Choices: Command Line Parsers

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Like everything in Haskell, parsing command line arguments comes with its own marketplace.

> {-# LANGUAGE DeriveDataTypeable #-}
> 
> module Main where
> import Prelude hiding (lines)
> import Options.Applicative
> import System.Environment (getArgs)
> import qualified System.Console.CmdArgs as C
> 
> main = error "choose a main<name> to test with"

getArgs

There is no need to pull in extra packages if all you want is to parse is one or two options (and you’re pretty sure it won’t grow over time). The function getArgs :: IO [String] parses a list of strings from the command line (not including the program name).

> mainGetArgs = getArgs >>= mapM_ putStrLn
$ ghc --make -o test cmd.lhs
$ ./test hello there "one two" 12 3
hello
there
one two
12
3

With getArgs, not only do you have to design the structure of arguments but you also parse them manually into appropriate types.

cmdargs

You will quickly run out of patience with getArgs when you need any amount of flexibility. The package I’ve most used so far for parsing needs is cmdargs. It makes it quite easy to construct complex interfaces requiring

  1. parsing multiple types
  2. optional and required flags
  3. free arguments
  4. multiple modes like git clone, git commit, git …

The standard procedure with cmdargs is to start with algebraic data types, derive Data and Typeable instances, and begin annotating the fields. I mainly want to explore the next package so I’ll pull the example for cmdargs from hackage:

> data Sample = Sample {hello :: String} deriving (Show, C.Data, C.Typeable)
> sample = Sample {hello = C.def C.&= C.help "World argument" C.&= C.opt "world"}
>          C.&= C.summary "Sample v1"
> mainCmdArgs = print =<< C.cmdArgs sample

Running --help gives

$ ./cmd --help
Sample v1

sample [OPTIONS]

Common flags:
  -h --hello[=ITEM]  World argument
  -? --help          Display help message
  -V --version       Print version information

optparse-applicative

Recently, I discovered yet another package. Unlike cmdargs, optparse-applicative provides an applicative interface to constructing a command-line interface. I have to say that constructing complex parsers with multiple modes, flags, and other settings is simpler in this package. These can also be achieved by using the System.Console.CmdArgs.Explicit in cmdargs but at the cost of sacrificing readability and composability.

Let’s consider a tiny version of modal git commands clone and commit. Here are the data types you might setup for these.

> data Clone = Clone
>     {
>       bare :: Bool
>     , depth :: Int
>     } deriving (Show)
> 
> data Commit = Commit
>     {
>       dry_run :: Bool
>     , author :: String
>     } deriving (Show)
> 
> data Commands = Commands
>     {
>       clone  :: Clone
>     , commit :: Commit
>     } deriving (Show)

The corresponding parsers are constructed as follows.

> mainOptParse = execParser p_all >>= print
> 
> p_all :: ParserInfo Commands
> p_all = info (helper <*> prsr) mod
>     where prsr = Commands
>              -- create clone and commit as subparsers
>              <$> subparser (command "clone" p_clone)
>              <*> subparser (command "commit" p_commit)
>           mod = fullDesc <> footer "footer"
> 
> p_commit :: ParserInfo Commit
> p_commit = flip info mod . (helper <*>) $ Commit
>     <$> flag False True
>         (  short 'd'
>         <> long "dry-run"
>         <> help "dry run"
>         )
>     <*> strOption
>         (  short 'a'
>         <> long "author"
>         <> help "override author for commit"
>         <> metavar "<author>"
>         )
>     where mod = fullDesc
>              <> footer "commit footer"
> 
> p_clone :: ParserInfo Clone
> p_clone = flip info mod . (helper <*>) $ Clone
>     <$> flag False True
>         (  short 'b'
>         <> long "bare"
>         <> help "create a bare repository"
>         )
>     <*> option
>         (  short 'd'
>         <> long "depth"
>         <> help "create a shallow clone at that depth"
>         <> metavar "<depth>"
>         )
>     where mod = fullDesc
>              <> footer "clone footer"

How does the output look like?

$ ./cmd -h
Usage: cmd COMMAND COMMAND

Available options:
  -h,--help                Show this help text

Available commands:
  clone                      commit

footer

$ ./cmd clone
Usage: cmd clone [-b|--bare] (-d|--depth )

$ ./cmd clone --help
Usage: cmd clone [-b|--bare] (-d|--depth )

Available options:
  -h,--help                Show this help text
  -b,--bare                create a bare repository
  -d,--depth        create a shallow clone at that depth

clone footer

I think I may end up switching to optparse-applicative from now on. It’s true to Haskell and I also like the fact that you do not need to have Data and Typeable instances for the data types holding the arguments.

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3 Responses to Choices: Command Line Parsers

  1. Thank you, it’s very useful!

  2. G Philip says:

    With the current version of the library (I am not sure about previous versions), one needs to say:
    > …
    > option auto
    > ( short ‘d’
    > …

    for the program to compile. Note the added “auto”.

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