t test.

Furthermore, it’s a waste of effort to fix bugs in new code that, for whatever reason, only affect old, disused versions of Python. The ratio of time spent to users impacted becomes too high as more systems get upgraded.

And finally, supporting older Python releases sometimes prevents us from making highly desirable improvements (see above, re: reloading things).

Keeping all this in mind, the current plan is as follows. Note that it is subject to change, as Sopel’s development pace remains quite leisurely relative to the overall Python ecosystem.

Whatever minimum Python version is required for Sopel 8.0.0 will remain supported (by best effort) throughout the 8.x series, just as has been done during the life of Sopel 7.x.

Database support

Sopel 7 brings back support for databases other than SQLite—an often-requested feature ever since Sopel went SQLite-only in version 5.

While we can’t practically offer documentation on every possible setup, it should be fairly easy to migrate an existing installation to any supported database type with a bit of search-fu. Sopel’s database support is built on SQLAlchemy, which has ample documentation of its own about getting up and running with various back-ends.

Please don’t hesitate to offer feedback in our IRC channel or a GitHub issue. This is a huge feature, and with a small team it’s simply not possible for us to test everything—especially the less common database types (paid ones like Oracle, especially).

CLI restructuring

Version 7 deprecates many of the command-line arguments that Sopel has used for most of its life, in favor of a much more extensible command structure.

Instead of having arguments like --quit or --configure-modules, Sopel’s CLI now works on a sub-command system (like Git and other popular tools). This will allow adding more functions without having to share one global argument namespace, and make the commands more “speakable”.

The full new command structure will be documented in the Command-line arguments after release, but as a general overview of the old structure vs. the new:

This Becomes
sopel --quit sopel quit
sopel --kill sopel quit --kill
sopel --configure-all sopel configure
sopel --configure-modules sopel configure --plugins
sopel --list sopel-config list
sopel -v sopel -V / sopel --version

There’s one argument deserving of special mention: --migrate/-m. It will be removed in Sopel 7, because it has been a no-op since version 4.0.0. Someone deleted the code to handle it without saying so anywhere, but Sopel has continued to carry around this useless argument since 2014. No more!

New commands are not always going to be shorter than the old ones (see the --kill example), but we’re looking at the future picture. This is just the start of Sopel’s CLI evolution, and more features will come based on this new command structure.

Removal of old commands

For the life of Sopel 7, the existing (“legacy”) arguments are still supported, just with deprecation notices in the --help output.

In Sopel 8, the old arguments from Sopel 6 and lower will be removed.

Most deprecated arguments in Sopel 7 will output warnings to the terminal when used. Hopefully we remembered them all during development—but if we missed any, please do let us know via the issue tracker or IRC.

New helper commands

Some helper tools debut with Sopel 7. So far, they are sopel-config & sopel-plugins. Both are intended to make the job of configuring a Sopel instance easier, without needing to edit the config file manually.


The sopel-config tool supports initializing a new config file, listing existing config files, and getting values from an existing config file.

More features will likely be added along the road to Sopel 8. Suggestions are welcomed and encouraged!


With the sopel-plugins command, you can list available plugins; enable or disable plugins in a specific config file; and show details about a specific plugin such as where it is on disk and whether it’s enabled.

Here, too, more features will likely be added along the road to Sopel 8. Suggestions are welcomed and encouraged!

Sopel 7 API changes

This is a good time to remind you that your plugins should specify a maximum Sopel version in their requirements. Doing so reduces the likelihood that users will be able to install your plugin alongside an incompatible version of Sopel, and thus minimizes the risk of compatibility errors during startup or runtime.

We do everything possible to introduce breaking API changes only in major versions, so it’s typically safe for your plugin to require (for example) sopel>=6.0,<8.0—at least the earliest major version you’ve tested, and less than the next unreleased major version. Occasionally you might need to require a specific minor version, if your code needs a new feature that was introduced in between major releases, but major-version compatibility is typically all you’ll need to worry about.

Normally, when a feature needs to be removed from the API, we try to allow for a deprecation period, during which the feature to be removed continues to work but logs a warning if used. It is extremely rare for an API feature to be removed in a minor release—and if we do so, that means there was no way to keep that feature around in a working state until the next major Sopel version. The changelog always notes deprecations and removals.

Identifier case-mapping

In a twist of fate (and old spaghetti code), it turns out that Sopel has been mapping Identifiers to lowercase incorrectly for a long time. Like, since Identifier was called Nick, over 7 years ago. Ever since version 3.2.0, the first version to introduce case-mapping for nicknames, it’s been non-compliant with the RFC.

Sopel 7 finally fixes that. Existing instances will opportunistically convert values from the old (incorrect) representation to the new (correct) one as needed, but that can’t cover all plugins. With our apologies for the inconvenience, you’ll have to implement your own migration logic if your plugin stores and/or manipulates Identifiers in any way outside the set/get_*_value() functions provided by Sopel’s DB API.

Everything you’ll need from Sopel’s API is still in the Identifier class. You can use Identifier._lower() to get the corrected representation of a nick or channel name. Call on Identifier._lower_swapped() for the previous, incorrect, representation. When working with channel names specifically, the bot.db.get_channel_slug() method might be helpful.

Whether to write a one-off migration that converts everything at once, extra logic that converts values on-the-fly as needed, or something else is all up to you, based on your own plugin’s considerations. Different plugin projects will have different needs. For example, if you’re the only user of your plugin, you might simply write a short script to run once against your bot’s database and be done with it—but if your plugin is uploaded to PyPI, you might choose to release the migration as part of your next version bump. The choice is yours; we just provide the tools you need to get started.

Accessing the database

While Sopel’s migration to SQLAlchemy doesn’t affect most of the bot.db API, some plugins that make use of the more direct methods might need to be rewritten for Sopel 7. Non-exhaustively:

We recommend that authors of plugins which use a raw database connection from bot.db.connect() aim to rewrite their code so it uses the ORM approach and bot.db.session() instead. In the interim, it never hurts to update your plugin’s documentation to warn users that non-SQLite databases haven’t been tested, or make sure the plugin is marked as compatible with Sopel <7.0 only until it can be tested and/or updated.

Managing URL callbacks

For quite a while, Sopel plugins wishing to override the plugin’s automatic title-fetching for certain URLs have customarily done something along these lines:

# in the plugin's setup() function:
    if not bot.memory['url_callbacks']:
        bot.memory['url_callbacks'] = tools.SopelMemory()
    bot.memory['url_callbacks'][compiled_regex] = methodname

Similar manual manipulation of the object in memory was needed to unregister handlers at plugin unload:

# in the plugin's shutdown() function:
        del bot.memory['url_callbacks'][compiled_regex]
    except KeyError:

Going forward, a new set of API methods should be used instead:

bot.memory['url_callbacks'] will remain unchanged for the life of Sopel 7.x. We plan to make this data structure private in Sopel 8.0, so we can improve it (e.g. allowing multiple callbacks for the same pattern). The new API methods are already future-proofed against the changes we plan to make; that’s why the callback function is required both when registering and unregistering.

Adding multiple command examples

Decorating a plugin callable like this was a great way to add documentation to that command through Sopel’s help plugin:

from sopel import module

@module.example('.foo barbaz')
def foo_cmd(bot, trigger):
    bot.action('foos %s' %

However, only one example could ever appear in the help output. This was confusing to plugin authors.

Furthermore, if more than one example was defined:

from sopel import module

@module.example('.foo barbaz')
@module.example('.foo spam eggs sausage bacon')
def foo_cmd(bot, trigger):
    bot.action('foos %s' % ', '.join(

It was not necessarily intuitive which example would be displayed if a user did .help foo. The code says it would use example[0]. That’s the first one in the list, which makes sense. But take a guess which of the two above would be used—.foo barbaz or .foo spam eggs sausage bacon?

Ready to see if you were right?

Sopel would use .foo spam eggs sausage bacon as the example, because due to how decorators work, it ends up first in the internal list despite appearing last in the source code. Not very intuitive for beginning plugin writers…

So, in Sopel 7, there is a user_help argument to @module.example. If at least one of a callable’s examples has this attribute set to True, all such examples will be used when outputting help for that command:

from sopel import module

@module.example('.foo barbaz', 'foos barbaz', user_help=True)
@module.example('.foo', "I can't foo that!")
@module.example('.foo egg sausage bacon', 'foos egg, sausage, bacon', user_help=True)
def foo_cmd(bot, trigger):
    if not
        return bot.say("I can't foo that!")
    bot.action('foos %s' % ', '.join(

Here, Sopel’s help output will show both .foo barbaz and .foo egg sausage bacon as examples. Plain .foo does not have user_help=True (it’s purely there for testing), and so it will not be shown.

Of course, backwards compatibility is important! That’s why we used this approach. Callables without any user_help=True examples will behave just like they would have in Sopel 6 and older: The “first” example (the one closest to the function’s def line, last in the source line order) will appear in help’s output.

Making user_help=True the default would make a ton of sense, definitely! But if we did that, many (many) existing Sopel (and Willie) plugins would potentially output “bad” help information—so we elected to keep the old behavior by default in an effort to minimize any “breakage”.

Logging API rework

Plugins should use the new function to get a logging object, starting with Sopel 7.0. It takes the same argument (the plugin’s name) as its predecessor, sopel.logger.get_logger().

sopel.logger.get_logger() will have an extended deprecation cycle, to allow ample time for the ecosystem to adapt without spamming too many log files at first. The old function’s behavior has been tweaked to work reasonably nicely with the harmonized logging system implemented for Sopel 7.

Calls to sopel.logger.get_logger() will begin emitting deprecation warnings in Sopel 8.0, to alert stragglers (or users of possibly-abandoned code). We will remove this function from the API in Sopel 9.0.

Removal of deprecated attributes

A number of ancient attributes that were considered deprecated many releases ago finally have been removed, mostly from the Bot object. Among them:

This list is not comprehensive, but honestly: If your code breaks because a removed attribute no longer exists, it’s actually been broken for a long time on account of the attributes themselves always being empty. They were just placeholders to avoid anything raising AttributeError. (Sopel’s current maintenance team wouldn’t have done it that way, but we can’t undo the past.)

Improvements to testing tools

An absolute ton of work went into refactoring how the bot works internally for Sopel 7, and one side benefit (nay, a goal) of the changes was to make things more directly testable, without needing to create special “mock” objects. If you have used sopel.test_tools to write unit tests for your plugin code, you’re probably familiar with at least one of MockConfig, MockSopel, and MockSopelWrapper—three classes Sopel itself used in its own tests until this release.

With the rewrites for Sopel 7, though, Sopel’s tests don’t need these mock classes any more. We test directly on the “real” objects, only switching out the IRC connection for a fake one that just logs its input and output instead of actually opening a socket to a remote server. This means that our Mock* classes can be marked as deprecated; we will remove them in Sopel 8.

Fortunately, there’s also another bit of good news: Sopel now comes with a pytest plugin and a whole set of fixtures, factories, and mocks in sopel.tests. We encourage you to explore them and update your plugins’ tests (or write them, if you haven’t already, you naughty developer!) to use the new goodies. Trust us—they’re much nicer to write tests with than the old tools were!

Sopel 7 plugin changes

Reminder DB migration

Sopel 7 refers to specific instances by config file name whenever possible, instead of using other pieces of config data such as nick or host that are more likely to change. The remind and tell plugins have been updated with this in mind, and will attempt to automatically convert their respective data files to the new name format if the old filename exists.

You probably will not need to do anything. However, if the automatic migration does fail, it will output (and log) information about what it was trying to do, and link to this section of the Sopel 7 upgrade guide for convenience.

If a migration failure brought you here: Above the link you should find the old and new filenames the plugin was attempting to use.

Important: Ensure the associated instance of Sopel is NOT running before doing anything. Tampering with the reminder files while Sopel is running can result in data loss.

In most error cases, migration will fail because the new filename already exists. The simplest fix is to move or rename the conflicting file, and run Sopel again so the migration can complete.

If both the old and new files are non-empty, you might want to peek inside them with a text editor to see what’s there before deciding which to keep. The current format for both plugins’ data files is essentially TSV, and they can be merged by hand (again, with Sopel stopped) if both the old and new files somehow contain meaningful, unique entries.

And of course, if you need more in-depth assistance with fixing a failed migration, our IRC channel always welcomes questions.

Core plugin removals


As of February 2018, the Python bindings for enchant became unmaintained. This made installing the spellcheck plugin’s dependencies increasingly difficult, and often caused problems with new installations.

Because of this, the spellcheck plugin was rewritten to use aspell instead, and extracted into a standalone PyPI package to eliminate those non-Python dependencies for installing Sopel itself.

The rewrite also added new commands to manage a custom word list:

Unfortunately, the aspell API only supports adding words to the custom dictionary. To remove a custom word, a user must manually edit the dictionary file, so we decided to go with a two-step process. Hopefully it will help Sopel admins around the world avoid adding typos to their bots’ custom dictionaries!


We’ve made the ipython plugin into its own PyPI package, further reducing the packages required to install Sopel itself. Mostly, though, this decision was based on the limited utility of this plugin for non-developers. Its main use case is poking around in Sopel’s state while debugging a new plugin or plugin feature, with Sopel running in an interactive shell. It’s unusable when Sopel is run as a service/daemon (which is how most deployments should run Sopel), and we decided it doesn’t make sense to continue bundling this plugin and its requirements with the core bot.

Planned user-facing changes

A “user” here is someone who runs (or is responsible for maintaining) one or more Sopel bots. If you’re reading this, that probably describes you. (Unless you’re some kind of weirdo who only writes plugins for other people to use, and never tests them… Seriously, who does that?)

You might need to edit your bot’s configuration in the future due to these plans. Sopel might take care of them on its own, too. But in case human intervention is required, here are the details.

Config format change for list values

Since the new config system was introduced, lists of values have been represented in the config file as strings separated by commas (,). Sopel 7 adds support for storing these lists as multi-line strings instead, with values separated by newlines.

Here’s what that means in practice:

# Current format
enable = admin,reddit,wikipedia,wiktionary

# New format
enable =

Note that Sopel 7 will upgrade the stored format of any comma-separated list value if the config is saved (with .save) after editing the value via IRC (with .set section.option_name list,of,values).

Important: The new format requires any value beginning with # to be quoted. Automatic conversion will handle this, but be aware of it if you’re tweaking your config file(s) by hand during the upgrade process. You will need to be careful with the core.channels list, in particular. Most updated core.channels values should look like this:

channels =

Unquoted values beginning with # might work properly on certain Python versions if indented, but you should quote them anyway to be safe.

In Sopel 7, this is just a convenience change. It means that lists stored in the new format can support commas within the values, without any annoying escape-character shenanigans (which was our first plan). Old-style values (all on a single line) will continue to be split on commas when reading config files, as before, and will be updated to the new format as described above.

Eventually, in Sopel 9, we plan to remove this fallback behavior. Sopel 8 may emit a warning to the console and/or log file at startup if old-style list values are present in the loaded config file, but we encourage updating your config files long before then.

Modules vs. plugins

Sopel has long used the term “module” in reference to Python files (or folders thereof) that add functionality to the bot. This is reflected even in the layout of Sopel’s data folder: ~/.sopel/modules is so named because that’s where the modules go! We’d like to change that, though.

The simplified explanation is that Python already has “modules”. Add-ons for Sopel are also Python modules, but not all Python modules are Sopel add-ons. This overlap gets confusing for developers sometimes.

Many similar projects call this kind of add-on a “plugin”. We’ve already started using the term “plugin” in our documentation, in place of “module”, when referring to these add-ons.

As a user, you’ll notice only small changes related to this shift. The restructured CLI described above, for example, uses sopel configure --plugins to replace sopel --configure-modules. Our documentation will continue to move toward consistently referring to “plugins” and “modules” as distinct concepts. We’ll also change the default search location for plugins from ~/.sopel/modules to ~/.sopel/plugins in a future release (probably Sopel 8), but it will be easy to re-add the old folder if you like via the core.extra setting.

Planned future API changes

This section is all about stuff that won’t cause problems now, but will break in a future release if not updated. Most of these are planned removals of, or changes to, API features deprecated long ago.

We suggest reviewing these upcoming changes, and updating your own plugins if they still use anything listed here, as soon as possible. Updating plugins published to PyPI should take priority, especially plugins written for Sopel 6 that are not future-proofed by capping Sopel’s version in their requirements.

If you use third-party plugins that have not been updated, we encourage you to inform the author(s) politely that they need to update. Or better yet, submit a pull request or patch yourself!

Removal of bot.privileges

Sopel 7.x will be the last release series to support the bot.privileges data structure (deprecated in Sopel 6.2.0, released January 16, 2016).

Beginning in Sopel 8, bot.privileges will be removed and plugins trying to access it will throw an exception. bot.channels will be the only place to get privilege data going forward.

Removal of bot.msg()

Back in 6.0, Sopel’s API standardized around a consistent argument order for messaging functions: message first, then an optional recipient (or destination, if you like). Part of the old API, bot.msg(), has stuck around since then because it was, quote, “way too much of a pain to remove”. In fact, it turned out to be quite easy to remove.

None of Sopel’s own code uses this old method any more, and we will remove it entirely in 8.0. Uses of bot.msg() in 7.0 will emit a deprecation warning, so any remaining third-party code that still uses it can be found and patched.

Rename/cleanup of sopel.web

While the whole sopel.web module was marked as deprecated in Sopel 6.2.0, because it largely serves as a wrapper around the requests library, parts of it seem to be useful enough that they should be kept around.

For Sopel 8, we intend to move sopel.web to The new location is available in Sopel 7 to provide a transitional period. Similar to how importing from both willie and sopel worked in the run-up to Sopel 6.0, it is possible to do any of the following during Sopel 7’s life cycle:

In Sopel 8, we will remove the pointers from sopel.web to the new location. These explicitly deprecated functions will also be removed at the same time:

We will also tweak the module constants:

New additions to Sopel’s web tools made during the life of 7.x will be available only in Functions and constants that we plan to remove in Sopel 8 (as listed above) will be available only from the old sopel.web module.

Finalizing the “plugin” transition

As described above, we’re trying to get away from the ambiguity of calling Sopel add-ons “modules”, because that term is already used by Python itself. All Sopel add-ons are Python modules, but not all Python modules are Sopel add-ons. Many people in the Sopel community have tripped over this blurred line, and we have plans to change more than just documentation eventually.

Already, in Sopel 7, the internal mechanisms for handling add-on code are all about “plugins” now. The module responsible is named sopel.plugins, and its submodules & members all agree on this nomenclature. But you, a plugin developer, must—confusingly—still import the “module” module from sopel to use any of the decorators that make Sopel plugins work. Annoying, isn’t it?

Rest assured that we’re not done yet. Future releases of Sopel will support (even encourage) importing sopel.plugin instead, which will be the new home of all plugin-related decorators & constants. sopel.module won’t go away any time soon, though. It predates even the name “Willie”, after all—we can’t just yank it out without a long deprecation cycle. We might just leave it as a permanent alias to sopel.plugin. (The plan is still up for discussion, if you’re interested.)

But, once available, you should definitely use sopel.plugin in your new code. It’s the future!