6 releases (3 breaking)

Uses old Rust 2015

0.4.0 Dec 5, 2018
0.3.1 Jan 10, 2018
0.3.0 Dec 11, 2017
0.2.2 Sep 13, 2017
0.1.0 Dec 14, 2016

#750 in Parser implementations

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Used in 8 crates

MIT license


Command-line parsing is essential for any program that needs to be run by other people, and is a messy task with many corner cases: this is one wheel that should not be reinvented for a project. It should not to be too ugly to use, either, like the getopt_long POSIX interface for C programs.

This crate is a Rust implementation of the Lua library lapp. Like docopt, it starts from the fact that you must output usage text anyway, so why not extract flag names and types from that text? This is one of those ideas that tends to happen multiple times - my first implementation was in 2009 and it is now part of the Penlight Lua libraries; docopt came somewhat later in about 2011.

Given that there is a Rust implementation of docopt, what is the justification for Lapp in Rust? It is a good deal simpler to use and understand, and fulfills the need for basic command-line interfaces that don't involve subcommands, etc. The philosophy is "fail early and hard" - the program quits if there are any errors and returns a non-zero code.

Consider a 'head' program that needs to be given a file and the number of lines to echo to stdout:

// head.rs
extern crate lapp;

fn main() {
	let args = lapp::parse_args("
Prints out first n lines of a file
  -n, --lines (default 10) number of lines
  -v, --verbose
  <file> (string) input file name

	let n = args.get_integer("lines");
	let verbose = args.get_bool("verbose");
	let file = args.get_string("file");
	// your magic goes here

There are flags (both short and long forms) like lines, verbose and positional arguments like file. Flags have an associated type - for lines this is deduced from the default value, and for file it is specified explicitly. Flags or arguments without defaults must be specified - except for simple boolean flags, which default to false.

This does a fair amount of work for you, given that you had to write the usage text anyway:

  • the usage 'mini-language' is fairly simple
  • command-line arguments are processed GNU-style. You may say --lines 20 or -n 20; short flags can be combined -vn20. -- indicates end of command-line processing
  • not providing positional arguments or required flags is an error
  • the lines flag value must be a valid integer and will be converted

So the idea is something that is straightforward for the programmer to use and self-documenting enough for the user.

Lapp mini-language

A significant line in a Lapp specification starts either with '-' (flags) or '<' (positional arguments). Flags may be '-s, --long','--long' or '-s'. Any other lines are ignored. Short flags may only be letters or numbers; long flags are alphanumeric, plus '_' and '-'.

These significant lines may be followed by a type-default specifier in parens. It is either a type, like '(string)' or a default value, like '(default 10)'. If not present then the flag is a simple boolean flag, default false. The currently supported types are:

  • string
  • integer (i32)
  • float (f32)
  • boolean
  • infile (Box<Read>) (can have "stdin" as default)
  • outfile (Box<Write>) (can have "stdout" as default)
  • path (PathBuf) (default will be tilde-expanded)

'(default )' then the type is deduced from the value - either an integer or a float if numerical, string otherwise. It is always possible to quote default string values in single quotes, which you should do if the default value is not a word. When in doubt, quote.

With version 0.3.0, it's also possible to specify both the type and a default, e.g. "(integer default 0)" or "(path default ~/.bonzo)".

If there is no default value (except for simple flags) then that flag or argument must be specified on the command-line - they are required.

In addition, flags may be multiple or arrays. Both are reprsented by a vector of one of the base types, but are used differently. For example,

  -I, --include... (string) flag may appear multiple times
  -p, --ports (integer...) the flag value itself is an array
  <args> (string...)
  ./exe -I. --include lib
  ./exe --ports '9000 9100 9200'
  ./exe one two three

Array flags are lists separated either with spaces or with commas. (But if you use commas, extra space will be trimmed.)

Multiple flags have '...' after the flag, array flags have '...' after the type. The exception is positional flags, which are always multiple. This syntax does not support default values, since the default value is well defined - an empty vector.

ranges are supported. "(1..10)" means an integer between 1 and 10 (inclusive!), and "(0.0..5.0)" means a floating point number between 0.0 and 5.0.

Two convenient file types are provided, "infile" and "outfile". get_infile() will return a Box<Read> and get_outfile() will return a Box<Write>. If the argument is not a file that can be opened for either reading or writing, then the program will quit. A default can be specified, so "(default stdin)" will wrap up io.stdin() for you if the flag is not provided. (This is why we return boxed trait objects rather than actual File objects - to handle this case.)

By default, the accessor functions exit the program on error. But for every method like args.get_string("flag") there is an error-returning args.get_string_result("flag").

More Code Examples

Array-valued flags (multiple or array) are accessed with args.get_strings("flag"), args.get_integers("flag"), etc.

If you'd like something other than the standard numeric types (i32 or f32) you can specify the type: args.get::<u8>("flag"). It will then be an error to specify integers outside 0..255. Simularly, args.get_array::<u8>("flag") will get an integer-valued array flag as the desired type.

In fact, any type that implements the FromStr trait will work. In this example, we want to let the user enter integer values as hexadecimal. It's necessary to specify any user types upfront, because otherwise lapp will complain about unrecognized types.

extern crate lapp;
use std::str::FromStr;
use std::num::ParseIntError;

struct Hex {
    value: u64

impl FromStr for Hex {
    type Err = ParseIntError;

    fn from_str(s: &str) -> Result<Self,Self::Err> {
        let value = u64::from_str_radix(s,16)?;
        Ok(Hex{value: value})

let mut args = lapp::Args::new("
    --hex (hex default FF)

let res: Hex = args.get("hex");
println!("value was {}", res.value);


A criticism of this approach is that it isn't very strongly typed; it is up to the programmer to use the correct get_<type> accessor for the flag, and spelling mistakes are fatal at run-time. To get the boilerplate correct, there is a tool in the 'src/bin' folder called lapp-gen. In the examples folder there is a test.lapp file:

Prints out first n lines of a file
  -n, --lines (default 10) number of lines
  -v, --verbose
  <file> (string) input file name

This is passed to lapp-gen as an environment variable (since we don't want to confuse the command-line parameters here)

~/rust/lapp/examples$ LAPP_FILE='test.lapp vars' lapp-gen
    let lines = args.get_integer("lines");
    let verbose = args.get_bool("verbose");
    let file = args.get_string("file");
    let help = args.get_bool("help");

Lapp creates variable names out of flag names using a few simple rules; any '-' is converted to ''; if the flag name starts with a number or '', then the name is prepended with 'c_'.

You may test your spec by specifying just the file, and any command-line arguments:

~/rust/lapp/examples$ LAPP_FILE='test.lapp' lapp-gen
flag 'lines' value Int(10)
flag 'verbose' value Bool(false)
flag 'file' value Error("required flag file")
flag 'help' value Bool(false)
~/rust/lapp/examples$ LAPP_FILE='test.lapp' lapp-gen hello -v
flag 'lines' value Int(10)
flag 'verbose' value Bool(true)
flag 'file' value Str("hello")
flag 'help' value Bool(false)
~/rust/lapp/examples$ LAPP_FILE='test.lapp' lapp-gen hello -v --lines 30
flag 'lines' value Int(30)
flag 'verbose' value Bool(true)
flag 'file' value Str("hello")
flag 'help' value Bool(false)
~/rust/lapp/examples$ LAPP_FILE='test.lapp' lapp-gen hello -vn 40
flag 'lines' value Int(40)
flag 'verbose' value Bool(true)
flag 'file' value Str("hello")
flag 'help' value Bool(false)

The mony.lapp test file in examples gives all the permutations possible with this version of Lapp.

The real labour saving codegen option is to generate a struct which is initialized from lapp command-lines:

~/rust/lapp/examples$ LAPP_FILE='test.lapp struct:Args' lapp-gen
~/rust/lapp/examples$ cat test.lapp.inc
const USAGE: &'static str = "
Prints out first n lines of a file
  -n, --lines (default 10) number of lines
  -v, --verbose
  <file> (string) input file name

struct Args {
	lines: i32,
	verbose: bool,
	file: String,
	help: bool,

impl Args {
	fn new() -> (Args,lapp::Args<'static>) {
		let args = lapp::parse_args(USAGE);
			lines: args.get_integer("lines"),
			verbose: args.get_bool("verbose"),
			file: args.get_string("file"),
			help: args.get_bool("help"),

And our program now looks like this, including the output test.lapp.inc.

// lines.rs
extern crate lapp;

fn main() {
	let (values,args) = Args::new();
	if values.lines < 1 {
		args.quit("lines must be greater than zero");

(It would probably be more elegant to create a submodule, but then this would not work in the examples folder except with subdirectories.)


In the last example it was necessary to explicitly validate the arguments and quit with an appropriate message. But most validation involves checking more than one argument, and the more general solution is probably to have a validate method stub in the generated code, where you can put your constraints.

Generally, however, I feel it's important to get a straightforward set of features right, even if they are limited. There are more general options for handling more complicated command-line programs (for example, that support commands like 'cargo build' or 'git status') and I intend to keep lapp as simple as possible, without extra dependencies.

No runtime deps