How to set up Black with Debian, PyCharm, and IdeaVim<!-- --> - Lorey Ipsum

How to set up Black with Debian, PyCharm, and IdeaVim


I've come to like the code formatter Black for Python. It's opinionated, deterministic and thus very minimalistic. And since I'm using it on more and more projects, I wanted to integrate it into my workflow.

So usually, you just install Black globally via pip3 install black. But since I use Debian which still ships with Python 3.5 this yielded some smaller challenges as Black only runs under Python 3.6+. This post is a small tutorial on how you can use Black on Debian and integrate it into the command line, PyCharm, and IdeaVim.

Challenge 1: Python 3.6+ on Debian

Since Debian currently ships with Python 3.5, I needed to get Python 3.6 running somehow. While installing Anaconda or Python 3.6+ manually are other solutions might work, I decided to simply use Docker, as this is what I use for my regular development anyhow. Simplest solution was to use an existing docker image, namely jbbarth's docker-black, which allows you to mount the current working directory into a (newly created) container, format the desired file, and throw the container away afterwards. Sounds more complicated than it is, you just run one single command et voila. This method has the additional benefit that it adheres to any pyproject.toml which can store configuration like line length. There's also a more sleek image at cytopia/docker-black which might take less space.

So to run black irrespective of your local Python installation via black, you run

docker run --rm -v $(pwd):/code jbbarth/black

This creates a new container, mounts the current working directory into /code and formats Afterwards, the --rm flag will delete the container as well as the created volume. So far, so good, but as this command is quote long, I had to build an alias to invoke it quickly as a next step.

Challenge 2: Black from command line

So to avoid the cumbersome docker syntax each time, you now want an alias to just run black everywhere. To do this, you have to map the black command to your black running inside docker. You can do this by adding

black() { docker run --rm -v $(pwd):/code jbbarth/black $*; }

to your bashrc or zshrc. After opening a new terminal, you should now be able to invoke the black formatter inside docker by running black ....

Challenge 3: Black in PyCharm

To now integrate this setup into PyCharm, you have to slightly adapt the offical installation instructions. Go to File -> Settings -> Tools -> External Tools. Click the + icon to add a new external tool with the following values:

  • Name: Black
  • Description: Black code formatter
  • Program: /usr/bin/docker
  • Arguments: run --rm -v $FilePath$:/$FilePath$ jbbarth/black "$FilePath$"
  • Working directory: $ProjectFileDir$

Test it by running it with an opened python file via Tools -> External Tools -> Black. After you made sure it works, re-open it again and untick open console to avoid a new console at every run. You can basically mirror this guide to install a file watcher that formats on every save (see the docs).

Note: As you can see, this only mounts the current file and thus does not adhere to any config files. The same applies for the next step as it builds upon this one.

Challenge 4: Black in IdeaVim

Now for the bonus part: to trigger this setup quickly from within IdeaVim and format the current file with a single command, equivalent to the regular vim plugin, we have to map the :Black command to our external command in PyCharm. To do this, we edit our .ideavimrc file where all IdeaVim configuration is stored, and add the following line:

command Black action Tool_External Tools_Black

Now typing :Black will re-format the current file.


This tutorial showed you one way to include Black into you daily development (esp. on Debian). If you have any questions or feedback, hit me up on Twitter @karllorey or any of the other platforms listed below.


Deleting all docker containers of a specific image

If you want to remove all containers derived from a specific image, e.g. if you forgot to add the --rm flag:

docker rm $(docker ps -a --filter ancestor=jbbarth/black -q)