Batch Execution of Jupyter Notebooks

In this post I show how to use nbconvert‘s (4.1+) Python API to programmatically execute notebooks.

  • EDIT 2016-01-05: moved paragraph.

  • EDIT 2016-01-15: apply corrections from Jupyter team

    With the help of the Jupyter team, most of this post is now part of the official nbconvert docs!


Jupyter notebooks are increasingly used in scientific computing. For example, computational projects often include several notebooks to carry out different parts of a bigger analysis. Or, libraries include notebooks to provide documentation, examples or tests.

In all these cases, running notebook in batches, removes manual work increasing robustness and reproducibility.

nbconvert, the Jupyter component used to convert notebooks, can be used to automatically execute and save one or more notebooks. This functionality is exposed through a Python API (explored in this post) and a similar command line interface.

A Quick Example

Let’s start with a complete quick example, leaving detailed explanations to the following sections.

First we import nbconvert and the ExecutePreprocessor class:

import nbformat
from nbconvert.preprocessors import ExecutePreprocessor

Assuming that notebook_filename is the path of a notebook, we can load it with:

nb =, as_version=4)

Next, we configure the notebook execution mode:

ep = ExecutePreprocessor(timeout=600, kernel_name='python3')

We specified two (optional) arguments timeout and kernel_name, which define respectively the cell execution timeout and the execution kernel.

The option to specify kernel_name is new in nbconvert 4.2+ (4.2 is at the moment still unreleased). When not specified or when using nbconvert <4.2, the default Python kernel is chosen.

To actually run the notebook we call the method preprocess:

ep.preprocess(nb, {'metadata': {'path': 'notebooks/'}})

Hopefully, we will not get any errors during the notebook execution (see the last section for error handling). Note that path specifies in which folder to execute the notebook. Finally, save the resulting notebook with:

nbformat.write(nb, open('executed_notebook.ipynb', mode='wt'))

That’s all. Your executed notebook will be saved in the current folder in the file executed_notebook.ipynb.

Execution Arguments

The arguments passed to ExecutePreprocessor are configuration options called traitlets. There are many cool things about traitlets, for example they enforce the type of the input and they can be accessed/modified as class attributes. Moreover, each traitlet is automatically exposed as command-line options. For example, we can pass the timeout from the command-line like this:

jupyter nbconvert --ExecutePreprocessor.timeout=600 --to notebook --execute mynotebook.ipynb

Let’s now discuss in more detail the two traitlets we used.

The timeout traitlet defines the maximum time (in seconds) each notebook cell is allowed to run, if the execution takes longer an exception will be raised. The default is 30 s, so in cases of long-running cells you may want to specify an higher value.

The second traitlet, kernel_name, allows specifying the name of the kernel to be used for the execution. By default, the kernel name is obtained from the notebook metadata. The traitlet kernel_name allows to specify a user-defined kernel, overriding the value in the notebook metadata. A common use case is that of a Python 2/3 library which includes documentation/testing notebooks. These notebooks will specify either a python2 or python3 kernel in their metadata (depending on the kernel used the last time the notebook was saved). In reality, these notebooks will work on both Python 2/3 and, for testing, it is important to be able to execute them programmatically on both versions. Here the traitlet kernel_name is helpful: we can just run each notebook twice, specifying first “python2” and then “python3” as kernel name.

Error Handling

In the previous sections we saw how to save an executed notebook, assuming there are no execution errors. But, what if there are errors?

An error during the notebook execution, by default, will stop the execution and raise a CellExecutionError. Conveniently, the source cell causing the error and the original error name and message are also printed. After an error, we can still save the notebook as before:

nbformat.write(nb, open('executed_notebook.ipynb', mode='wt'))

The saved notebook contains the output up until the failing cell, and includes a full stack-trace and error (which can help debugging). A pattern I use to execute notebooks while handling errors is the following:

    out = ep.preprocess(nb, {'metadata': {'path': run_path}})
except CellExecutionError:
    msg = 'Error executing the notebook "%s".\n\n' % notebook_filename
    msg += 'See notebook "%s" for the traceback.' % notebook_filename_out
    nbformat.write(nb, open(notebook_filename_out, mode='wt'))

This will save the executed notebook regardless of execution errors. In case of errors, however, an additional message is printed and the CellExecutionError is raised. The message directs the user to the saved notebook for further inspection.

As a last scenario, it is sometimes useful to execute notebooks which raise exceptions, for example to show an error condition. In this case, instead of stopping the execution on the first error, we can keep executing the notebook using the traitlet allow_errors (default False). With allow_errors=True, the notebook is executed until the end, regardless of any error encountered during the execution. The output notebook, will contain the stack-traces and error messages for all the cells raising exceptions.


Automating notebook execution can save time, facilitate testing and increase robustness of computational pipelines base on notebooks. nbconvert serves the basic execution needs for most projects and has the benefits of being a standard Jupyter component.

Another project worth mentioning is runipy, which a few years ago was the only easy way to run notebooks in batches.

A natural extension to executing notebooks programmatically is passing arguments, for example to select data files or analysis parameters. You can find an experimental implementation of parameter passing in nbrun.

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