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Building a command-line app in JavaScript

3 min read
Published on 29th May 2024

JavaScript isn't just for web browsers. With Node.js, you can use JavaScript to build versatile command-line applications (CLIs) that perform tasks, handle automation, or even interact with APIs and process data. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to build a basic CLI tool using Node.js and the commander library, which simplifies the creation of command-line interfaces.

Step 1: Setting Up Your Project

To start, you need Node.js installed on your computer. If you haven't installed Node.js yet, you can download it from

  1. Create a New Directory for Your Project:

    mkdir my-cli-app
    cd my-cli-app
  2. Initialize a New Node.js Project: Run npm init or npm init -y (to skip the questions and accept defaults) to create a package.json file that will manage your project dependencies and metadata.

Step 2: Install Commander

The commander library is a popular choice for handling command-line options and commands in Node.js applications. Install it by running:

npm install commander

Step 3: Create Your CLI Tool

Create a new file called index.js. This file will be the entry point of your CLI application.

  1. Import Commander and Set Up Basic Command:

    const { program } = require('commander');
      .description('An example CLI for processing files');
  2. Add Commands and Options: You can define commands and options that your CLI will accept. For instance, let’s add a command to process a file:

      .command('process <file>')
      .description('Process the specified file')
      .option('-u, --uppercase', 'Output in uppercase')
      .action((file, options) => {
          const fs = require('fs');
          fs.readFile(file, 'utf8', (err, data) => {
              if (err) {
              let output = data;
              if (options.uppercase) {
                  output = output.toUpperCase();

    This command process expects a filename and has an optional flag -u or --uppercase to convert text to uppercase.

Step 4: Enable Running Your Script

  1. Make index.js Executable: Add a shebang line at the top of index.js to specify the interpreter:

    #!/usr/bin/env node
  2. Update package.json: Add a bin section to your package.json to specify that index.js can be installed as an executable:

    "bin": {
        "my-cli-app": "./index.js"
  3. Link Your Application (for development): Run npm link in your project directory. This command creates a global symlink to your project, allowing you to run your CLI tool from anywhere on your system using my-cli-app.

Step 5: Testing Your CLI Tool

Open a terminal and try running your new CLI tool:

my-cli-app process example.txt --uppercase

This should display the contents of example.txt in uppercase, assuming the file exists and is readable.


Building command-line applications in JavaScript with Node.js and the commander library allows you to create powerful tools for a variety of tasks, from simple file processing to complex automation scripts. This tutorial covered the basics to get you started. As you become more comfortable, consider adding more features like error handling, more complex commands, and integrating other Node.js modules to expand the functionality of your CLI tool. Happy coding!