oheger / scli

A functional Command Line Interface library for Scala.

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SCLI is a small Scala library that uses approaches from functional programming to read and process the command line arguments that have been passed to an application. The focus of the library lies in the extraction of command line arguments into data or configuration classes that represent the options supported by the application.

In a typical usage scenario, one or multiple case classes are created for the command line options the application should support. Using a DSL, the developer describes how the single elements from the command line should be mapped to the properties of these case classes. It is then the job of the library to produce the data object(s) containing the options provided via the command line.

The extraction process may fail if invalid command line arguments have been passed; for instance, mandatory arguments may be missing, unsupported options may be present, or options may have invalid values. In this case, the library can generate output listing all the failures that have been detected with meaningful error messages. Based on the mapping declaration, it is possible to generate a help or usage screen that contains information about all the arguments supported by the application; alternatively, the help screen can be restricted to a subset of arguments, which are relevant in the current context. The information to be displayed for the arguments in the help screen can be customized.

Reference in your project

SCLI is available in the Maven central repository in cross-built versions for Scala 2.11, 2.12, and 2.13. The coordinates are:

  • GroupId: com.github.oheger

  • ArtifactId: scli

  • Version: 1.0.0

When using Sbt as build tool, you would add the dependency as follows:

libraryDependencies += "com.github.oheger" %% "scli" % "1.0.0"


Before we come to practical examples in the Tutorial section, it can help to get some understanding of the underlying concepts used by SCLI. So this section presents a (short) theoretical introduction.


At the very first, it is necessary to agree on some terminology that is used by the library and throughout this documentation. This is mainly related to the elements that can occur on a command line:


a command line argument that is assigned one or multiple values; such arguments typically start with a prefix, e.g. --chunk-size 42


similar to an option, but the argument does not have an explicit value; rather, the presence or absence of the argument has a meaning itself

Input parameter

refers to all other elements on the command line that do not belong to one of the other types; while options and switches typically define the way how an application should process data, the input parameters represent the data to process, such as files or URIs


This term is used for all elements that can occur on a command line; it covers the special cases described before.


In this documentation, we use the terms parameter and argument as synonyms.

Processing phases

The processing of an applications’s command line is a two-step process:

  1. A command line parser divides the elements found on the command line into different categories, such as options, switches, and input parameters (see above). This is a rather simple categorization, and the parser is not very sophisticated.

  2. So-called extractors access the values gathered in the first step, transform them as necessary, and compose them to the data objects used as model by the application. In this phase the actual intelligence takes place. When using this library, the main task of a developer is the definition of these extractor objects.

For the users' convenience, there is a function that executes both phases in a single call; but the understanding of the different phases is nevertheless helpful to use the library correctly.

Fundamental data types

While processing the arguments passed to an application, the data is represented by some basic types. The types used for this purpose are deliberately simple and are based on standard collection types. This section describes the most important types a user will deal with when processing command line arguments.

ParameterKey - identifiers for parameters

In order to access the values of parameters and some other metadata, they have unique keys. For options and switches, the key also determines how the parameter needs to be specified on the command line: it consists of a string part that corresponds to the parameter name on the command line. In addition, there is a flag whether the string is a long parameter name or a short alias. Applications often distinguish between these types of keys, and they also use different prefixes to specify them. For instance, an application supporting user credentials may define the following long option names:

login --user scott --password tiger

Alternatively, option names can be replaced by short aliases; to make clear that the keys in use are aliases, the standard prefix -- is replaced by - (this is actually a standard convention):

login -u scott -p tiger

The information whether a key refers to a long parameter name or a short alias is important, as it is typically not allowed to mix the different prefixes. So the following command line would be invalid:

login -user scott --p tiger

SCLI defines the ParameterKey case class to store the information - the string key plus the alias flag - to fully describe a parameter key. While the developer typically need not create instances of this class, it is pretty present in various parts of the API.

For input parameters, there is a special key defined as a constant. This key is not visible on the command line.

ParametersMap - a parsed command line

In the parsing phase (refer to Processing phases), the sequence of strings that represents the command line is transformed into a form that allows for easy access to specific parameter values. For this purpose, the library uses a Map of the following type:

type ParametersMap = Map[ParameterKey, Iterable[CliElement]]

The meaning of this type is as follows:

  • Command line arguments have a key by which they can be accessed, as discussed in the previous section. To support direct access to a specific command line element, the ParametersMap type uses the key of the element.

  • CliElement is a trait that holds information about a parameter as it has been passed on the command line. This includes the raw string value, but also the parameter key (when using aliases the key may be different from the main key of this parameter). This information is useful especially for error reporting if a transformation on this parameter fails.

  • An application can support multiple input parameters, and options can appear repeatedly on the command line, too. Therefore, for each argument the map holds a collection of values.


When extracting and processing the values of a specific argument the current value needs to be represented somehow. This representation can undergo changes when further transformations are applied. For this purpose, SCLI defines the following type:

type OptionValue[A] = scala.util.Try[Iterable[A]]

This type declaration has the reasoning as follows:

  • The type is generic. As was pointed out, argument values are initially strings; but they can be transformed to other data types.

  • An argument can have multiple values; therefore, the type stores a collection of values.

  • A transformation on a value can fail. For instance, the application might expect a numeric vale, but the user provided an invalid string. To represent such an error condition, the type uses the standard Scala Try type. (It is then possible to generate error messages based on the values that are of the sub type Failure.)


In many real scenarios, arguments typically have a single value. SCLI defines a special type to represent this use case.

type SingleOptionValue[A] = scala.util.Try[Option[A]]

This type is similar to the OptionValue type; the main difference is that instead of an Iterable, the type uses an Option. This represents the semantic that there can be a single or no value. Of course, by applying a special transformation, an argument can be declared as mandatory; this transformation extracts the value from the Option and fails if it is undefined.

Note that SingleOptionValue is seen as a specialized case of OptionValue; the latter is more generic. Therefore, transformations are usually applied to OptionValue, and the conversion to a single value is done as a final step.

Other types

The data types discussed so far mainly represent data during argument processing. When declaring the desired processing steps, the developer may encounter some additional types that are shortly summarized here.


An ExtractionContext stores the information required during argument extraction and processing. This includes a reference to the parsed parameters, which is of course needed to access the values of arguments. The context further contains some helper and service objects that are important for some use cases. Most of the types described in this sub section are part of the ExtractionContext object.


Not surprisingly, this type holds information about the parameters passed to the application after they have been parsed. Via a Parameters object the current values of arguments can be accessed. In addition, an instance stores information about which argument keys have been accessed. This is needed to detect unknown or unsupported parameters (i.e. parameters that were passed on the command line, but never accessed).


This class holds an internal model of the parameters as declared by the application. It is constructed and populated automatically during the extraction phase. Based on the declaration of the extraction steps, the context stores some properties about single arguments - such as their type, potential default values, or the expected multiplicity. This information can then support the generation of help screens or other tasks requiring information about parameters.


If command line processing detects unknown or invalid parameters, those are added to a FailureContext, together with some metadata. Applications can use this information to generate a report with all errors.


A console reader is a service object that prompts the user to read in the value of a parameter from the console. This is typically used for secrets or passwords, which should not be provided as regular command line arguments (because they then might be exposed via the history of the shell).


Extractors - represented by the CliExtractor class - are probably the most important actors during command line processing. An extractor is basically a function that expects an ExtractionContext object and returns a value out of it plus an updated ExtractionContext. (The ExtractionContext needs to be updated to record the access to a specific parameter and to store some metadata in the model context.)

There are some fundamental pre-defined extractors, e.g. to extract the value of an option or input parameter as an OptionValue. CliExtractor is actually a monad; this means that extractors support the map() and flatMap() functions to manipulate the result they produce. For instance, the original OptionValue[String] obtained for an argument can be mapped using a type conversion function to a result of type OptionValue[Int]. A DSL is available to deal with frequent use cases; so in order to declare an extractor that converts the values passed to an option to Int values, you just have to use:

import com.github.scli.ParameterExtractor._

val intExtractor = optionValues("my-option").toInt

Another great feature of monads is that they can be composed in a very flexible way. Using Scala’s for comprehensions, you can construct an extractor that combines the results of a number of other extractors. That way, the values extracted from single arguments can be collected and stored in a data object:

import com.github.scli.ParameterExtractor._

val extr1: CliExtractor[OptionValue[String]] = ???
val extr2: CliExtractor[OptionValue[Int]] = ???
val extr3: CliExtractor[OptionValue[Boolean]] = ???
val combinedExtractor = for {
  v1 <- extr1
  v2 <- extr2
  v3 <- extr3
} yield ( /* Do something with the values */)

If all the extractors that are to be combined return a Try[XXX] (which is typically the case when using the standard types), SCLI provides special support for creating a result object out of the single argument values including error handling: As long as all tried values are successful, a result object is created; otherwise, result is an exception that contains the messages of all failed extractions.

In the recommended usage scenario of SCLI, there is a top-level extractor that processes the whole command line and transforms it into a data object, so that it can be evaluated by the application. Command line processing is then a matter of executing this extractor.

There is one related class named ExtractionSpec. It is a specification how to process the command line. It wraps the top-level extractor and contains some settings to customize the parsing and extraction processes.

This concludes the discussion of the fundamental concepts of the SCLI library. Now it is a good time to checkout the tutorial to see practical usage examples.

Release Notes

Information about the different releases can be found at the Release Notes page.


SCLI is available under the Apache 2.0 License.