Command-Line Interface#

beet is the command-line interface to beets.

You invoke beets by specifying a command, like so:

beet COMMAND [ARGS...]

The rest of this document describes the available commands. If you ever need a quick list of what’s available, just type beet help or beet help COMMAND for help with a specific command.

Beets also offers shell completion. For bash, see the completion command; for zsh, see the accompanying completion script for the beet command.


Here are the built-in commands available in beets:

Also be sure to see the global flags.


beet import [-CWAPRqst] [-l LOGPATH] PATH...
beet import [options] -L QUERY

Add music to your library, attempting to get correct tags for it from MusicBrainz.

Point the command at some music: directories, single files, or compressed archives. The music will be copied to a configurable directory structure and added to a library database. The command is interactive and will try to get you to verify MusicBrainz tags that it thinks are suspect. See the autotagging guide for detail on how to use the interactive tag-correction flow.

Directories passed to the import command can contain either a single album or many, in which case the leaf directories will be considered albums (the latter case is true of typical Artist/Album organizations and many people’s “downloads” folders). The path can also be a single song or an archive. Beets supports zip and tar archives out of the box. To extract rar files, install the rarfile package and the unrar command. To extract 7z files, install the py7zr package.

Optional command flags:

  • By default, the command copies files to your library directory and updates the ID3 tags on your music. In order to move the files, instead of copying, use the -m (move) option. If you’d like to leave your music files untouched, try the -C (don’t copy) and -W (don’t write tags) options. You can also disable this behavior by default in the configuration file (below).

  • Also, you can disable the autotagging behavior entirely using -A (don’t autotag)—then your music will be imported with its existing metadata.

  • During a long tagging import, it can be useful to keep track of albums that weren’t tagged successfully—either because they’re not in the MusicBrainz database or because something’s wrong with the files. Use the -l option to specify a filename to log every time you skip an album or import it “as-is” or an album gets skipped as a duplicate. You can later review the file manually or import skipped paths from the logfile automatically by using the --from-logfile LOGFILE argument.

  • Relatedly, the -q (quiet) option can help with large imports by autotagging without ever bothering to ask for user input. Whenever the normal autotagger mode would ask for confirmation, the quiet mode performs a fallback action that can be configured using the quiet_fallback configuration or --quiet-fallback CLI option. By default it pessimistically skip``s the file. Alternatively, it can be used as is, by configuring ``asis.

  • Speaking of resuming interrupted imports, the tagger will prompt you if it seems like the last import of the directory was interrupted (by you or by a crash). If you want to skip this prompt, you can say “yes” automatically by providing -p or “no” using -P. The resuming feature can be disabled by default using a configuration option (see below).

  • If you want to import only the new stuff from a directory, use the -i option to run an incremental import. With this flag, beets will keep track of every directory it ever imports and avoid importing them again. This is useful if you have an “incoming” directory that you periodically add things to. To get this to work correctly, you’ll need to use an incremental import every time you run an import on the directory in question—including the first time, when no subdirectories will be skipped. So consider enabling the incremental configuration option.

  • If you don’t want to record skipped files during an incremental import, use the --incremental-skip-later flag which corresponds to the incremental_skip_later configuration option. Setting the flag prevents beets from persisting skip decisions during a non-interactive import so that a user can make a decision regarding previously skipped files during a subsequent interactive import run. To record skipped files during incremental import explicitly, use the --noincremental-skip-later option.

  • When beets applies metadata to your music, it will retain the value of any existing tags that weren’t overwritten, and import them into the database. You may prefer to only use existing metadata for finding matches, and to erase it completely when new metadata is applied. You can enforce this behavior with the --from-scratch option, or the from_scratch configuration option.

  • By default, beets will proceed without asking if it finds a very close metadata match. To disable this and have the importer ask you every time, use the -t (for timid) option.

  • The importer typically works in a whole-album-at-a-time mode. If you instead want to import individual, non-album tracks, use the singleton mode by supplying the -s option.

  • If you have an album that’s split across several directories under a common top directory, use the --flat option. This takes all the music files under the directory (recursively) and treats them as a single large album instead of as one album per directory. This can help with your more stubborn multi-disc albums.

  • Similarly, if you have one directory that contains multiple albums, use the --group-albums option to split the files based on their metadata before matching them as separate albums.

  • If you want to preview which files would be imported, use the --pretend option. If set, beets will just print a list of files that it would otherwise import.

  • If you already have a metadata backend ID that matches the items to be imported, you can instruct beets to restrict the search to that ID instead of searching for other candidates by using the --search-id SEARCH_ID option. Multiple IDs can be specified by simply repeating the option several times.

  • You can supply --set field=value to assign field to value on import. Values support the same template syntax as beets’ path formats. These assignments will merge with (and possibly override) the set_fields configuration dictionary. You can use the option multiple times on the command line, like so:

    beet import --set genre="Alternative Rock" --set mood="emotional"


The import command can also be used to “reimport” music that you’ve already added to your library. This is useful when you change your mind about some selections you made during the initial import, or if you prefer to import everything “as-is” and then correct tags later.

Just point the beet import command at a directory of files that are already catalogged in your library. Beets will automatically detect this situation and avoid duplicating any items. In this situation, the “copy files” option (-c/-C on the command line or copy in the config file) has slightly different behavior: it causes files to be moved, rather than duplicated, if they’re already in your library. (The same is true, of course, if move is enabled.) That is, your directory structure will be updated to reflect the new tags if copying is enabled; you never end up with two copies of the file.

The -L (--library) flag is also useful for retagging. Instead of listing paths you want to import on the command line, specify a query string that matches items from your library. In this case, the -s (singleton) flag controls whether the query matches individual items or full albums. If you want to retag your whole library, just supply a null query, which matches everything: beet import -L

Note that, if you just want to update your files’ tags according to changes in the MusicBrainz database, the MBSync Plugin is a better choice. Reimporting uses the full matching machinery to guess metadata matches; mbsync just relies on MusicBrainz IDs.


beet list [-apf] QUERY

Queries the database for music.

Want to search for “Gronlandic Edit” by of Montreal? Try beet list gronlandic. Maybe you want to see everything released in 2009 with “vegetables” in the title? Try beet list year:2009 title:vegetables. You can also specify the sort order. (Read more in Queries.)

You can use the -a switch to search for albums instead of individual items. In this case, the queries you use are restricted to album-level fields: for example, you can search for year:1969 but query parts for item-level fields like title:foo will be ignored. Remember that artist is an item-level field; albumartist is the corresponding album field.

The -p option makes beets print out filenames of matched items, which might be useful for piping into other Unix commands (such as xargs). Similarly, the -f option lets you specify a specific format with which to print every album or track. This uses the same template syntax as beets’ path formats. For example, the command beet ls -af '$album: $albumtotal' beatles prints out the number of tracks on each Beatles album. In Unix shells, remember to enclose the template argument in single quotes to avoid environment variable expansion.


beet remove [-adf] QUERY

Remove music from your library.

This command uses the same query syntax as the list command. By default, it just removes entries from the library database; it doesn’t touch the files on disk. To actually delete the files, use the -d flag. When the -a flag is given, the command operates on albums instead of individual tracks.

When you run the remove command, it prints a list of all affected items in the library and asks for your permission before removing them. You can then choose to abort (type n), confirm (y), or interactively choose some of the items (s). In the latter case, the command will prompt you for every matching item or album and invite you to type y to remove the item/album, n to keep it or q to exit and only remove the items/albums selected up to this point. This option lets you choose precisely which tracks/albums to remove without spending too much time to carefully craft a query. If you do not want to be prompted at all, use the -f option.


beet modify [-IMWay] [-f FORMAT] QUERY [FIELD=VALUE...] [FIELD!...]

Change the metadata for items or albums in the database.

Supply a query matching the things you want to change and a series of field=value pairs. For example, beet modify genius of love artist="Tom Tom Club" will change the artist for the track “Genius of Love.” To remove fields (which is only possible for flexible attributes), follow a field name with an exclamation point: field!.

Values can also be templates, using the same syntax as path formats. For example, beet modify artist='$artist_sort' will copy the artist sort name into the artist field for all your tracks, and beet modify title='$track $title' will add track numbers to their title metadata.

The -a option changes to querying album fields instead of track fields and also enables to operate on albums in addition to the individual tracks. Without this flag, the command will only change track-level data, even if all the tracks belong to the same album. If you want to change an album-level field, such as year or albumartist, you’ll want to use the -a flag to avoid a confusing situation where the data for individual tracks conflicts with the data for the whole album.

Modifications issued using -a by default cascade to individual tracks. To prevent this behavior, use -I/--noinherit.

Items will automatically be moved around when necessary if they’re in your library directory, but you can disable that with -M. Tags will be written to the files according to the settings you have for imports, but these can be overridden with -w (write tags, the default) and -W (don’t write tags).

When you run the modify command, it prints a list of all affected items in the library and asks for your permission before making any changes. You can then choose to abort the change (type n), confirm (y), or interactively choose some of the items (s). In the latter case, the command will prompt you for every matching item or album and invite you to type y to apply the changes, n to discard them or q to exit and apply the selected changes. This option lets you choose precisely which data to change without spending too much time to carefully craft a query. To skip the prompts entirely, use the -y option.


beet move [-capt] [-d DIR] QUERY

Move or copy items in your library.

This command, by default, acts as a library consolidator: items matching the query are renamed into your library directory structure. By specifying a destination directory with -d manually, you can move items matching a query anywhere in your filesystem. The -c option copies files instead of moving them. As with other commands, the -a option matches albums instead of items. The -e flag (for “export”) copies files without changing the database.

To perform a “dry run”, just use the -p (for “pretend”) flag. This will show you a list of files that would be moved but won’t actually change anything on disk. The -t option sets the timid mode which will ask again before really moving or copying the files.


beet update [-F] FIELD [-e] EXCLUDE_FIELD [-aM] QUERY

Update the library (and, by default, move files) to reflect out-of-band metadata changes and file deletions.

This will scan all the matched files and read their tags, populating the database with the new values. By default, files will be renamed according to their new metadata; disable this with -M. Beets will skip files if their modification times have not changed, so any out-of-band metadata changes must also update these for beet update to recognise that the files have been edited.

To perform a “dry run” of an update, just use the -p (for “pretend”) flag. This will show you all the proposed changes but won’t actually change anything on disk.

By default, all the changed metadata will be populated back to the database. If you only want certain fields to be written, specify them with the `-F` flags (which can be used multiple times). Alternatively, specify fields to not write with `-e` flags (which can be used multiple times). For the list of supported fields, please see `beet fields`.

When an updated track is part of an album, the album-level fields of all tracks from the album are also updated. (Specifically, the command copies album-level data from the first track on the album and applies it to the rest of the tracks.) This means that, if album-level fields aren’t identical within an album, some changes shown by the update command may be overridden by data from other tracks on the same album. This means that running the update command multiple times may show the same changes being applied.


beet write [-pf] [QUERY]

Write metadata from the database into files’ tags.

When you make changes to the metadata stored in beets’ library database (during import or with the modify command, for example), you often have the option of storing changes only in the database, leaving your files untouched. The write command lets you later change your mind and write the contents of the database into the files. By default, this writes the changes only if there is a difference between the database and the tags in the file.

You can think of this command as the opposite of update.

The -p option previews metadata changes without actually applying them.

The -f option forces a write to the file, even if the file tags match the database. This is useful for making sure that enabled plugins that run on write (e.g., the Scrub and Zero plugins) are run on the file.


beet stats [-e] [QUERY]

Show some statistics on your entire library (if you don’t provide a query) or the matched items (if you do).

By default, the command calculates file sizes using their bitrate and duration. The -e (--exact) option reads the exact sizes of each file (but is slower). The exact mode also outputs the exact duration in seconds.


beet fields

Show the item and album metadata fields available for use in Queries and Path Formats. The listing includes any template fields provided by plugins and any flexible attributes you’ve manually assigned to your items and albums.


beet config [-pdc]
beet config -e

Show or edit the user configuration. This command does one of three things:

  • With no options, print a YAML representation of the current user configuration. With the --default option, beets’ default options are also included in the dump.

  • The --path option instead shows the path to your configuration file. This can be combined with the --default flag to show where beets keeps its internal defaults.

  • By default, sensitive information like passwords is removed when dumping the configuration. The --clear option includes this sensitive data.

  • With the --edit option, beets attempts to open your config file for editing. It first tries the $EDITOR environment variable, followed by $EDITOR and then a fallback option depending on your platform: open on OS X, xdg-open on Unix, and direct invocation on Windows.

Global Flags#

Beets has a few “global” flags that affect all commands. These must appear between the executable name (beet) and the command—for example, beet -v import ....

  • -l LIBPATH: specify the library database file to use.

  • -d DIRECTORY: specify the library root directory.

  • -v: verbose mode; prints out a deluge of debugging information. Please use this flag when reporting bugs. You can use it twice, as in -vv, to make beets even more verbose.

  • -c FILE: read a specified YAML configuration file. This configuration works as an overlay: rather than replacing your normal configuration options entirely, the two are merged. Any individual options set in this config file will override the corresponding settings in your base configuration.

  • -p plugins: specify a comma-separated list of plugins to enable. If specified, the plugin list in your configuration is ignored. The long form of this argument also allows specifying no plugins, effectively disabling all plugins: --plugins=.

  • -P plugins: specify a comma-separated list of plugins to disable in a specific beets run. This will overwrite -p if used with it. To disable all plugins, use --plugins= instead.

Beets also uses the BEETSDIR environment variable to look for configuration and data.

Shell Completion#

Beets includes support for shell command completion. The command beet completion prints out a bash 3.2 script; to enable completion put a line like this into your .bashrc or similar file:

eval "$(beet completion)"

Or, to avoid slowing down your shell startup time, you can pipe the beet completion output to a file and source that instead.

You will also need to source the bash-completion script, which is probably available via your package manager. On OS X, you can install it via Homebrew with brew install bash-completion; Homebrew will give you instructions for sourcing the script.

The completion script suggests names of subcommands and (after typing -) options of the given command. If you are using a command that accepts a query, the script will also complete field names.

beet list ar[TAB]
# artist:  artist_credit:  artist_sort:  artpath:
beet list artp[TAB]
beet list artpath\:

(Don’t worry about the slash in front of the colon: this is a escape sequence for the shell and won’t be seen by beets.)

Completion of plugin commands only works for those plugins that were enabled when running beet completion. If you add a plugin later on you will want to re-generate the script.


If you use zsh, take a look at the included completion script. The script should be placed in a directory that is part of your fpath, and not sourced in your .zshrc. Running echo $fpath will give you a list of valid directories.

Another approach is to use zsh’s bash completion compatibility. This snippet defines some bash-specific functions to make this work without errors:

autoload bashcompinit
_get_comp_words_by_ref() { :; }
compopt() { :; }
_filedir() { :; }
eval "$(beet completion)"