Using the OptionParser Ruby Standard Library module

Using the OptionParser Ruby Standard Library module
by Darren Jensen | March 2016

Background

Most command line applications usually accept a variety of options that can be passed in to alter the behaviour of the application. For example, in linux, the find command can take a -type d option to specify only search for directories. For example the following command will find all empty directories under ~/Documents:

find ~/Documents -type d -empty

Ruby command line applications require the same functionality and this is provided using the OptionParser module.

A Basic Hello World parser class

So lets start off with a simple example - a Ruby command line application that politely says ‘hello’ back the user! Why not! There are several basic things we need to do to get this working:

  1. Require the OptionParser module by using require 'optparse'
  2. Create an empty hash to store and return our options
  3. Pass a block to a new instance of OptionParser and calling on (an alias for make_switch) for each option we want available in our application
  4. The on method also in turn takes a block where we can set the variable on the hash we created earlier

So here is our first example:

require 'optparse'



class HelloParser

  def self.parse(args)

    options = {}

    opts = OptionParser.new do |opts|

      opts.on('-n', '--name NAME', 'The name of the person to say hello to') do |name|

        options[:name] = name

      end

    end

    opts.parse(args)

    options

  end

end

This is how to use the HelloParser class in Ruby …

options = HelloParser.parse(ARGV)

puts "Hello, #{options[:name]}" if options[:name]

… and call the application from the command line passing in the --name (or -n) switch

ruby optparse_example.rb --name Darren

# Outputs:

# Hello, Darren

Extending the functionality with a second switch

Lets extend this basic application by introducing a second switch -t which can indicate the number of times to say hello!

Notice the use of OptionParser::OctalInteger in the second -t option definition which will automatically convert the input from a String to a Fixnum

class HelloParser

  def self.parse(args)

    options = {}

    opts = OptionParser.new do |opts|

      opts.on('-n', '--name NAME', 'The name of the person to say hello to') do |name|

        options[:name] = name

      end



      opts.on('-t', '--times TIMES', OptionParser::OctalInteger, 'The number of times to say hello') do |times|

        options[:times] = times

      end

    end



    opts.parse(args)

    options

  end

end

This is how to use the HelloParser class is now used in Ruby with the extra option. Note that we use a ternary operator to consider a default value of 1 if -t is not set.

options = HelloParser.parse(ARGV)



repeat = options[:times].nil? ? 1 : options[:times]



if options[:name]

  repeat.times do

    puts "Hello, #{options[:name]}"

  end

end

This is how the application is run on the command line:

ruby optparse_example.rb -n Darren -t 2

# Outputs:

# Hello, Darren

# Hello, Darren

Handling exceptions

Up til now we have not considered exception handling in our application. Since we are dealing with user input we should really be considering this. The location where exceptions can occor is in the parse method of our OptionParser instance so lets wrap that in a begin..rescue block as follows:

begin

  opts.parse(args)

rescue Exception => e

  puts "Exception encountered: #{e}"

  exit 1

end

Now we should be good to go and our HelloParser will exit gracefully if there is an error.

Conculusion

The OptionParser module is a great and simple way to parse parameters for Ruby command line applications. The simple DSL of make_switch or on are intuitive and self explainatory. Convertion of types at the parser level is also pretty handy. Next time I write a command line application in Ruby I will certainly use the OptionParser module!

Here is Gist with the full example code.

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