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big honkin' extensible command-line application library

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Octocat-spinner-32 lib
Octocat-spinner-32 spec
Octocat-spinner-32 .gitignore initial commit June 28, 2012
Octocat-spinner-32 Gemfile initial commit June 28, 2012
Octocat-spinner-32 LICENSE
Octocat-spinner-32 cleanup readme June 28, 2012
Octocat-spinner-32 Rakefile initial commit June 28, 2012
Octocat-spinner-32 mothership.gemspec


This gem is for defining a big honkin' extensible command-line application.

It's similar to Thor, but instead of focusing on having multiple composable command sets, there's simply a global command set that can be trivially extended while keeping the extensions isolated.

Commands are defined in subclasses of Mothership. Because commands are isolated into their own classes, helper methods and constants can be safely defined in it without risking a name collision with other extensions.

All inputs for a command are defined declaratively. They all have a name, which is used for the flag name, and a few options that I'll go over later.

In a more 'functional' style, commands take all of their inputs as a single argument, rather than having the inputs embedded in a stateful object. This makes it easier for one command to invoke another with a given set of inputs, without risking any sort of collision based on their input names.

For example, to define a 'insult' command which insults the user, with an optional censoring flag:

class Insults < Mothership
  desc "Insults the user."
  input :censor, :type => :boolean, :alias => "-c"
  def insult
    puts "Hey man, #{curse_word(input[:censor])} you."


  def curse_word(censor = false)
    if censor

When the 'insult' command is defined, it is added to the Mothership. When the user invokes myapp insult, the Insults class is instantiated, the inputs are parsed, and the insult method is called with the user's inputs as a hash-like object.

A default value may be provided for an input by calling it with a block that gets called when the value is needed but not provided by the user:

input(:name) { ask("What's your name?") }

The block is called on the instance of the object, the first time you try to do input[:foo]. To pass values to the block, do input[:foo, arg1, ...].

The returned value is cached, so you can just use input[:name] to access the value, and it will only ask the first time. For example:

desc "Delete something."
input(:name) { ask("Delete what?") }
input(:really) { |name| ask("Really delete #{name}?") }
def delete(input)
  return unless input[:really, input[:name]]

  puts "BAM, #{input[:name]} is gone forever."

# => myapp delete
#    Delete what?> foo
#    Really delete foo?> y
#    BAM, foo is gone forever.

An input can be accepted as an argument or splat-argument form by passing :argument => true or :argument => :splat:

desc "Deleting something with the given reasons, if any."
input :name, :argument => true
input :reasons, :argument => :splat, :alias => "--reason"
def delete(input)
  puts "Deleting #{input[:name]} because: #{input[:reasons].join ", "}"

This will accept the following equivalent forms:

delete foo bar baz
delete --name foo bar baz
delete --name foo --reasons bar,baz
delete --name foo --reason bar,baz
delete bar baz --name foo
delete foo --reasons bar,baz
delete foo --reason bar,baz

Note that that "--reason" alias accepts the more natural "--reason foo" for when there is only a single reason. Also note that flags are parsed before arguments, so it doesn't matter if they're tacked on to the end or if they appear before the others.

Because both flags and arguments are defined with the same mechanic, the usage string for a command can be auto-generated based on its input metadata, rather than being hardcoded and possibly becoming inaccurate if a plugin changes the input structure. For example, a command 'foo' with an optional argument :bar and a splat argument :bazes will have a usage string of foo BAR BAZES....

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