How to Build Your First Slack Bot with Python

Post updated by Matt Makai on December 13, 2017. Originally posted on June 04, 2016.

Bots are a useful way to interact with chat services such as Slack. If you have never built a bot before, this post provides an easy starter tutorial for combining the Slack API with Python to create your first bot.

We will walk through setting up your development environment, obtaining a Slack API bot token and coding our simple bot in Python.

Tools We Need

Our bot, which we will name "StarterBot", requires Python and the Slack API. To run our Python code we need:

It is also useful to have the Slack API docs handy while you're building this tutorial.

All the code for this tutorial is available open source under the MIT license in the slack-starterbot public repository.

Establishing Our Environment

We now know what tools we need for our project so let's get our development environment set up. Go to the terminal (or Command Prompt on Windows) and change into the directory where you want to store this project. Within that directory, create a new virtualenv to isolate our application dependencies from other Python projects.

virtualenv starterbot

Activate the virtualenv:

source starterbot/bin/activate

Your prompt should now look like the one in this screenshot.

Command prompt with starterbot's virtualenv activated.

The official slackclient API helper library built by Slack can send and receive messages from a Slack channel. Install the slackclient library with the pip command:

pip install slackclient

When pip is finished you should see output like this and you'll be back at the prompt.

Output from using the pip install slackclient command with a virtualenv activated.

We also need to create a Slack App to recieve an API token for your bot. Use "Starter Bot" as your App name. If you are signed into more than one workspace, pick a Development Workspace from the dropdown.

Create a Slack App form filled

After submitting the form, keep the app configuration page open.

Slack APIs and App Configuration

We want our Starter Bot to appear like any other user in your team - it will participate in conversations inside channels, groups, and DMs. In a Slack App, this is called a bot user, which we set up by choosing "Bot Users" under the "Features" section. After clicking "Add a Bot User", you should choose a display name, choose a default username, and save your choices by clicking "Add Bot User". You'll end up with a page that looks like the following:

Added a bot user to the Slack App

The slackclient library makes it simple to use Slack's RTM API and Web API. We'll use both to implement Starter Bot, and they each require authentication. Conveniently, the bot user we created earlier can be used to authenticate for both APIs.

Click on the "Install App" under the "Settings" section. The button on this page will install the App into our Development Workspace. Once the App is installed, it displays a bot user oauth access token for authentication as the bot user.

After installing on the development workspace, you can copy the bot user oauth access token

A common practice for Python developers is to export secret tokens as environment variables. Back in your terminal, export the Slack token with the name SLACK_BOT_TOKEN:

export SLACK_BOT_TOKEN='your bot user access token here'

Nice, now we are authorized to use the Slack RTM and Web APIs as a bot user.

Coding Our Starter Bot

We've got everything we need to write the Starter Bot code. Create a new file named starterbot.py and include the following code in it.

import os
import time
import re
from slackclient import SlackClient

With our dependencies imported we can use them to obtain the environment variable values and then instantiate the Slack client.

# instantiate Slack client
slack_client = SlackClient(os.environ.get('SLACK_BOT_TOKEN'))
# starterbot's user ID in Slack: value is assigned after the bot starts up
starterbot_id = None

# constants
RTM_READ_DELAY = 1 # 1 second delay between reading from RTM
EXAMPLE_COMMAND = "do"
MENTION_REGEX = "^<@(|[WU].+?)>(.*)"

The code instantiates the SlackClient client with our SLACK_BOT_TOKEN exported as an environment variable. It also declares a variable we can use to store the Slack user ID of our Starter Bot. A few constants are also declared, and each of them will be explained as they are used in the code that follows.

if __name__ == "__main__":
    if slack_client.rtm_connect(with_team_state=False):
        print("Starter Bot connected and running!")
        # Read bot's user ID by calling Web API method `auth.test`
        starterbot_id = slack_client.api_call("auth.test")["user_id"]
        while True:
            command, channel = parse_bot_commands(slack_client.rtm_read())
            if command:
                handle_command(command, channel)
            time.sleep(RTM_READ_DELAY)
    else:
        print("Connection failed. Exception traceback printed above.")

The Slack client connects to the Slack RTM API. Once it's connected, it calls a Web API method (auth.test) to find Starter Bot's user ID.

Each bot user has a user ID for each workspace the Slack App is installed within. Storing this user ID will help the program understand if someone has mentioned the bot in a message.

Next, the program enters an infinite loop, where each time the loop runs the client recieves any events that arrived from Slack's RTM API. Notice that before the loop ends, the program pauses for one second so that it doesn't loop too fast and waste your CPU time.

For each event that is read, the parse_bot_commands() function determines if the event contains a command for Starter Bot. If it does, then command will contain a value and the handle_command() function determines what to do with the command.

We've laid the groundwork for processing Slack events and calling Slack methods in the program. Next, add three new functions above the previous snippet to complete handling commands:

def parse_bot_commands(slack_events):
    """
        Parses a list of events coming from the Slack RTM API to find bot commands.
        If a bot command is found, this function returns a tuple of command and channel.
        If its not found, then this function returns None, None.
    """
    for event in slack_events:
        if event["type"] == "message" and not "subtype" in event:
            user_id, message = parse_direct_mention(event["text"])
            if user_id == starterbot_id:
                return message, event["channel"]
    return None, None

def parse_direct_mention(message_text):
    """
        Finds a direct mention (a mention that is at the beginning) in message text
        and returns the user ID which was mentioned. If there is no direct mention, returns None
    """
    matches = re.search(MENTION_REGEX, message_text)
    # the first group contains the username, the second group contains the remaining message
    return (matches.group(1), matches.group(2).strip()) if matches else (None, None)

def handle_command(command, channel):
    """
        Executes bot command if the command is known
    """
    # Default response is help text for the user
    default_response = "Not sure what you mean. Try *{}*.".format(EXAMPLE_COMMAND)

    # Finds and executes the given command, filling in response
    response = None
    # This is where you start to implement more commands!
    if command.startswith(EXAMPLE_COMMAND):
        response = "Sure...write some more code then I can do that!"

    # Sends the response back to the channel
    slack_client.api_call(
        "chat.postMessage",
        channel=channel,
        text=response or default_response
    )

The parse_bot_commands() function takes events from Slack and determines if they are commands directed at Starter Bot. There are many event types that our bot will encounter, but to find commands we only want to consider message events. Message events also have subtypes, but the commands we want to find won't have any subtype defined. The function filters out uninteresting events by checking these properties. Now we know the event represents a message with some text, but we want to find out if Starter Bot is being mentioned in the text. The parse_direct_mention() function will figure out of the message text starts with a mention, and then we compare that to the user ID we stored earlier for Starter Bot. If they are the same, then we know this is a bot command, and return the command text with the channel ID.

The parse_direct_mentions() function uses a regular expression to determine if a user is being mentioned at the beginning of the message. It returns the user ID and the remaining message (and None, None if no mention was found).

The last function, handle_command() is where in the future you'll add all the interesting commands, humor, and personality for Starter Bot. For now, it has just one example command: do. If the command starts with a known command, it will have an appropriate response. If not, a default response is used. The response is sent back to Slack by calling the chat.postMessage Web API method with the channel.

Here is how the entire program should look when it's all put together (you can also view the file in GitHub):

import os
import time
import re
from slackclient import SlackClient


# instantiate Slack client
slack_client = SlackClient(os.environ.get('SLACK_BOT_TOKEN'))
# starterbot's user ID in Slack: value is assigned after the bot starts up
starterbot_id = None

# constants
RTM_READ_DELAY = 1 # 1 second delay between reading from RTM
EXAMPLE_COMMAND = "do"
MENTION_REGEX = "^<@(|[WU].+?)>(.*)"

def parse_bot_commands(slack_events):
    """
        Parses a list of events coming from the Slack RTM API to find bot commands.
        If a bot command is found, this function returns a tuple of command and channel.
        If its not found, then this function returns None, None.
    """
    for event in slack_events:
        if event["type"] == "message" and not "subtype" in event:
            user_id, message = parse_direct_mention(event["text"])
            if user_id == starterbot_id:
                return message, event["channel"]
    return None, None

def parse_direct_mention(message_text):
    """
        Finds a direct mention (a mention that is at the beginning) in message text
        and returns the user ID which was mentioned. If there is no direct mention, returns None
    """
    matches = re.search(MENTION_REGEX, message_text)
    # the first group contains the username, the second group contains the remaining message
    return (matches.group(1), matches.group(2).strip()) if matches else (None, None)

def handle_command(command, channel):
    """
        Executes bot command if the command is known
    """
    # Default response is help text for the user
    default_response = "Not sure what you mean. Try *{}*.".format(EXAMPLE_COMMAND)

    # Finds and executes the given command, filling in response
    response = None
    # This is where you start to implement more commands!
    if command.startswith(EXAMPLE_COMMAND):
        response = "Sure...write some more code then I can do that!"

    # Sends the response back to the channel
    slack_client.api_call(
        "chat.postMessage",
        channel=channel,
        text=response or default_response
    )

if __name__ == "__main__":
    if slack_client.rtm_connect(with_team_state=False):
        print("Starter Bot connected and running!")
        # Read bot's user ID by calling Web API method `auth.test`
        starterbot_id = slack_client.api_call("auth.test")["user_id"]
        while True:
            command, channel = parse_bot_commands(slack_client.rtm_read())
            if command:
                handle_command(command, channel)
            time.sleep(RTM_READ_DELAY)
    else:
        print("Connection failed. Exception traceback printed above.")

Now that all of our code is in place we can run our Starter Bot on the command line with the python starterbot.py command.

Console output when the StarterBot is running and connected to the API.

In Slack, create a new channel and invite Starter Bot or invite it to an existing channel.

In the Slack user interface create a new channel and invite StarterBot.

Now start giving Starter Bot commands in your channel.

Give StarterBot commands in your Slack channel.

Wrapping Up

Alright, now you've got a simple Starter Bot with a bunch of places in the code you can add whatever features you want to build.

There is a whole lot more that could be done using the Slack RTM API and Python. Check out these posts to learn what you could do:

Questions? Contact me via Twitter @fullstackpython or @mattmakai. I'm also on GitHub with the username mattmakai.

See something wrong in this post? Fork this page's source on GitHub and submit a pull request.


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