Applicative option parser
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Applicative option parser

This package contains utilities and combinators to define command line option parsers.

Continuous Integration status

Getting started

Here is a simple example of an applicative option parser:

data Sample = Sample
  { hello :: String
  , quiet :: Bool }

sample :: Parser Sample
sample = Sample
     <$> strOption
         ( long "hello"
         & metavar "TARGET"
         & help "Target for the greeting" )
     <*> switch
         ( long "quiet"
         & help "Whether to be quiet" )

The parser is built using applicative style starting from a set of basic combinators. In this example, hello is defined as an option with a String argument, while quiet is a boolean flag (called switch).

A parser can be used like this:

greet :: Sample -> IO ()
greet (Sample h False) = putStrLn $ "Hello, " ++ h
greet _ = return ()

main :: IO ()
main = execParser opts >>= greet
    opts = info (helper <*> sample)
      ( fullDesc
      & progDesc "Print a greeting for TARGET"
      & header "hello - a test for optparse-applicative" )

The greet function is the entry point of the program, while opts is a complete description of the program, used when generating a help text. The helper combinator takes any parser, and adds a help option to it (which always fails).

The hello option in this example is mandatory (since it doesn't have a default value), so running the program without any argument will display the help text:

hello - a test for optparse-applicative

Usage: hello --hello TARGET [--quiet]
  Print a greeting for TARGET

Available options:
  -h,--help                Show this help text
  --hello TARGET           Target for the greeting
  --quiet                  Whether to be quiet

containing a short usage summary, and a detailed list of options with descriptions.

Supported options

optparse-applicative supports four kinds of options: regular options, flags, arguments and commands.

Regular options

A regular option is an option which takes a single argument, parses it, and returns a value.

A regular option can have a default value, which is used as the result if the option is not found in the command line. An option without a default value is considered mandatory, and produces an error when not found.

Regular options can have long names, or short (one-character) names, which determine when the option matches and how the argument is extracted.

An option with a long name (say "output") is specified on the command line as

--output filename.txt



while a short name option (say "o") can be specified with

-o filename.txt



Options can have more than one name, usually one long and one short, although you are free to create options with an arbitrary combination of long and short names.

Regular options returning strings are the most common, and they can be created using the strOption builder. For example,

( long "output"
& short 'o'
& metavar "FILE"
& help "Write output to FILE" )

creates a regular option with a string argument (which can be referred to as FILE in the help text and documentation), a long name "option" and a short name "o". See below for more information on the builder syntax and modifiers.

A regular option can return an object of any type, provided you specify a reader for it. A common reader is auto, used by the option builder, which assumes a Read instance for the return type and uses it to parse its argument. For example:

lineCount :: Parser Int
lineCount = option
            ( long "lines"
            & short 'n'
            & metavar "K"
            & help "Output the last K lines" )

specifies a regular option with an Int argument. We added an explicit type annotation here, since without it the parser would have been polymorphic in the output type. There's usually no need to add type annotations, however, because the type will be normally inferred from the context in which the parser is used.

You can also create a custom reader without using the Read typeclass, and set it as the reader for an option using the reader modifier and the nullOption builder:

data FluxCapacitor = ...

parseFluxCapacitor :: String -> Maybe FluxCapacitor

( long "flux-capacitor"
& reader parseFluxCapacitor )


A flag is just like a regular option, but it doesn't take any arguments: it is either present in the command line or not.

A flag has a default value and an active value. If the flag is found on the command line, the active value is returned, otherwise the default value is used. For example:

data Verbosity = Normal | Verbose

flag Normal Verbose
( long "verbose"
& short 'v'
& help "Enable verbose mode"

is a flag parser returning a Verbosity value.

Simple boolean flags can be specified using the switch builder, like so:

( long "keep-tmp-files"
& help "Retain all intermediate temporary files" )


An argument parser specifies a positional command line argument.

The argument builder takes a reader parameter, and creates a parser which will return the parsed value every time it is passed a command line argument for which the reader succeeds. For example

argument str ( metavar "FILE" )

creates an argument accepting any string.

Arguments are only displayed in the brief help text, so there's no need to attach a description to them. They should be manually documented in the program description.


A command can be used to specify a sub-parser to be used when a certain string is encountered in the command line.

Commands are useful to implement command line programs with multiple functions, each with its own set of options, and possibly some global options that apply to all of them. Typical examples are version control systems like git, or build tools like cabal.

A command can be created using the subparser builder, and commands can be added with the command modifier. For example

( command "add" (info addOptions
    ( progDesc "Add a file to the repository" ))
& command "commit" (info commitOptions
    ( progDesc "Record changes to the repository" ))

Each command takes a full ParserInfo structure, which will be used to extract a description for this command when generating a help text.

Note that all the parsers appearing in a command need to have the same type. For this reason, it is often best to use a sum type which has the same structure as the command itself. For example, for the parser above, you would define a type like:

data Options = Options
  { optGlobalOpt :: String
  , optGlobalFlag :: Bool
  , optCommand :: Command }

data Command
  = Add AddOptions
  | Commit CommitOptions

Alternatively, you can directly return an IO action from a parser, and execute it using join from Control.Monad.

start :: String -> IO ()
stop :: IO ()

opts :: Parser (IO ())
opts = subparser
  ( command "start" (info (start <$> argument str idm) idm)
  & command "stop"  (info (pure stop) idm) )

main :: IO ()
main = join $ execParser (info opts idm)

Option builders

Builders allow you to define parsers using a convenient combinator-based syntax. Each builder takes a modifier as parameter, and returns a parser.

A modifier is a composition of functions which act on the option, setting values for properties or adding features, and is used to build the option from scratch and finally lift it to a single-option parser, which can then be combined with other parsers using normal Applicative combinators.

Modifiers are instances of the Monoid typeclass, so they can be combined using the composition function mappend, for which the Options.Applicative.Builders module provides a convenience alias (&).

Feel free to use mappend or (<>), if you prefer. (&) is mostly there for backwards compatibility with the previous implementation.

See the haddock documentation for Options.Applicative.Builder for a full list of builders and modifiers.

Arrow interface

It is also possible to use the Arrow syntax to combine basic parsers.

This can be particularly useful when the structure holding parse results is deeply nested, or when the order of fields differs from the order in which the parsers should be applied.

Using functions from the Options.Applicative.Arrows module, one can write, for example:

data Options = Options
  { optArgs :: [String]
  , optVerbose :: Bool }

opts :: Parser Options
opts = runA $ proc () -> do
  verbosity <- asA (option (short 'v' & value 0)) -< ()
  let verbose = verbosity > 0
  args <- asA (arguments str idm) -< ()
  returnA -< Options args verbose

where parsers are converted to arrows using asA, and the resulting composed arrow is converted back to a Parser with runA.

See tests/Examples/Cabal.hs for a slightly more elaborate example using the arrow syntax for defining parsers.

How it works

A Parser a is essentially a heterogeneous list of Options, implemented with existential types.

All options are therefore known statically (i.e. before parsing, not necessarily before runtime), and can, for example, be traversed to generate a help text.

See this blog post for a more detailed explanation based on a simplified implementation.