command line tool syntax

Command line interface (CUI) designs for many of the tools found with VS or in Windows were to include a bunch of individual commands or exe with options or flags.

To get a directory listing: dir <options> as in dir c:\temp /w
To create a directory: md c:\temp\foo
To delete a directory: rd /s c:\temp\foo

So even though all the tasks pertain to directory or path handling , you need to know three command to do the task. This design is slowly changing to the format of command <action> [</options:attributes>]

For example if we change the above commands to this format with the common command called dir, we will be getting
To get a directory listing: DIR list c:\temp /w
To create a directory: DIR  make c:\temp\foo
To delete a directory: DIR rem c:\temp\foo /s

So effectively user learning is reduced. One can argue that he still needs to remember the names of the actions. But in the previous case he needs to remember rd, md, dir. Now he knows everything to do with path handling is to be done with DIR. So he can run DIR /? to get the list of actions and then do a DIR list /? to know the options for listing. The other advantage is namespace pollution in terms of the names of the executables also reduces.

This new format has also been adopted in the VS as in the source control tool. So to get the listing of all workspaces on MyServer you  run the command
h.exe workspaces /s:MyServer
To create a new workspace you run the command
h.exe workspace /new MySpace /s:abhinab-test
I guess going forward we will see more and more of the standard OS commands also taking up this format. A very common example is the NET command

Comments (1)
  1. Marc says:

    I prefer the new syntax for the reasons you point out: in order to get help you need to remember the action name itself first. This way, you can be more vague.

    Is the problem that if not all of the options are appropriate to each action then the user can be confused and the usage is just as obscure as previously?

    I can see this working extremely well in some cases, but maybe not all.

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