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.

Optional command flags:

  • By default, the command copies files your the library directory and updates the ID3 tags on your music. 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.
  • 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 pessimistically skips the album. The quiet mode also disables the tagger’s ability to resume interrupted imports.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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. (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: $tracktotal' 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 [-ad] QUERY

Remove music from your library.

This command uses the same query syntax as the list command. You’ll be shown a list of the files that will be removed and asked to confirm. By default, this just removes entries from the library database; it doesn’t touch the files on disk. To actually delete the files, use beet remove -d.


beet modify [-MWay] 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!.

The -a switch operates on albums instead of individual tracks. 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). Finally, this command politely asks for your permission before making any changes, but you can skip that prompt with the -y switch.


beet move [-ca] [-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.


beet update [-aM] QUERY

Update the library (and, optionally, 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.

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.

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).

The -e (--exact) option makes the calculation of total file size more accurate but slower.


beet fields

Show the item and album metadata fields available for use in Queries and Path Formats. Includes any template fields provided by plugins.


beet config [-pd]
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.
  • With the --edit option, beets attempts to open your config file for editing. It first tries the $EDITOR environment variable 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.
  • -c FILE: read a specified YAML configuration file.

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 instead at the included completion script.