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Artificery is a toolkit for generating command line applications. It handles argument parsing, validation/transformation, generating help, and provides an easy way to define commands, their arguments, and options.


Just add Artificery to your deps:

defp deps do
    # You can get the latest version information via `mix artificery`
    {:artificery, "~> x.x"}

Then run mix deps.get and you are ready to get started!

Defining a CLI

Let's assume you have an application named :myapp, let's define a module, MyCliModule which will be the entry point for the command line interface:

defmodule MyCliModule do
  use Artificery

The above will setup the Artificery internals for your CLI, namely it defines an entry point for the command line, argument parsing, and imports the macros for defining commands, options, and arguments.


Let's add a simple "hello" command, which will greet the caller:

defmodule MyCliModule do
  use Artificery

  command :hello, "Says hello" do
    argument :name, :string, "The name of the person to greet", required: true

We've introduced two of the macros Aritificery imports: command, for defining top-level and nested commands; and argument for defining positional arguments for the current command. Note: argument can only be used inside of command, as it applies to the current command being defined, and has no meaning globally.

This command could be invoked (via escript) like so: ./myapp hello bitwalker. Right now this will print an error stating that the command is defined, but no matching implementation was exported. We define that like so:

def hello(_argv, %{name: name}) do
  Artificery.Console.notice "Hello #{name}!"

Note: Command handlers are expected to have an arity of 2, where the first argument is a list of unhandled arguments/options passed on the command line, and the second is a map containing all of the formally defined arguments/options.

This goes in the same module as the command definition, but you can use defdelegate to put the implementation elsewhere. The thing to note is that the function needs to be named the same as the command. You can change this however using an extra parameter to command, like so:

command :hello, [callback: :say_hello], "Says hello" do
  argument :name, :string, "The name of the person to greet", required: true

The above will invoke say_hello/2 rather than hello/2.

Command Flags

There are two command flags you can set currently to alter some of Artificery's behaviour: callback: atom and hidden: boolean. The former will change the callback function invoked when dispatching a command, as shown above, and the latter, when true, will hide the command from display in the help output. You may also apply :hidden to options (but not arguments).


Let's add a --greeting=string option to the hello command:

command :hello, "Says hello" do
  argument :name, :string, "The name of the person to greet", required: true
  option :greeting, :string, "Sets a different greeting than \"Hello <name>\!""

And adjust our implementation:

def hello(_argv, %{name: name} = opts) do
  greeting = Map.get(opts, :greeting, "Hello")
  greet(greeting, name)
defp greet(greeting, name), do: Artificery.Console.notice("#{greeting} #{name}!")

And we're done!


When you have more complex command line interfaces, it is common to divide up "topics" or top-level commands into subcommands, you see this in things like Heroku's CLI, e.g. heroku keys:add. Artificery supports this by allowing you to nest command within another command. Artificery is smart about how it parses arguments, so you can have options/arguments at the top-level as well as in subcommands, e.g. ./myapp info --format=json processes. The options map received by the processes command will contain all of the options for commands above it.

defmodule MyCliModule do
  use Artificery

  command :info, "Get info about :myapp" do
    option :format, :string, "Sets the output format"

    command :processes, "Prints information about processes running in :myapp"

Note: As you may have noticed above, the processes command doesn't have a do block, because it doesn't define any arguments or options, this form is supported for convenience.

Global Options

You may define global options which apply to all commands by defining them outside command:

defmodule MyCliModule do
  use Artificery

  option :debug, :boolean, "When set, produces debugging output"


Now all commands defined in this module will receive debug: true | false in their options map, and can act accordingly.

Reusing Options

You can define reusable options via defoption/3 or defoption/4. These are effectively the same as option/3 and option/4, except they do not define an option in any context, they are defined abstractly and intended to be used via option/1 or option/2, as shown below:

defoption :host, :string, "The hostname of the server to connect to",
  alias: :h

command :ping, "Pings the host to verify connectivity" do
  # With no overridden flags
  # option :host

  # With overrides
  option :host, help: "The host to ping", default: "localhost"

command :query, "Queries the host" do
  # Can be shared across commands, even used globally
  option :host, required: true
  argument :query, :string, required: true

Option/Argument Transforms

You can provide transforms for options or arguments to convert them to the data types your commands desire as part of the option definition, like so:

# Options
option :ip, :string, "The IP address of the host to connect to",
  transform: fn raw ->
    case :inet.parse_address(String.to_charlist(raw)) do
      {:ok, ip} ->
      {:error, reason} ->
        raise "invalid value for --ip, got: #{raw}, error: #{inspect reason}"

# Arguments
argument :ip, :string, "The IP address of the host to connect to",
  transform: ...

Now the command (and any subcommands) where this option is defined will get a parsed IP address, rather than a raw string, allowing you to do the conversion in one place, rather than in each command handler.

Currently this macro supports functions in anonymous form (like in the example above), or one of the following forms:

# Function capture, must have arity 1
transform: &String.to_atom/1

# Local function as an atom, must have arity 1
transform: :to_ip_address

# Module/function/args tuple, where the raw value is passed as the first argument
# This form is invoked via `apply/3`
transform: {String, :to_char_list, []}

Pre-Dispatch Handling

For those cases where you need to perform some action before command handlers are invoked, perhaps to apply global behaviour to all commands, start applications, or whatever else you may need, Artificery provides a hook for that, pre_dispatch/3.

This is actually a callback defined as part of the Artificery behaviour, but is given a default implementation. You can override this implementation though to provide your own pre-dispatch step.

The default implementation is basically the following:

def pre_dispatch(%Artificery.Command{}, _argv, %{} = options) do
  {:ok, options}

You can either return {:ok, options} or raise an error, there are no other choices permitted. This allows you to extend or filter options, handle additional arguments in argv, or take action based on the current command.

Writing Output / Logging

Artificery provides a Console module which contains a number of functions for logging or writing output to standard out/standard error. A list of basic functions it provides is below:

  • configure/1, takes a list of options which configures the logger, currently the only option is :verbosity
  • debug/1, writes a debug message to stderr (colored cyan if terminal supports color)
  • info/1, writes an info message to stdout (no color)
  • notice/1, writes an informational notice to stdout (bright blue)
  • success/1, writes a success message to stdout (bright green)
  • warn/1, writes a warning to stderr (yellow)
  • error/1, writes an error to stderr (red), and also halts/terminates the process with a non-zero exit code

In addition to writing messages to the terminal, Console also provides a way to provide a spinner/loading animation while some long-running work is being performed, also supporting the ability to update the message with progress information.

The following example shows a trivial example of progress, by simply reading from a file in a loop, updating the status of the spinner while it reads. There are obviously cleaner ways of writing this, but hopefully it is clear what the capabilities are.

def load_data(_argv, %{path: path}) do
  alias Artificery.Console

  unless File.exists?(path) do
    Console.error "No such file: #{path}"

  # A state machine defined as a recursive anonymous function
  # Each state updates the spinner status and is reflected in the console
  loader = fn
    :opening, _size, _bytes_read, _file, loader ->
      Console.update_spinner("opening #{path}")
      %{size: size} = File.stat!(path)
      loader.(:reading, size, 0,!(path), loader)

    :reading, size, bytes_read, file, loader ->
      progress = Float.round((size / bytes_read) * 100)
      case do
        :eof ->
          loader.(:done, size, bytes_read, file, loader)

        {:error, _reason} = err ->
          Console.update_spinner("read error!")

        new_data ->
          loader.(:reading, size, byte_size(new_data), file, loader)

    :done, size, bytes_read, file, loader ->
      Console.update_spinner("done! (total bytes read #{bytes_read})")

  results =
    Console.spinner "Loading data.." do
      loader.(:opening, 0, 0, nil, loader)

  case results do
    {:error, reason} ->
      Console.error "Failed to load data from #{path}: #{inspect reason}"

    :ok ->
      Console.success "Load complete!"

Handling Input

Artificery exposes some functions for working with interactive user sessions:

  • yes?/1, asks the user a question and expects a yes/no response, returns a boolean
  • ask/2, queries the user for information they need to provide


Let's shoot for a slightly more amped up hello command:

def hello(_argv, _opts) do
  name = Console.ask "What is your name?", validator: &is_valid_name/1
  Console.success "Hello #{name}!"

defp is_valid_name(name) when byte_size(name) > 1, do: :ok
defp is_valid_name(_), do: {:error, "You must tell me your name or I can't greet you!"}

The above will accept any name more than one character in length, obviously not super robust, but the general idea is shown here.

The ask function also supports transforming responses, and providing defaults in the case where you want to accept blank answers.

Check the docs for more information!

Producing An Escript

To use your newly created CLI as an escript, simply add the following to your mix.exs:

defp project do
    escript: escript()


defp escript do
  [main_module: MyCliModule]

The main_module to use is the module in which you added use Artificery, i.e. the module in which you defined the commands your application exposes.

Finally, run mix to generate the escript executable. You can then run ./yourapp help to test it out.

Using In Releases

If you want to define the CLI as part of a larger application, and consume it via custom commands in Distillery, it is very straightforward to do. You'll need to define a custom command and add it to your release configuration:

# rel/config.exs

release :myapp do
  set commands: [
    mycli: "rel/commands/"

Then in rel/commands/ add the following:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

elixir -e "MyCliModule.main" -- "$@"

Since the code for your application will already be on the path in a release, we simply need to invoke the CLI module and pass in arguments. We add -- between the elixir arguments and those provided from the command line to ensure that they are not treated like arguments to our CLI. Artificery handles this, so you simply need to ensure that you add -- when invoking via elixir like this.

You can then invoke your CLI via the custom command, for example, bin/myapp mycli help to print the help text.


  • [ ] Support validators

I'm open to suggestions, just open an issue titled RFC: <feature you are requesting>.


Copyright (c) 2018 Paul Schoenfelder

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use this file except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.