CLI Guidelines – A guide to help you write better command-line programs

Last modified on December 05, 2020

An beginning up-supply guide to relieve you to write down better instruct-line functions, taking veteran UNIX ideas and updating them for the trendy day.


Aanand Prasad
Engineer at Squarespace, co-creator of Docker Fabricate.

Ben Firshman
Co-creator Replicate, co-creator of Docker Fabricate.

Carl Tashian
Developer Recommend at Smallstep, first engineer at Zipcar, co-founder Trove. @tashian

Eva Parish
Technical Creator at Squarespace, O’Reilly contributor. @evpari

Originate by Sign Hurrell. Which capability of Andreas Jansson for early contributions, and Andrew Reitz, Ashley Williams, Brendan Falk, Chester Ramey, Dj Walker-Morgan, Jacob Maine, James Coglan, Michael Dwan, and Steve Klabnik for reviewing drafts.

Join us on Discord should you care for to want to chat with regard to the guide or CLI get.


In the 1980s, should you needed a private laptop to manufacture one thing for you, you wished to perceive what to kind when confronted with C:> or ~$.
Support got here throughout the impression of thick, spiral-lumber manuals.
Error messages had been opaque.
There used to be no Stack Overflow to put you.
Nonetheless should you had been fortunate ample to belief web get entry to, that that you simply may presumably get relieve from Usenet—an early web group filled with different people that had been unbiased proper as pissed off as you had been.
They would perchance both relieve you to resolve your instruct, or on the least present some upright relieve and camaraderie.

Forty years later, laptop techniques belief develop into so noteworthy further accessible to every individual, usually on the expense of low-stage stop consumer regulate.
On many gadgets, there isn't a instruct-line get entry to in any respect, in portion as a result of it goes in opposition to the company pursuits of walled gardens and app shops.

Most different people currently don’t know what the instruct line is, noteworthy much less why they'd perchance are trying to find to drawback with it.
As computing pioneer Alan Kay said in a 2017 interview, “Attributable to individuals don’t perceive what computing is prepared, they assume they've it throughout the iPhone, and that illusion is as notorious as a result of the looks as if that ‘Guitar Hero’ is a comparable as a precise guitar.”

Kay’s “precise guitar” isn’t the CLI—not precisely.
He used to be speaking about choices of programming laptop techniques that provide the energy of the CLI and that transcend writing plot in textual content recordsdata.
There is a notion amongst Kay’s disciples that we should always get away of a text-primarily based mostly absolutely native maxima that we’ve been dwelling in for a number of years.

It’s thrilling to have a future the place we program laptop techniques very in any other case.
Even currently, spreadsheets are by far doubtlessly the most well liked programming language, and the no-code circulation is taking off speedy as a result of it makes an attempt to exchange simply a lot of the mistaken question for proficient programmers.

Yet with its creaky, a number of years-susceptible constraints and inexplicable quirks, the instruct line is aloof doubtlessly essentially the most versatile nook of the laptop.
It helps you to drag discount the curtain, detect what’s essentially occurring, and creatively belief interplay with the machine at a stage of sophistication and depth that GUIs can not present you with the money for.
It’s readily throughout the market on virtually any pocket book laptop, for anyone who desires to be taught it.
It may be extinct interactively, or it might be computerized.
And, it doesn’t alternate as speedy as different elements of the plot.
There is inventive worth in its steadiness.

So, whereas we aloof belief it, we should always are attempting and maximize its utility and accessibility.

A lot has modified about how we program laptop techniques since these early days.
The instruct line of the previous used to be machine-first: minute further than a REPL on prime of a scripting platform.
Nonetheless as sleek-honest interpreted languages belief flourished, the position of the shell script has lowered in dimension.
On the up to date time’s instruct line is human-first: a text-primarily based mostly absolutely UI that affords get entry to to all types of devices, techniques and platforms.
Previously, the editor used to be at some degree of the terminal—currently, the terminal is ok as usually a characteristic of the editor.
And there’s been a proliferation of git-take care of multi-instrument instructions.
Commands inside instructions, and high-stage instructions that get whole workflows aside from atomic capabilities.

Impressed by veteran UNIX philosophy, pushed by an curiosity in encouraging a further delectable and accessible CLI ambiance, and guided by our experiences as programmers, we determined it used to be time to revisit the best practices and get ideas for constructing instruct-line functions.

Prolonged dwell the instruct line!


This doc covers each high-stage get philosophy, and concrete pointers.
It’s heavier on the pointers as a result of our philosophy as practitioners is not to train too noteworthy.
We mediate in studying by occasion, so we’ve provided a whole lot of these.

This guide doesn’t disguise stout-cowl cowl terminal functions care for emacs and vim.
Elephantine-cowl cowl functions are area of interest initiatives—only a few of us will ever be throughout the intention to get one.

This guide is moreover agnostic about programming languages and tooling in smooth.

Who is that this guide for?

  • Whereas that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be making a CLI program and you'd very efficiently be trying to find to salvage ideas and concrete handiest practices for its UI get, this guide is for you.
  • Whereas that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be an actual “CLI UI clothier,” that’s out of the strange—we’d care for to be taught from you.
  • Whereas you’d expend to guide away from obtrusive missteps of the variety that toddle in opposition to 40 years of CLI get conventions, this guide is for you.
  • Whereas you care for to want to satisfaction different people alongside together with your program’s proper get and purposeful relieve, this guide is unquestionably for you.
  • Whereas that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be making a GUI program, this guide is not for you—though that that you simply may presumably be taught some GUI anti-patterns should you to make a name to learn it anyway.
  • Whereas that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be designing an immersive, stout-cowl cowl CLI port of Minecraft, this guide isn’t for you.
    (Nonetheless we are able to’t wait to stare it!)


These are what we concentrate on to be the elementary ideas of proper CLI get.

Human-first get

Traditionally, UNIX instructions had been written beneath the conception they'd been going to be extinct primarily by different functions.
They had further in smooth with capabilities in a programming language than with graphical functions.

On the up to date time, though many CLI functions are extinct primarily (and even fully) by different people, fairly only a few their interplay get aloof carries the luggage of the previous.
It’s time to shed only a few of this baggage: if a instruct goes to be extinct primarily by different people, it ought to be designed for parents first.

Straight ahead elements that work collectively

A core tenet of the long-established UNIX philosophy is the premise that miniature, uncomplicated functions with pleasing interfaces may be mixed to manufacture better techniques.
In desire to stuff an growing mannequin of aspects into these functions, you fabricate functions which can be modular ample to be recombined as wished.

In the inclined days, pipes and shell scripts carried out a major position throughout the process of composing functions collectively.
Their position may perchance nicely belief diminished with the upward thrust of sleek-honest interpreted languages, nevertheless they absolutely haven’t gone away.
What’s further, substantial-scale automation—throughout the impression of CI/CD, orchestration and configuration administration—has flourished.
Making functions composable is ok as vital as ever.

Happily, the long-established conventions of the UNIX ambiance, designed for this particular trustworthy, aloof relieve us currently.
Standard in/out/err, indicators, exit codes and different mechanisms be specific assorted functions click on on collectively efficiently.
Undeniable, line-primarily based mostly absolutely textual content is discreet to pipe between instructions.
JSON, a noteworthy further up to date invention, affords us further development as quickly as we'd like it, and lets us further with out instruct combine instruct-line devices with the procure.

Whatever plot you’re constructing, you may be absolutely sure that people will use it in choices you didn’t not sleep for.
Your plot will change proper right into a element in a better plot—your handiest completely different is over whether or not or not that can also be a successfully-behaved portion.

Most importantly, designing for composability would not want to be at odds with designing for parents first.
Worthy of the recommendation on this doc is prepared tips on how to attain each.

Consistency throughout functions

The terminal’s conventions are hardwired into our fingers.
We had to pay an upfront worth by studying about instruct line syntax, flags, ambiance variables and so forth, nevertheless it little doubt pays off in long-timeframe effectivity… as long as functions are fixed.

The place that you simply'd think about, a CLI ought to agree to patterns that exist already.
That’s what makes CLIs intuitive and guessable; that’s what makes customers environment friendly.

That being said, usually consistency conflicts with ease of use.
As an illustration, many long-established UNIX instructions don’t output noteworthy information by default, that may set off confusion or worry for of us much less accustomed to the instruct line.

When following conference would compromise a program’s usability, it might be time to spoil with it—nevertheless the type of name ought to be made with care.

Saying (unbiased proper) ample

The terminal is a world of pure information.
You may perchance fabricate an argument that information is the interface—and that, unbiased proper care for with any interface, there’s usually too noteworthy or too minute of it.

A instruct is asserting too minute when it hangs for varied minutes and the consumer begins to surprise if it’s broken.
A instruct is asserting too noteworthy when it dumps pages and pages of debugging output, drowning what’s essentially vital in an ocean of unfastened detritus.
The tip consequence is a comparable: a scarcity of readability, leaving the consumer puzzled and irritated.

It may be very difficult to get this steadiness upright, nevertheless it little doubt’s absolutely vital if plot is to empower and abet its customers.

Ease of discovery

In phrases of creating performance discoverable, GUIs belief the higher hand.
All the items you'd fabricate is specified by entrance of you on the cowl cowl, in order that you simply'd salvage what you want with out having to be taught the remainder, and presumably even scrutinize points you didn’t know had been that you simply'd think about.

It's miles believed that instruct-line interfaces are the alternative of this—that or not it's a ought to to endure in ideas tips on how to manufacture each half.
The long-established Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines, printed in 1987, indicate “Watch-and-level (in intention of endure in concepts-and-form),” as ought to that that you simply may presumably handiest decide one or the alternative.

These objects needn’t be mutually unusual.
The effectivity of using the instruct-line comes from remembering instructions, nevertheless there’s no cause the instructions can’t relieve you to be taught and endure in ideas.

Discoverable CLIs belief complete relieve texts, present a whole lot examples, counsel what instruct to toddle subsequent, counsel what to manufacture when there may be an error.
There are a whole lot ideas that may be stolen from GUIs to manufacture CLIs easier to be taught and use, even for energy customers.

Citation: The Originate of Day after day Issues (Don Norman), Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines

Conversation as a result of the norm

GUI get, critically in its early days, made heavy use of metaphor: desktops, recordsdata, folders, recycle bins.
It made fairly only a few sense, as a result of laptop techniques had been aloof trying to find to bootstrap themselves into legitimacy.
The comfort of implementation of metaphors used to be one of many colossal advantages GUIs wielded over CLIs.
Ironically, though, the CLI has embodied an unintended metaphor all alongside: it’s a dialog.

Previous doubtlessly essentially the most totally uncomplicated instructions, operating a program on the overall entails a pair of invocation.
On the overall, right here is as a result of it’s laborious to get it upright the primary time: the consumer kinds a instruct, will get an error, changes the instruct, will get a odd error, and so forth, until it essentially works.
This mode of studying through repeated failure is care for a dialog the consumer is having with this system.

Trial-and-error isn’t the best mannequin of conversational interplay, though.
There are others:

  • Running one instruct to pronounce up a instrument after which studying what instructions to toddle to essentially beginning up using it.
  • Running varied instructions to pronounce up an operation, after which a remaining instruct to toddle it (e.g. varied git adds, adopted by a git commit).
  • Exploring a software—as an example, doing fairly only a few cd and ls to get a method of a guidelines development, or git log and git designate to detect the historic previous of a file.
  • Doing a dry-toddle of a complicated operation prior to operating it for precise.

Acknowledging the conversational nature of instruct-line interplay capability you'd convey related strategies to endure on its get.
You may perchance counsel that you simply'd think about corrections when consumer enter is invalid, you'd fabricate the intermediate pronounce sure when the consumer goes through a multi-step process, you'd confirm for them that each half looks as if proper prior to they fabricate one thing upsetting.

The consumer is conversing alongside together with your plot, whether or not or not you meant it or not.
At worst, it’s a antagonistic dialog which makes them essentially really feel sluggish and resentful.
At handiest, it’s a satisfying alternate that speeds them on their scheme with newfound information and a sense of success.

Extra studying: The Anti-Mac Person Interface (Don Gentner and Jakob Nielsen)


Robustness is each an goal and a subjective property.
Instrument ought to be sturdy, pointless to declare: sudden enter ought to be dealt with gracefully, operations ought to be idempotent the place that you simply'd think about, and so forth.
Nonetheless it's going to moreover essentially really feel sturdy.

You want your plot to essentially really feel care for it isn’t going to crumple.
You want it to essentially really feel rapid and responsive, as if it had been a colossal mechanical machine, not a flimsy plastic “tender change.”

Subjective robustness requires consideration to element and pondering laborious about what can toddle notorious.
It’s a whole lot minute points: conserving the consumer urged about what’s occurring, explaining what smooth errors point out, not printing upsetting-searching stack traces.

As a smooth rule, robustness can moreover attain from conserving it uncomplicated.
An whole bunch specific circumstances and complicated code are inclined to manufacture a program fragile.


Repeat-line devices are a programmer’s inventive toolkit, so they need to be palatable to use.
This doesn’t point out turning them proper right into a on-line sport, or using a whole lot emoji (though there’s nothing inherently notorious with emoji 😉).
It capability giving the consumer the sensation that that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be on their side, that you simply essentially need them to succeed, that that that you simply may presumably belief thought fastidiously about their issues and tips on how to resolve them.

There’s no guidelines of actions you'd expend that may fabricate specific they really really feel this scheme, although we hope that following our recommendation will expend you simply a lot of the scheme there.
Delighting the consumer capability exceeding their expectations at each flip, and that begins with empathy.


The discipline of the terminal is a worthy amount.
Inconsistencies are in each single intention, slowing us down and making us second-wager ourselves.

Yet it’s uncomplicated that this chaos has been a provide of energy.
The terminal, care for the UNIX-descended computing ambiance in smooth, places only a few constraints on what you'd manufacture.
In that home, all formulation of invention has bloomed.

It’s ironic that this doc implores you to agree to up to date patterns, upright alongside recommendation that contradicts a number of years of instruct-line custom.
We’re unbiased proper as accountable of breaking the ideas as anyone.

The time may perchance nicely attain as quickly as you, too, want to spoil the ideas.
Attain so with draw and readability of trustworthy.

“Abandon a identical outdated when it's miles demonstrably contaminated to productiveness or consumer satisfaction.” — Jef Raskin, The Humane Interface


That is a group of specific points you'd fabricate to manufacture your instruct-line program better.

The first allotment comprises the elementary points or not it's a ought to to agree to.
Earn these notorious, and your program may be both laborious to use or a notorious CLI citizen.

The relaxation are fine-to-haves.
Whereas that that you simply may presumably belief the time and vitality to add these things, your program may be noteworthy better than the smooth program.

The postulate is that, should you don’t are trying to find to think about too laborious with regard to the get of your program, you don’t want to: unbiased proper agree to these ideas and your program will doubtlessly be proper.
Then every other time, should you’ve thought of it and sure {that a} rule is notorious to your program, that’s beautiful.
(There’s no central authority that may reject your program for not following arbitrary ideas.)

Also—these ideas aren’t written in stone.
Whereas you disagree with a smooth rule for proper cause, we hope you’ll suggest a alternate.

The Fundamentals

There are only a few smooth ideas or not it's a ought to to agree to.
Earn these notorious, and your program may be both very laborious to use, or flat-out broken.

Employ a instruct-line argument parsing library the place you'd.
Both your language’s constructed-in a single, or a proper third-celebration one.
They'll usually sort out arguments, flag parsing, relieve textual content, and even spelling ideas in a good scheme.

Listed beneath are some that we care for:

  • Rush: Cobra, cli
  • Node: oclif
  • Python: Click on, Typer
  • Ruby: TTY

Return zero exit code on success, non-zero on failure.
Exit codes are how scripts resolve whether or not or not a program succeeded or failed, in order that it's advisable to story this precisely.
Contrivance the non-zero exit codes to the best failure modes.

Ship output to stdout.
The main output to your instruct ought to cross to stdout.
Anything that's machine readable ought to moreover toddle to stdout—right here is the place piping sends points by default.

Ship messaging to stderr.
Log messages, errors, and so forth ought to all be despatched to stderr.
This means that when instructions are piped collectively, these messages are exhibited to the consumer and not fed into the next instruct.


Show relieve textual content when handed no options, the -h flag, or the --relieve flag.

Show a concise relieve textual content by default.
Whereas you'd, designate relieve by default when myapp or myapp subcommand is toddle.
Except your program is extremely uncomplicated and does one thing obtrusive by default (e.g. ls), or your program reads enter interactively (e.g. cat).

The concise relieve textual content ought to handiest comprise:

  • A prime degree perception of what your program does.
  • One or two occasion invocations.
  • Descriptions of flags, besides there are a whole lot them.
  • An instruction to toddle the --relieve flag for added information.

jq does this efficiently.
Must you kind jq, it shows an introductory description and an occasion, then prompts you to toddle jq --relieve for the stout guidelines of flags:

$ jq
jq - commandline JSON processor [version 1.6]

Usage:    jq [options]  [file...]
    jq [options] --args  [strings...]
    jq [options] --jsonargs  [JSON_TEXTS...]

jq is a instrument for processing JSON inputs, making use of the given filter to
its JSON textual content inputs and producing the filter's outcomes as JSON on
identical outdated output.

Basically the best filter is ., which copies jq's enter to its output
unmodified (aside from for formatting, nevertheless designate that IEEE754 is extinct
for amount illustration internally, with all that that suggests).

For further stepped ahead filters detect the jq(1) manpage ("man jq")


    $ echo '{"foo": 0}' | jq .
        "foo": 0

For a guidelines of options, use jq --relieve.

Show stout relieve when -h and --relieve is handed.
All of these ought to designate relieve:

$ myapp
$ myapp --relieve
$ myapp -h

Ignore every other flags and arguments which can be handed—it's advisable to be in a intention to add -h to the tip of the remainder and it will designate relieve.
Don’t overload -h.

If your program is git-take care of, the next ought to moreover provide relieve:

$ myapp relieve
$ myapp relieve subcommand
$ myapp subcommand --relieve
$ myapp subcommand -h

Provide a relieve path for suggestions and factors.
A web sites or GitHub hyperlink throughout the tip-stage relieve textual content is smooth.

In relieve textual content, hyperlink to the procure model of the documentation.
Whereas that that you simply may presumably belief a specific web web page or anchor for a subcommand, hyperlink on to that.
That is extremely nice if there may be further detailed documentation on the procure, or additional studying which may perchance nicely cowl the habits of one thing.

Lead with examples.
Customers are inclined to use examples over different types of documentation, so designate them first throughout the relieve web web page, critically the smooth difficult makes use of.
If it helps cowl what it’s doing and it isn’t too lengthy, designate the true output too.

You may perchance describe a story with a collection of examples, constructing your scheme towards difficult makes use of.

Whereas you’ve acquired fairly a little bit of examples, construct them elsewhere, in a cheat sheet instruct or an internet mumble materials.
It’s nice to belief exhaustive, stepped ahead examples, nevertheless you don’t are trying to find to manufacture your relieve textual content essentially lengthy.

For further difficult use circumstances, e.g. when integrating with one different instrument, it might be acceptable to write down a truly-fledged tutorial.

Don’t ache with man pages.
We mediate that should you’re following these pointers for relieve and documentation, you obtained’t want man pages.
No longer ample different people use man pages, and moreover they don’t work on Windows.
If your CLI framework and tools supervisor fabricate it uncomplicated to output man pages, toddle for it, nevertheless in any other case your time is handiest spent bettering web medical doctors and constructed-in relieve textual content.

Citation: 12 Element CLI Apps.

If your relieve textual content is lengthy, pipe it through a pager.
That is one nice factor that man does for you.
Watch the recommendation throughout the “Output” allotment beneath.

Show doubtlessly the commonest flags and instructions earlier than each a part of the relieve textual content.
It’s beautiful to belief a whole lot flags, nevertheless should you’ve acquired some essentially smooth ones, designate them first.
As an illustration, the Git instruct shows the instructions for getting started and doubtlessly essentially the most unceasingly extinct subcommands first:

$ git
utilization: git [--version] [--help] [-C ] [-c =]
           [--exec-path[=]] [--html-path] [--man-path] [--info-path]
           [-p | --paginate | -P | --no-pager] [--no-replace-objects] [--bare]
           [--git-dir=] [--work-tree=] [--namespace=]

These are smooth Git instructions extinct in numerous circumstances:

beginning up a working place (detect moreover: git relieve tutorial)
   clone      Clone a repository proper right into a smooth guidelines
   init       Originate an empty Git repository or reinitialize an up to date one

work on doubtlessly essentially the most trendy alternate (detect moreover: git relieve on a regular basis)
   add        Add file contents to the index
   mv         Rush or rename a file, a guidelines, or a symlink
   reset      Reset most trendy HEAD to the desired pronounce
   rm         Decide away recordsdata from the working tree and from the index

look the historic previous and pronounce (detect moreover: git relieve revisions)
   bisect     Employ binary search to salvage the commit that provided a bug
   grep       Print traces matching a sample
   log        Show commit logs
   designate       Show numerous kinds of objects
   internet web page on-line     Show the working tree internet web page on-line

Employ formatting to your relieve textual content.
Intrepid headings fabricate it noteworthy easier to scan.
Nonetheless, are attempting and fabricate it in a terminal-honest scheme in order that your customers aren’t staring down a wall of get away characters.

$ heroku apps --relieve
guidelines your apps

  $ heroku apps

  -A, --all          comprise apps in all groups
  -p, --non-public     guidelines apps in private account when a default crew is set
  -s, --house=home  filter by home
  -t, --team=crew    crew to use
  --json             output in json format

  $ heroku apps
 ===My Apps

 ===Collaborated Apps
  theirapp   different@proprietor.title

  apps:originate     creates a smooth app
  apps:abolish    completely abolish an app
  apps:errors     peep app errors
  apps:favorites  guidelines favorited apps
  apps:information       designate detailed app information
  apps:be a part of       add your self to a crew app
  apps:toddle away      expend away your self from a crew app
  apps:lock       stop crew individuals from becoming a member of an app
  apps:beginning up       beginning up the app in an internet browser
  apps:rename     rename an app
  apps:stacks     designate the guidelines of readily throughout the market stacks
  apps:change   change functions to 1 different consumer or crew
  apps:launch     launch an app so any crew member can be a part of

Existing: When heroku apps --relieve is piped through a pager, the instruct emits no get away characters.

If the consumer did one thing notorious and you'd wager what they meant, counsel it.
As an illustration, brew exchange jq tells you that it's advisable to toddle brew crimson meat up jq.

You may perchance question in the event that they're trying to find to toddle the urged instruct, nevertheless don’t drive it on them.
As an illustration:

$ heroku pss
 ›   Warning: pss is not a heroku instruct.
Did you point out ps? [y/n]:

In desire to suggesting the corrected syntax, you may be tempted to unbiased proper toddle it for them, as in the event that they’d typed it upright throughout the first intention.
In most instances right here is the upright factor to manufacture, nevertheless not constantly.

First and basic, invalid enter doesn’t principally point out an easy typo—it ought to usually point out the consumer has made a logical mistake, or misused a shell variable.
Assuming what they meant may be unhealthy, critically if the next motion modifies pronounce.

Secondly, endure in ideas that should you alternate what the consumer typed, they obtained’t be taught the appropriate syntax.
In attain, you’re ruling that the scheme they typed it's miles authentic and proper, and you’re committing to supporting that indefinitely.
Be intentional in making that decision, and doc each syntaxes.

Extra studying: “Attain What I Imply”

If your instruct is awaiting to belief one thing piped to it and stdin is an interactive terminal, designate relieve straight and cease.
This suggests it doesn’t unbiased proper grasp, care for cat.
Alternatively, that that you simply may presumably print a log message to stderr.


Human-readable output is paramount.
Folks attain first, machines second.
The easiest and simple heuristic for whether or not or not a specific output wobble (stdout or stderr) is being learn by a human is whether or not or not or not it’s a TTY.
Whatever language you’re using, this will belief a utility or library for doing this (e.g. Python, Node, Rush).

Extra studying on what a TTY is.

Bear machine-readable output the place it might not impression usability.
Streams of textual content is the smooth interface in UNIX.
Programs usually output traces of textual content, and functions usually question traces of textual content as enter,
as a consequence of this fact you'd originate varied functions collectively.
That is usually completed to manufacture it that you simply'd think about to write down scripts,
nevertheless it little doubt can moreover relieve the usability for parents using functions.
As an illustration, a consumer ought to be in a intention to pipe output to grep and it will fabricate what they question.

“Ask the output of each program to alter into the enter to 1 different, as but unknown, program.”
— Doug McIlroy

If human-readable output breaks machine-readable output, use --uncomplicated to designate output in uncomplicated, tabular textual content format for integration with devices care for grep or awk.
In some circumstances, that that you simply may presumably ought to output information in a odd intention to manufacture it human-readable.

As an illustration, ought to that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be exhibiting a line-primarily based mostly absolutely desk, that that you simply may presumably decide to cut up a cell into varied traces, turning into in additional information whereas conserving it at some degree of the width of the cowl cowl.
This breaks the anticipated habits of there being one portion of knowledge per line, in order that it's advisable to provide a --uncomplicated flag for scripts, which disables all such manipulation and outputs one story per line.

Show output as formatted JSON if --json is handed.
JSON permits for added development than uncomplicated textual content, so it makes it noteworthy easier to output and sort out difficult information buildings.
jq is a smooth instrument for working with JSON on the instruct-line, and there may be now a complete ecosystem of devices that output and manipulate JSON.

It's miles moreover broadly extinct on the procure, so by way of the usage of JSON as a result of the enter and output of functions, you'd pipe on to and from web corporations using curl.

Show output on success, nevertheless look after it temporary.
Traditionally, when nothing is notorious, UNIX instructions designate no output to the consumer.
This is smart after they’re being extinct in scripts, nevertheless can fabricate instructions seem to be inserting or broken when extinct by different people.
As an illustration, cp is not going to print the remainder, regardless that it takes a really very very long time.

It’s uncommon that printing nothing in any respect is the best default habits, nevertheless it little doubt’s on the overall handiest to err on the side of much less.

For cases the place you fabricate need no output (as an example, when extinct in shell scripts), to guide away from clumsy redirection of stderr to /dev/null, you'd present a -q risk to suppress all non-significant output.

Whereas you alternate pronounce, describe the consumer.
When a instruct changes the pronounce of a software, it’s critically nice to cowl what has unbiased proper took intention, so the consumer can mannequin the pronounce of the plot of their head—critically if the tip consequence doesn’t at as quickly as design to what the consumer requested.

As an illustration, git push tells you precisely what it's miles doing, and what the smooth pronounce of the far off division is:

$ git push
Enumerating objects: 18, completed.
Counting objects: 100% (18/18), completed.
Delta compression using up to Eight threads
Compressing objects: 100% (10/10), completed.
Writing objects: 100% (10/10), 2.09 KiB | 2.09 MiB/s, completed.
Entire 10 (delta 8), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 0
far off: Resolving deltas: 100% (8/8), carried out with Eight native objects.
 + 6c22c90...a2a5217 bfirsh/fix-delete -> bfirsh/fix-delete

Execute it uncomplicated to stare doubtlessly essentially the most trendy pronounce of the plot.
If your program does fairly only a few difficult pronounce changes and it's miles not straight seen throughout the filesystem, fabricate specific you fabricate this simple to peep.

As an illustration, git internet web page on-line tells you as noteworthy information as that you simply'd think about with regard to doubtlessly essentially the most trendy pronounce of your Git repository, and a few hints at tips on how to alter the pronounce:

$ git internet web page on-line
On division bfirsh/fix-delete
Your division is up to this degree with 'beginning place/bfirsh/fix-delete'.

Adjustments not staged for commit:
  (use "git add ..." to exchange what is going on to be dedicated)
  (use "git restore ..." to discard changes in working guidelines)
	modified:   cli/pkg/cli/rm.toddle

no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

Imply instructions the consumer ought to toddle.
When varied instructions impression a workflow, suggesting to the consumer instructions they will toddle subsequent helps them be taught tips on how to use your program and scrutinize smooth performance.
As an illustration, throughout the git internet web page on-line output above, it suggests instructions you'd toddle to alter the pronounce that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be viewing.

Actions crossing the boundary of this system’s within world ought to on the overall be express.
This contains points care for:

  • Reading or writing recordsdata that the consumer didn’t explicitly toddle as arguments (besides these recordsdata are storing within program pronounce, comparable to a cache).
  • Talking to server, e.g. to purchase a file.

Enlarge information density—with ASCII artwork!
As an illustration, ls reveals permissions in a scannable scheme.
Must you first detect it, you'd ignore fairly a little bit of the understanding.
Then, as you be taught the scheme it essentially works, you want further patterns over time.

-rw-r--r-- 1 root root     68 Aug 22 23: 20 resolv.conf
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root     13 Mar 14 20: 24 rmt -> /usr/sbin/rmt
drwxr-xr-x Four root root   4.0K Jul 20 14: 51 safety
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root   4.0K Jul 20 14: 53 selinux
-rw-r----- 1 root shadow  501 Jul 20 14: 44 shadow
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root    116 Jul 20 14: 43 shells
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root   4.0K Jul 20 14: 57 skel
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root      0 Jul 20 14: 43 subgid
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root      0 Jul 20 14: 43 subuid

Employ color with draw.
As an illustration, that that you simply may presumably are trying to find to highlight some textual content so the consumer notices it, or use crimson to cowl an error.
Don’t overuse it—if each half is a odd color, then the color capability nothing and handiest makes it further noteworthy to learn.

Disable color in case your program is not in a terminal or the consumer requested it.
These objects ought to disable colours:

  • stdout or stderr is not an interactive terminal (a TTY).
    It’s handiest to for my portion check out—should you’re piping stdout to 1 different program, it’s aloof nice to get colours on stderr.
  • The NO_COLOR ambiance variable is set.
  • The TERM ambiance variable has the value tiresome.
  • The consumer passes the likelihood --no-colour.
  • You may perchance are trying to find to add a MYAPP_NO_COLOR ambiance variable in case customers are trying to find to disable color notably to your program.

Extra studying:, 12 Element CLI Apps

If stdout is not an interactive terminal, don’t designate any animations.
This can terminate development bars turning into Christmas bushes in CI log output.

Employ symbols and emoji the place it makes points clearer.
Photos may be better than phrases if or not it's a ought to to manufacture varied points specific, take away the consumer’s consideration, or unbiased proper add fairly of persona.
Watch out, though—it might be uncomplicated to overdo it and fabricate your program detect cluttered or essentially really feel care for a toy.

As an illustration, yubikey-agent makes use of emoji to add development to the output so it isn’t unbiased proper a wall of textual content, and a ❌ to intention your consideration to a good portion of knowledge:

$ yubikey-agent -setup
🔐 The PIN is up to Eight numbers, letters, or symbols. No longer unbiased proper numbers!
❌ The main may be misplaced if the PIN and PUK are locked after three unsuitable tries.

Steal a smooth PIN/PUK: 
Repeat the PIN/PUK: 

🧪 Retriculating splines …

✅ Performed! This YubiKey is secured and prepared to cross.
🤏 When the YubiKey blinks, contact it to authorize the login.

🔑 Right right here is your smooth luminous SSH public key:

💭 Bear in thoughts: each half breaks, belief a backup perception for when this YubiKey does.

By default, don’t output information that’s handiest comprehensible by the creators of the plot.
If a portion of output serves handiest to relieve you to (the developer) perceive what your plot is doing, it virtually absolutely shouldn’t be exhibited to identical outdated customers by default—handiest in verbose mode.

Invite usability suggestions from outsiders and different people which can be smooth to your undertaking.
They’ll relieve you to detect vital factors that that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be too shut to the code to sight.

Don’t deal with stderr care for a log file, on the least not by default.
Don’t print log stage labels (ERR, WARN, and so forth.) or extraneous contextual information, besides in verbose mode.

Employ a pager (e.g. much less) ought to that that you simply may presumably very efficiently be outputting fairly only a few textual content.
As an illustration, git diff does this by default.
Using a pager may be error-inclined, so watch out alongside together with your implementation such that you simply don’t fabricate the skills worse for the consumer.
You shouldn’t use a pager if stdin or stdout is not an interactive terminal.

A proper unbiased proper pronounce of options to use for much less is much less -FIRX.
This would not web web page if the mumble materials fills one cowl cowl, ignores case as quickly as you search, permits color and formatting, and leaves the contents on the cowl cowl when much less quits.

There may be libraries to your language which can be further sturdy than piping to much less.
As an illustration, pypager in Python.


One amongst doubtlessly the commonest causes to hunt the recommendation of documentation is to restore errors.
Whereas you'd fabricate errors into documentation, then this may perchance nicely put the consumer fairly a little bit of time.

Dispose of errors and rewrite them for parents.
Whereas you’re awaiting an error to occur, take away it and rewrite the error message to be nice.
Judge of it care for a dialog, the place the consumer has completed one thing notorious and this system is guiding them throughout the upright path.
Instance: “Can’t write to file.txt. You may perchance ought to fabricate it writable by operating ‘chmod +w file.txt’.”

Signal-to-noise ratio is important.
The further inappropriate output you originate, the longer it’s going to expend the consumer to resolve out what they did notorious.
If your program produces varied errors of the identical kind, concentrate on grouping them beneath a single explanatory header in intention of printing many identical-searching traces.

Bear in thoughts the place the consumer will detect first.
Effect the best information on the tip of the output.
The detect may be drawn to crimson textual content, so use it intentionally and sparingly.

If there may be an sudden or unexplainable error, present debug and traceback information, and instructions on tips on how to submit a bug.
That said, don’t neglect with regard to the signal-to-noise ratio: you don’t are trying to find to crush the consumer with information they don’t perceive.
Bear in thoughts writing the debug log to a file in intention of printing it to the terminal.

Execute it easy to submit bug opinions.
One nice factor you'd fabricate is present a URL and belief it pre-populate as noteworthy information as that you simply'd think about.

Arguments and flags

A designate on terminology:

  • Arguments, or args, are positional parameters to a instruct.
    As an illustration, the file paths you present to cp are args.
    The repeat of args is usually vital: cp foo bar capability one thing assorted from cp bar foo.
  • Flags are named parameters, denoted with both a hyphen and a single-letter title (-r) or a double hyphen and a various-letter title (--recursive).
    They would perchance or may perchance nicely not moreover comprise a user-specified worth (--file foo.txt, or --file=foo.txt).
    The repeat of flags, in whole speaking, would not belief an impression on program semantics.

Decide flags to args.
It’s fairly further typing, nevertheless it little doubt makes it noteworthy clearer what's occurring.
It moreover makes it easier to manufacture changes to the scheme you settle for enter in some unspecified time in the future.
In most instances when using args, it’s not likely to add smooth enter with out breaking up to date habits or creating ambiguity.

Citation: 12 Element CLI Apps.

Bear stout-length variations of all flags.
As an illustration, belief each -h and --relieve.
Having the stout model is nice in scripts the place you care for to want to be verbose and descriptive, and you don’t want to detect up the which means of flags in each single intention.

Citation: GNU Coding Standards.

Completely use one-letter flags for frequently extinct flags, critically on the tip-stage when using subcommands.
That scheme you don’t “pollute” your namespace of brief flags, forcing you to use convoluted letters and circumstances for flags you add in some unspecified time in the future.

More than one arguments are beautiful for uncomplicated actions in opposition to varied recordsdata.
As an illustration, rm file1.txt file2.txt file3.txt.
This moreover makes it work with globbing: rm *.txt.

Whereas you’ve acquired two or further arguments for assorted points, you’re doubtlessly doing one thing notorious.
The exception is a smooth, main motion, the place the brevity is price memorizing.
As an illustration, cp.

Citation: 12 Element CLI Apps.

Employ identical outdated names for flags, if there's a identical outdated.
If one different frequently extinct instruct makes use of a flag title, it’s handiest to agree to that up to date sample.
That scheme, a consumer doesn’t want to endure in ideas two assorted options (and which instruct it applies to), and customers may even wager an risk with out having to detect on the relieve textual content.

Right right here’s a guidelines of frequently extinct options:

  • -a, --all: All.
    As an illustration, ps, fetchmail.
  • -d, --debug: Show debugging output.
  • -f, --drive: Power.
    As an illustration, rm -f will drive the removing of recordsdata, regardless that it thinks it might not belief permission to manufacture it.
    That is moreover nice for instructions which can be doing one thing unfavorable that on the overall require consumer affirmation, nevertheless you care for to want to drive it to manufacture that unfavorable motion in a script.
  • --json: Show JSON output.
    Watch the output allotment.
  • -h, --relieve: Support.
    This ought to handiest point out relieve.
    Watch the relieve allotment.
  • --no-input: Watch the interactivity allotment.
  • -o, --output: Output file.
    As an illustration, mannequin, gcc.
  • -p, --port: Port.
    As an illustration, psql, ssh.
  • -q, --serene: Mute.
    Show much less output.
    That is extremely nice when exhibiting output for parents that that that you simply may presumably are trying to find to cowl when operating in a script.
  • -u, --user: Person.
    As an illustration, ps, ssh.
  • --version: Model.
  • -v: This may perchance nicely usually point out both verbose or model.
    You may perchance are trying to find to use -d for verbose and this for model, or for nothing to guide away from bewilderment.

Execute the default the upright factor for a lot of customers.
Making points configurable is true, nevertheless most customers ought to not going to salvage the upright flag and endure in ideas to use it the overall time (or alias it).
If it’s not the default, you’re making the skills worse for a lot of of your customers.

As an illustration, ls has terse default output to optimize for scripts and different historic causes, nevertheless if it had been designed currently, it might doubtlessly default to ls -lhFGT.

Advised for consumer enter.
If a consumer doesn’t toddle an argument or flag, suggested for it.
(Watch moreover: Interactivity)

Never require a suggested.
Continuously present a method of passing enter with flags or arguments.
If stdin is not an interactive terminal, skip prompting and unbiased proper require these flags/args.

Verify prior to doing the remainder unhealthy.
A smooth conference is to suggested for the consumer to kind y or sure if operating interactively, or requiring them to toddle -f or --drive in any other case.

“Unhealthy” is a subjective timeframe, and there are differing ranges of hazard:

  • Relaxed: A miniature, native alternate comparable to deleting a file.
    You may perchance are trying to find to suggested for affirmation, that that you simply may presumably not.
    As an illustration, if the consumer is explicitly operating a instruct often called one thing care for “delete,” you in all probability don’t ought to question.
  • Moderate: A better native alternate care for deleting a guidelines, alternate care for deleting a useful resource of some mannequin, or a complicated bulk modification that may’t be with out instruct undone.
    You on the overall are trying to find to suggested for affirmation right here.
    Bear in thoughts giving the consumer a intention to “dry toddle” the operation in order that they'll detect what’ll occur prior to they commit to it.
  • Excessive: Deleting one thing difficult, care for a complete far off utility or server.
    You don’t unbiased proper are trying to find to suggested for affirmation right here—you care for to want to manufacture it laborious to substantiate by chance.
    Bear in thoughts asking them to kind one thing non-trivial such as a result of the title of the thing they’re deleting.
    Allow them to alternatively toddle a flag comparable to --verify="name-of-thing", so it’s aloof scriptable.

Bear in thoughts whether or not or not there are non-glaring choices to by chance abolish points.
As an illustration, think about a instruct the place altering a amount in a configuration file from 10 to 1 capability that 9 points may be implicitly deleted—this ought to be thought to be a extreme risk, and ought to be difficult to manufacture by chance.

If enter or output is a file, relieve - to learn from stdin or write to stdout.
This lets the output of 1 different instruct be the enter of your instruct and vice versa, with out using a non everlasting file.
As an illustration, tar can extract recordsdata from stdin:

$ curl thing.tar.gz | tar xvf -

If a flag can settle for an non-obligatory worth, permit a odd uncover care for “none.”
As an illustration, ssh -F takes an non-obligatory filename of an completely different ssh_config file, and ssh -F none runs SSH and never using a config file. Don’t unbiased proper use a clean worth—this may perchance nicely fabricate it ambiguous whether or not or not arguments are flag values or arguments.

If that you simply'd think about, fabricate arguments, flags and subcommands repeat-honest.
A vary of CLIs, critically these with subcommands, belief unstated ideas on the place you'd construct numerous arguments.
As an illustration a instruct may perchance nicely belief a --foo flag that handiest works should you place it prior to the subcommand:

mycmd --foo=1 subcmd

$ mycmd subcmd --foo=1
unknown flag: --foo

That can also be very complicated for the consumer—critically on condition that considered one of doubtlessly the commonest points customers fabricate when trying to find to get a instruct to work is to hit the up arrow to get the final invocation, stick one different risk on the tip, and toddle it every other time.
If that you simply'd think about, are attempting and fabricate each kinds an identical, although that that you simply may presumably toddle up in opposition to the restrictions of your argument parser.

Enable delicate argument values to be handed in by process of recordsdata.
Let’s mumble your instruct takes a secret by process of a --password argument.
A uncooked --password argument will leak the key into ps output and doubtlessly shell historic previous.
It’s uncomplicated to misuse.
Bear in thoughts permitting secrets and techniques handiest by process of recordsdata, e.g. with a --password-file argument.
A --password-file argument permits a secret to be handed in discreetly, in a in depth variety of contexts.

(It’s that you simply'd think about to toddle a file’s contents into an argument in Bash by way of the usage of --password $(.
Sadly, not each context by which a instruct is toddle can belief get entry to to magical shell substitutions.
As an illustration, systemd service definitions, exec plot calls, and a few Dockerfile instruct kinds fabricate not relieve the substitutions readily throughout the market in most shells.
What’s further, this scheme has the identical safety instruct of leaking the file’s contents into places care for the output of ps.
It’s handiest shunned.)


Completely use prompts or interactive elements if stdin is an interactive terminal (a TTY).
That is a stunning actual intention to recount whether or not or not you’re piping information proper right into a instruct or whether or not or not it’s being toddle in a script, by which case a suggested obtained’t work and it's advisable to throw an error telling the consumer what flag to toddle.

If --no-input is handed, don’t suggested or fabricate the remainder interactive.
This permits customers an express intention to disable all prompts in instructions.
If the instruct requires enter, fail and describe the consumer tips on how to toddle the understanding as a flag.

Whereas you’re prompting for a password, don’t print it as a result of the consumer kinds.
That is completed by turning off echo throughout the terminal.
Your language ought to belief helpers for this.

Let the consumer get away.
Execute it sure tips on how to get out.
(Don’t fabricate what vim does.)
If your program hangs on group I/O and so forth, constantly fabricate Ctrl-C aloof work.
If it’s a wrapper round program execution the place Ctrl-C can’t cease (SSH, tmux, telnet, and so forth), fabricate it sure tips on how to manufacture that.
As an illustration, SSH permits get away sequences with the ~ get away persona.


Whereas you’ve acquired a instrument that’s sufficiently difficult, you'd decrease its complexity by making a pronounce of subcommands.
Whereas that that you simply may presumably belief varied devices which can be very intently associated, you'd fabricate them easier to use and scrutinize by combining them proper right into a single instruct (as an example, RCS vs. Git).

They’re nice for sharing stuff—world flags, relieve textual content, configuration, storage mechanisms.

Be fixed throughout subcommands.
Employ the identical flag names for a similar points, belief an identical output formatting, and so forth.

Employ fixed names for varied ranges of subcommand.
If a complicated portion of plot has a whole lot objects and operations that may be carried out on these objects, it's a smooth sample to use two ranges of subcommand for this, the place one is a noun and one is a verb.
As an illustration, docker container originate.
Be in conserving with the verbs you spend throughout assorted kinds of objects.

Both noun verb or verb noun ordering works, nevertheless noun verb seems further smooth.

Extra studying: Person talents, CLIs, and breaking the sector, by John Starich.

Don’t belief ambiguous or equally-named instructions.
As an illustration, having two subcommands often called “exchange” and “crimson meat up” is fairly complicated.
You may perchance are trying to find to use assorted phrases, or disambiguate with further phrases.


Validate consumer enter.
All over your program accepts information from the consumer, this may perchance nicely ultimately be given notorious information.
Take a have a look at early and bail out prior to the remainder notorious occurs, and fabricate the errors comprehensible.

Responsive is further vital than speedy.
Print one thing to the consumer in

Show development if one thing takes a really very very long time.
If your program shows no ou


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