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ff reference Latest Release Build Status

ff stands for flags-first, and provides an opinionated way to populate a flag.FlagSet with configuration data from the environment. By default, it parses only from the command line, but you can enable parsing from environment variables (lower priority) and/or a configuration file (lowest priority).

Building a commandline application in the style of kubectl or docker? Consider package ffcli, a natural companion to, and extension of, package ff.


Define a flag.FlagSet in your func main.

import (


func main() {
	fs := flag.NewFlagSet("my-program", flag.ContinueOnError)
	var (
		listenAddr = fs.String("listen-addr", "localhost:8080", "listen address")
		refresh    = fs.Duration("refresh", 15*time.Second, "refresh interval")
		debug      = fs.Bool("debug", false, "log debug information")
		_          = fs.String("config", "", "config file (optional)")

Then, call ff.Parse instead of fs.Parse. Options are available to control parse behavior.

	err := ff.Parse(fs, os.Args[1:],

This example will parse flags from the commandline args, just like regular package flag, with the highest priority. (The flag's default value will be used only if the flag remains unset after parsing all provided sources of configuration.)

Additionally, the example will look in the environment for variables with a MY_PROGRAM prefix. Flag names are capitalized, and separator characters are converted to underscores. In this case, for example, MY_PROGRAM_LISTEN_ADDR would match to listen-addr.

Finally, if a -config file is specified, the example will try to parse it using the PlainParser, which expects files in this format.

listen-addr localhost:8080
refresh 30s
debug true

You could also use the JSONParser, which expects a JSON object.

	"listen-addr": "localhost:8080",
	"refresh": "30s",
	"debug": true

Or, you could write your own config file parser.

// ConfigFileParser interprets the config file represented by the reader
// and calls the set function for each parsed flag pair.
type ConfigFileParser func(r io.Reader, set func(name, value string) error) error

Flags and env vars

One common use case is to allow configuration from both flags and env vars.

package main

import (


func main() {
	fs := flag.NewFlagSet("myservice", flag.ContinueOnError)
	var (
		port  = fs.Int("port", 8080, "listen port for server (also via PORT)")
		debug = fs.Bool("debug", false, "log debug information (also via DEBUG)")
	if err := ff.Parse(fs, os.Args[1:], ff.WithEnvVars()); err != nil {
		fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "error: %v\n", err)

	fmt.Printf("port %d, debug %v\n", *port, *debug)
$ env PORT=9090 myservice
port 9090, debug false
$ env PORT=9090 DEBUG=1 myservice -port=1234
port 1234, debug true

Error handling

In general, you should call flag.NewFlagSet with the flag.ContinueOnError error handling strategy, which, somewhat confusingly, is the only way that ff.Parse can return errors. (The other strategies terminate the program on error. Rude!) This is the only way to detect certain types of parse failures, in addition to being good practice in general.