Enterprise Java

KivaKit command line parsing

The kivakit-commandline module provides the switch and argument parsing used by kivakit-application. Let’s take a look at how this works. When an Application starts up (see KivaKit applications), the Application.run(String[] arguments) method uses the kivakit-commandline module to parse the argument array passed to main(). Conceptually, this code looks like this:

public final void run(String[] arguments)

    commandLine = new CommandLineParser(this)

In run(), a CommandLineParser instance is created and configured with the applications argument and switch parsers, as returned by switchParsers() and argumentParsers() in our application subclass. Next, when the parse(String[]) method is called, the command line is parsed. The resulting CommandLine model is stored in Application, and is used later by our application to retrieve argument and switch values.


An overview of the classes used in command line parsing can be seen in this abbreviated UML diagram:

The CommandLineParser class references a SwitchParserList and an ArgumentParserList. When its parse(String[]) method is called, it uses these parsers to parse the switches and arguments from the given string array into a SwitchList and an ArgumentList. Then it returns a CommandLine object populated with these values.

Note that all switches must be of the form -switch-name=[value]. If a string in the argument array is not of this form, it is considered an argument and not a switch.

Once a CommandLine has been successfully parsed, it is available through Application.commandLine(). The values of specific arguments and switches can be retrieved through its get() and argument() methods. The Application class provides convenience methods so that the call to commandLine() can often be omitted for the sake of brevity.


In the example in KivaKit applications, the argument and switch parsers returned by the example application were declared like this:

import static com.telenav.kivakit.commandline.SwitchParser.booleanSwitchParser;
import static com.telenav.kivakit.filesystem.File.fileArgumentParser;


private ArgumentParser<File> INPUT =
        fileArgumentParser("Input text file")

private SwitchParser<Boolean> SHOW_FILE_SIZE =
        booleanSwitchParser("show-file-size", "Show the file size in bytes")

The Application subclass then provides these parsers to KivaKit like this:

protected List<ArgumentParser<?>> argumentParsers()
    return List.of(INPUT);

protected Set<SwitchParser<?>> switchParsers()
    return Set.of(SHOW_FILE_SIZE);

Then in onRun(), the input file is retrieved by calling the argument() method with the INPUT argument parser:

var input = argument(INPUT);

and the SHOW_FILE_SIZE boolean switch is accessed in a similar way with get():

if (get(SHOW_FILE_SIZE))

This is all that’s required to do basic switch parsing in KivaKit.

But there are a few questions to address regarding how all this works. How are arguments and switches validated? How does KivaKit automatically provide command line help? And how can we define new SwitchParsers and ArgumentParsers?

Command line validation

The KivaKit validation mini-framework is used to validate switches and arguments. As shown in the diagram below, validators for arguments and switches are implemented in the (private) classes ArgumentListValidator and SwitchListValidator, respectively. When arguments and switches are parsed by CommandLineParser these validators are used to ensure that the resulting parsed values are valid.

For the list of switches, SwitchListValidator ensures that:

  1. No required switches are omitted
  2. No switch values are invalid (as determined by the switch parser’s validation)
  3. No duplicate switches are present (this is not allowed)
  4. All switches present are recognized by some switch parser

For the list of arguments, ArgumentListValidator ensures that the number of arguments is acceptable. ArgumentParser.Builder can specify a quantifier for an argument parser by calling one of these methods:

public Builder<T> oneOrMore()
public Builder<T> optional()
public Builder<T> required()
public Builder<T> twoOrMore()
public Builder<T> zeroOrMore()

Argument parsers that accept more than one argument are only allowed at the end of the list of argument parsers returned by Application.argumentParsers(). For example, this code:

private static final ArgumentParser<Boolean> RECURSE =
        booleanArgumentParser("True to search recusively")

private static final ArgumentParser<Folder> ROOT_FOLDER =
        folderArgumentParser("Root folder(s) to search")


protected List<ArgumentParser<?>> argumentParsers()
    return List.of(RECURSE, ROOT_FOLDER);

is valid, and will parse command line arguments like this:

true /usr/bin /var /tmp

Here, each root folder can be retrieved with Application.argument(int index, ArgumentParser) passing in the indexes 1, 2 and 3.

However, it would not be valid to return these two argument parsers in the reverse order like this:

protected List<ArgumentParser<?>> argumentParsers()
    return List.of(ROOT_FOLDER, RECURSE);

since the ROOT_FOLDER parser must be last in the list.

Command line help

Command line help for applications is provided automatically by KivaKit. For example, forgetting to pass the -deployment switch (more on deployments in a future article) to a server that expects such a switch results in:

┏━━━━━━━━━━┫ COMMAND LINE ERROR(S) ┣━━━━━━━━━━┓
┋     ○ Required switch -deployment not found ┋
KivaKit 0.9.9-SNAPSHOT (beryllium gorilla)

Usage: DataServer 0.9.0-SNAPSHOT <switches> <arguments>

My cool data server.





  -deployment=Deployment (required) : The deployment configuration to run

    ○ localpinot - Pinot on local host
    ○ development - Pinot on pinot-database.mypna.com
    ○ localtest - Test database on local host

  -port=Integer (optional, default: 8081) : The first port in the range of ports to be allocated
  -quiet=Boolean (optional, default: false) : Minimize output

The description comes from Application.description(), which we can override in our application. The argument and switch help is generated from the argument and switch parsers from their name, description, type, quantity, default value, and list of valid values.

Creating new switch and argument parsers

Creating a new switch (or argument) parser is very easy if you have a KivaKit type converter for the switch. For example, in the application above, we created the SHOW_FILE_SIZE switch parser by calling SwitchParser.booleanSwitchParser() to create a builder. We then called optional() to make the switch optional and gave it a default value of false before building the parser with build():

import static com.telenav.kivakit.commandline.SwitchParser.booleanSwitchParser;


private SwitchParser<Boolean> SHOW_FILE_SIZE =
    booleanSwitchParser("show-file-size", "Show file size in bytes")

The SwitchParser.booleanSwitchParser static method creates a SwitchParser.Builder like this:

public static Builder<Boolean> booleanSwitchParser(String name, String description)
    return builder(Boolean.class)
            .converter(new BooleanConverter(LOGGER))

As we can see the Builder.converter(Converter) method is all that is required to convert the switch from a string on the command line into a Boolean value, as in:


In general, if a StringConverter already exists for a type, it is trivial to create new switch parser(s) for that type. Because KivaKit has many handy string converters, KivaKit also provides many argument and switch parsers. A few of the types that support switch and/or argument parsers:

  • Boolean, Double, Integer, Long
  • Minimum, Maximum
  • Bytes
  • Count
  • LocalTime
  • Pattern
  • Percent
  • Version
  • Resource, ResourceList
  • File, FilePath, FileList
  • Folder, FolderList
  • Host
  • Port


The complete code for the example presented here is available in the kivakit-examples repository. The switch parsing classes are in:


but it is not normally necessary to include this directly since the kivakit-application module provides easier access to the same functionality:


Published on Java Code Geeks with permission by Jonathan Locke, partner at our JCG program. See the original article here: KivaKit command line parsing

Opinions expressed by Java Code Geeks contributors are their own.

Jonathan Locke

Jonathan has been working with Java since 1996, and he was a member of the Sun Microsystems Java Team. As an open source author, he is originator of the Apache Wicket web framework (https://wicket.apache.org), as well as KivaKit (https://www.kivakit.org, @OpenKivaKit) and Lexakai (a tool for producing UML diagrams and Markdown indexes from Java source code, available at https://www.lexakai.org, @OpenLexakai). Jonathan works as a Principal Software Architect at Telenav (https://www.telenav.com), and in the future, Telenav will release further toolkit designed and led by Jonathan called MesaKit, focused on map analysis and navigation.
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Back to top button