The Trees The Fork Oak Day10 - Pando Command Line Interface

Pulling it all together into a useful tool

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Today I will tackle the final task for the initial version of Pando. As shown in the todo tree however, I have further plans for the project. I will tackle these in future posts, but finishing the command line interface marks the project ready for simple use.

Command Line Argument Parsing

I opted for using Clap just like I did for okeydokey. The yaml specification was similar, this time requiring an input file path, and two options for outputting the intermediate and final formats.

  name: Pando
version: "0.1"
author: Kaylee Simmons
about: Todo Graph Renderer
  - FILE:
      help: The todo file to render
      required: true
  - dot:
      short: d
      long: dot
      value_name: DOT
      help: Tells Pando to output the dot format to the given file
  - output:
      short: o
      long: output
      value_name: OUTPUT
      help: Tells Pando where to render the svg

Then parsing the arguments and storing the results is simple:

  let yaml = load_yaml!("cli.yml");
let matches = App::from_yaml(yaml).get_matches();

User Errors

Implementing a command line interface requires a good argument parser, and a clean way to communicate failure back to the user. In Rust, the suggested method for communicating errors to the user is to create a custom error type which stores the information about what went wrong, or the results of a task, and then write a wrapper for all of the logic which checks for the error case of a result in order to print a useful message, or continue the calculation/recover etc.

  fn main() {
    match do_something() {
        Ok(value) => ...,
        Err(error) => {
            match error {
                ParseError => ...,
                AbbreviationError => ...,

My problem with this pattern is that any time a new error needs created, you have to go to the location of the error type, add the value, and then add the print statement for that particular error. Lots of effort for a quick tool. So instead I decided to co-opt the panic! functionality.

Rust doesn't have error types in the way most programming languages do. In C# or Java it is common to throw and catch custom exceptions anywhere in an application. This functionality is often slow however since the runtime must unwind the current state of the program and undo any work that is in progress. Rust doesn't have much robust handling of those style of exceptions instead opting for Result and Option as ways to communicate error, and as a last result providing a less flexible panic! macro which will do unwinding similar to above. The goal is that panic! would only be used when everything has gone wrong, so it outputs data meant for a programmer to interpret.

Luckily there is a simple way to hook into the panic! functionality and prevent the programming oriented information from being printed and instead just printing the contained message to the user.

  panic::set_hook(Box::new(|info| {
    match info.payload().downcast_ref::<String>() {
        Some(text) => println!("{}", text),
        None => println!("Unknown error")

panic::set_hook takes a boxed callback function taking a PanicInfo object. This gives us access to the panic payload which is the dynamically typed object passed to panic!. Until this function I had no idea that dynamic typing was possible, but down_casting to a string was pretty simple, and for my purposes good enough.

Now instead of having a centralized Error type I am able to throw an error with expect on Result or Option, or panic! and the message will be passed to the user directly.

WARNING: This is an exceedingly not recommended strategy. I've never seen this recommended anywhere other than in the human-panic crate, but even there the assumption is that the panic is only used when something really went wrong, not when the user caused the error and needs feedback. Proceed with caution.

Path Correction

With those parts out of the way, all that is left is to parse the input paths, and do the compilation/rendering. Clap is great for verifying the numbers of arguments are correct, but it doesn't do any data-type detection or correction. For Pando I don't need much, just a way to resolve a path into an absolute path instead of a relative one. At first I reached for the io::canonicalize function. Unfortunately it requires that the file already exists. So instead I settled for concatenating the current working directory with the relative path.

  fn resolve_path(relative_path: &str) -> PathBuf {
    let mut absolute_path = std::env::current_dir().expect("Could not resolve current directory");

Then I provide default values for the options if the user doesn't provide them.

  let todo_path = canonicalize(matches.value_of("FILE").expect("Need a todo file path")).expect("Todo file does not exist");
let dot_path = matches.value_of("dot").map(resolve_path).unwrap_or_else(|| {
    let mut temp_path = env::temp_dir();
    temp_path.push(todo_path.with_extension("dot").file_name().expect("Could not get temp path file name"));

let output_path = matches.value_of("output").map(resolve_path).unwrap_or_else(|| {

The input file must be provided, and I can use canonicalize because the file must exist. expect is used to provide an appropriate error message. For the intermediate path, if the user doesn't provide one, I use a path in the temp directory with the input file name as a basis. Similarly with the output path, if the user doesn't provide one I default to the input file name with the extension changed to svg.

File Data Flow

Reading files in Rust is very clean. Resource management is identically to memory management, so as long as a handle to the file is still held, the file will be open, but the moment the handle goes out of scope, the lifetime management functionality will kick in and drop the file access.

For Pando the general flow is: Input File -> Compile -> Dot Temp File -> GraphViz -> Output File. The Dot file has to be written to the disk since I use the GraphViz command line tool to compile it to the final image.

  let mut todo_file = File::open(&todo_path).expect("Could not open todo file");
let mut todo_text = String::new();
todo_file.read_to_string(&mut todo_text).expect("Could not read todo file");

let dot_text = compile(&todo_text);
let mut dot_file = File::create(&dot_path).expect("Could not create dot file");
dot_file.write_all(dot_text.as_bytes()).expect("Could not write dot file");

Very simple read the input file to a string, compile it to the dot_text variable, then write that string to the intermediate path. Next I call the dot command installed by GraphViz using the Command api in the standard library.

  let render_output = Command::new("dot")
    .expect("Could not execute graphviz command");
let rendered_text = String::from_utf8(render_output.stdout).expect("Invalid graphviz output");

The result from executing the dot command is a binary array, so parsing as a string is pretty simple. Lastly I check if GraphViz returned an error, right the output to a file, and print success.

  if rendered_text.starts_with("Error") {
    println!("Graphviz error: {}", rendered_text);
} else {
    let mut output_file = File::create(&output_path).expect("Could not create output file");
    output_file.write_all(rendered_text.as_bytes()).expect("Could not write output file");
    println!("Successfully output to {:?}", output_path);

Done! At this point Pando will take an input file in the pando file format describing tasks and their dependencies and end to end render it to an svg depicting the dependency graph. Took some doing, but I learned a lot about what writing a parser and doing string manipulation looks like in Rust.

I haven't decided what to do next. I have a number of projects I'm interested in introducing, as well as some progress planned for the Script-8 Bomb Surival Demake. Fun things ahead!

Till tomorrow,