Getopt modules 21: Getopt::ArgParse

About this mini-article series. Each day for 24 days, I will be reviewing a module that parses command-line options (such module is usually under the Getopt::* namespace). First article is here.

In contrast to in Perl, where the core modules Getopt::Std and Getopt::Long stand the test of time and remain the most popular ways people parse command-line options with in their Perl CLI scripts, in Python we encounter several churns of recommended standard modules.

First there is getopt, "C-style parser for command line options". To use getopt, you pass a string containing list of short options a la Getopt::Std, e.g. "ho:v" (meaning -o takes argument while h and v are flag switches), and also an array containing long options, e.g. ["help", "output="] (meaning –output takes argument while –help does not). But, instead of supplying references to variables to set, or coderefs (remember, specifying anonymous function is inconvenient in Python) like in Getopt::Long, in getopt programmers are asked to do a manual if-then-else and a loop (see the linked documentation for example). This is also quite similar in interface to the GetoptLong class in Ruby.

No doubt, this style of programming feels manual and tedious. Thus came optparse which is more OO and supposedly more Pythonic. Instead of passing a whole list of options at once, you now add one option (object) at a time using add_option method, along with more information for each option: usage/help message, type, whether the option is required, number of arguments expected, default value, and perhaps some callback. optparse's capability is equivalent to Getopt::Long or Getopt::Long::Descriptive, except that optparse makes some design choices, for example it is decidedly Unix-oriented, allowing only or as the option prefix (while Getopt::Long allows you to configure this). The documentation is quite probably the nicest aspect of this module: it does not assume much knowledge (like familiarity with Unix or CLI) from the readers and explains at length what an option is and how should one design a CLI program with regards to accepting options. I realized that "required option" is indeed an oxymoron from reading it!

But, as with Getopt::Long, optparse does not have the concept of subcommands. Thus arrived argparse. It is basically like optparse in appearance, except it has some extra features like the ability to specify positional arguments (in Getopt::Long, this is handled by the <> option specification) and support nested subcommands with the use of subparsers. Interestingly, argparse supports reading arguments from a file just like Getopt::ArgvFile, and this is the only form of "config file" it supports.

As things are right now, argparse becomes part of the standard library (a.k.a. core modules, in Perl parlance) while optparse is now deprecated and might be removed. However, getopt remains.

There is a Perl port of argparse on CPAN called Getopt::ArgParse, created by M ytraM (MYTRAM) in 2013 and last updated in 2015. It is not feature-by-feature equivalent to its Python original, because of language differences and because argparse still accumulates features over time. You get some basic features like autohelp/autousage message, default value, setting an option as required, setting number of expected arguments, as well as subparsers for subcommand support (although not yet nested in Getopt::ArgParse). The type/validation feature is weak or almost nonexistent; perhaps a custom validation routine should be allowed to be specified or more can be explored here.

What's rather disappointing from this port is its use of Getopt::Long (I was expecting a full port so option parsing should be done by itself) and Moo, significantly adding dependencies.

There is mention of configuration file in the documentation, but actually there is no explicit support of configuration file. Not even using "option file prefix" ala argparse or Getopt::ArgvFile.

All in all, I'm not seeing something to make me prefer this module. If you do not use subcommands, I recommend sticking with Getopt::Long or Getopt::Long::Descriptive. If you do use subcommands, perhaps also consider a CLI framework like App::Cmd, or Getopt::Long::Subcommand.

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