[TUHS] Systematic approach to command-line interfaces

Dan Cross crossd at gmail.com
Sun Aug 1 02:19:27 AEST 2021

On Sat, Jul 31, 2021 at 11:57 AM Paul Winalski <paul.winalski at gmail.com>

> On 7/31/21, Michael Siegel <msi at malbolge.net> wrote:
> >
> > While doing that, I learned that there is a better way to approach
> > this problem – beyond using getopt(s) (which never really made sense to
> > me) and having to write case statements in loops every time: Define a
> > grammar, let a pre-built parser do the work, and have the parser
> > provide the results to the program.
> This method for handling command lines dates back at least to the
> 1970s.  The COMND JSYS (system call) in TOPS-20 operated this way, as
> does the DCL command line interface in OpenVMS.  As you pointed out it
> can greatly simplify the code in the application.  It also permits
> command completion.  If the command has a long-winded option, such as
> -supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, I can type -super then hit the
> TAB key and as long as there is only one option that starts with
> -super the parser will fill in the rest of the long keyword.  It also
> means that you can provide interactive help.  At any point the user
> can type a question mark and the command interpreter will say what
> syntactic element is expected next.  The TOPS-20 COMND JSYS
> implemented both of these features, and I think that command
> completion was eventually added to the VMS command interpreter, too.
> This method of command line parsing also enforces a degree of
> uniformity of syntax between the command lines of the various
> utilities and applications.

There was someone posting here on TUHS a while back about leveraging a
special context-sensitive `--shell-help` or similar command line program
and synthesizing a protocol between the shell and a program to provide
TOPS-20 like command completion. It was nowhere near what you get from the
COMND JSYS, but seemed like a reasonable approximation.

This is verging on COFF territory, but one of the reasons such a mechanism
is unlike what you get from TOPS-20 is that, in that system, as soon as you
type the name of a command, you're effectively running that command; the
process model is quite different from that of Unix.

With respect to command line handling in general, I think there are some
attempts at making things more rational available in modern languages.
Command line parsing packages for Go and the `clap` package for Rust come
to mind (
https://rust-lang-nursery.github.io/rust-cookbook/cli/arguments.html). I've
used clap recently in a few places and it's very convenient.

        - Dan C.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://minnie.tuhs.org/pipermail/tuhs/attachments/20210731/ce47590d/attachment.htm>

More information about the TUHS mailing list