How To Fish Subcommands

June 14, 2020

I’m currently working on a somewhat minimalistic Fish Shell implementation of jrnl, a popular CLI journal tool written in Python. My Fish version is still a work in progress but there’s one insight I’d like to share: how to correctly implement subcommands in Fish so that CLI are options are passed through to subcommands.

My first attempt looked something like this. At the bottom of this snippet (which you can paste into a file and run!) I’m defining the “main” export, a function called foo. This function has a single subcommand, to which it passes its arguments. That function, called __hello, defines a single option, -i (or --info). Additionally, there’s some shared functionality implemented in __shared. And to make matters a bit more complicated, __shared also accepts an option.

#!/usr/bin/env fish

function __shared
    set -l options (fish_opt -s t -l tag)
    argparse $options -- $argv

    echo $_flag_t
    echo $argv

function __hello
    set -l options (fish_opt -s i -l info)
    argparse $options -- $argv

    echo $_flag_i

    __shared $argv

function foo -a cmd
  switch $cmd
    case hello
      __hello $argv

Running this with source; foo hello -t -i results in an error:

__hello: Unknown option “-t” (line 12):
    argparse $options -- $argv
in function '__hello' with arguments 'hello -t -i'
        called on line 22 of file
in function 'foo' with arguments 'hello -t -i'
__shared: Unknown option “-i” (line 5):
    argparse $options -- $argv
    ^ in function '__shared' with arguments 'hello -t -i'
        called on line 16 of file
in function '__hello' with arguments 'hello -t -i'
        called on line 22 of file
in function 'foo' with arguments 'hello -t -i'

Line 12 refers to the argparse call in __hello. As the error message implies, the option -t is indeed unknown to the options I’ve specified in __hello. Luckily Fish added an --ignore-unknown option in 3.1b1, which solves this issue. Before that release you had to redirect stderr to /dev/null which wasn’t ideal. By changing that one line to argparse -i $options -- $argv the script works again, hooray! Now let’s see what happens if you pass positional parameters to __shared. Change the call to __shared to __shared foo bar $argv and run the script again:

$ source; foo hello -t -i

No errors, but the name of the subcommand shows up in the arguments list, which is not what I want. Luckily that’s easy to fix. Simply use set -e argv[1] to remove the first element (the subcommand name) from the original argument list. Note that I’m not using a dollar sign here which is intentional:

case hello
  set -e argv[1]
  __hello $argv ```

Let's recap what happens to `$argv`, when the script is called with `foo param -t -i`, as the arguments flow through the different function calls. 

- `param -t -i`
- Remove first element `param` -> `-t -i`
- Any option that `argparse` can succesfully parse is removed, in this case `-i`, but we're adding `foo bar` -> `foo bar -t` 
- Parse `-t` option -> `foo bar`

The final `$argv` at the very end of `__shared` is therefore just `foo bar`, which is exactly what I need.

`argparse` and `fish_opt` are some of the coolest helpers that Fish makes available to you as a script author and evertime I write POSIX sh or Bash scripts I miss their utility. It's therefore absolutely worth it to check out the [documentation](!

Happy Fish Scripting!

Found a mistake? Got feedback? Please raise an issue on GitHub!