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CLI Development

This section of the guide provides guidance on how to work with the Meltano CLI, which serves as the primary user interface of Meltano, and is built with the Python package: click.

Getting Set Up

See the prerequisite section for instructions on how to set up a development environment and dependencies.

CLI Design Guidelines

The meltano CLI is the primary interface for interacting with Meltano. It's often the first introduction to meltano that a users experiences when browsing the docs or experimenting with the CLI. As such, we aim to provide a clear and consistent interface that is easy to use. This guide aims to codify the design guidelines for the CLI so that contributors can easily update or extend the CLI with new features, commands, options, and enhancements.

This document is somewhat aspirational and a work in progress. Portions of the CLI may violate the design and style guidelines, but we aim to update the CLI overtime to ensure that it is as consistent as possible.

Consistent definition of Groups, Commands, Sub-commands, Arguments, and Options

Groups, Commands, Sub-commands, Arguments, Options, and Flags often have slightly different meanings for users. So are defined as follows for use in meltano.

  • Group is a group of commands that are related to a specific area of the CLI, typically a specific meltano feature. For example, the meltano schedule feature-group contains commands related to managing Meltano schedules.
  • command/sub_command are used to perform specific tasks or used to group a set of command around a specific feature or task. Sub-commands take the form of parameters, but require additional arguments or options themselves.
  • Arguments are positional parameters that are passed to a command. Arguments do not require additional options or arguments - otherwise they would be considered a sub-command.
  • Options (switch, option flags, or flags) are options that alter the behavior (e.g. --dry-run) or named input options (e.g. --tasks=). They come in two forms. A long form: --option-name, and a short form: -o.

Given a command like meltano job set JOB_NAME --tasks=[<task>...]:

  • meltano is the global click command group for Meltano. This is the main entry point to the CLI. When we refer to global options this is the level we refer to.
  • job is the click command group for the job command. This is the main command group for the job command. This is typically the top level for a Meltano feature.
  • set is a sub-command of the job command.
  • JOB_NAME is an argument of the set sub-command.
  • --tasks is named option of the set sub-command.

For a technical explanation of how commands and groups work see

Use of short and long options

For options you expect to be used frequently or for options with excessively long names, you may include both the long AND short variation of the option. For example --help and -h, --force and -f. However, you should avoid using the short form if it is ambiguous or is likely to overlap with another option in the same global command group. For example avoid using -t as a short form for --tasks as it may be confused with a hypothetical --test option.

Note that in documentation like guides and walkthrough the long form is always preferred. The short version alone should never be used in documentation.

Desired verb/command linkage and structure

  1. Organize in a command group around a feature below the top level where possible.
  2. Coalesce commands that operate on the same resource of a feature as a group of sub-commands.
  3. Use transitive verbs like remove, set, list, get as sub-commands to perform work within a group where appropriate.
meltano <feature-group> add <something>
meltano <feature-group> delete <something>
meltano <feature-group> get <something>

Standardized verbs

  • Use add and remove to create or remove a construct like "schedule" or "job"
  • Use set to override or update a construct after creation as in meltano jobs JOB_NAME set
  • Use get, set, list, clear for operating on variable like artifacts like "state" and "secrets"
  • Use list to enumerate items as in meltano job list
  • Use describe to show details about an item

Global vs argument level flag casing

When creating global flags, default to upper case letters for short options, and lower case letter for argument level options. Unless a common industry convention already exists to use the lower case variation.

Defaulting global short flags to upper case letters can help prevent ambiguity should a collision between a global flag and an argument level option occur. e.g.

meltano [-L/--log-level LEVEL] SOME_COMMAND [-l/--last-thing]

The caveat to this is common and expected global short options. For example -h and --help.

Reusing short options

Avoid reusing a short option if at all possible to avoid potential confusion. An example where short flag should not be reused:

# ambiguous use that should be avoided
meltano somecommand run SOME_TASK [-t/--test SOME_TEST]
meltano somecommand set [-t/--task SOME_TASK]

In scenario's like this you have three paths.

  1. Choose a sensible alternate when its unlikely to cause confusion with OTHER options e.g. -k/--task and -t/--test.
  2. Dropping the use of the short flag of the option you feel will be used less frequently AND the short flag is unlikely to cause confusion. This is a great path if the long flag is already terse.
  3. Drop the use of the short flag all together. If these flags aren't used frequently, this is a sensible default choice.

Expected output formats

Default to human-readable plain text output for most commands by default. In cases where you expect users to also want to programmatically consume the output, you should allow the user to specify the output format via the --format option.

The --format option should still default to text unless the user explicitly specifies a format. The two primary formats are:

  • text: human-readable plain text output.
  • json: JSON output.

In the future we may add support for other formats (e.g. yaml).

Expected help and usage

Feature groups should have fully documented help and usage, that contains at least basic invocation examples. And link to the CLI documentation for that specific feature group for more details.

Usage: meltano job [OPTIONS] COMMAND [ARGS]...

Manage jobs.

Example usage:

# This help
meltano job --help
# List all jobs in JSON format
meltano job list --format json
# List a named job
meltano job list [JOB_NAME]

# Create a new job with a single task representing a single run command.
meltano job add NAME --tasks 'tap mapper target command:arg1'

# Create a new job with multiple tasks each representing a run command.
# The list of tasks must be yaml formatted and consist of a list of strings, list of string lists, or mix of both.
meltano job add NAME --tasks '["tap mapper target", "tap2 target2", ...]'
meltano job add NAME --tasks '[["tap target dbt:run", "tap2 target2", ...], ...]'

# Remove a named job
meltano job remove NAME


--database-uri TEXT System database URI.
--help Show this message and exit.

add Add a new job with tasks.
list List job(s).
remove Remove a job.
set Update an existing jobs tasks

Help style guidelines

Required items

For required items such as commands and arguments, use text without brackets or braces. In the following examples, all words and arguments are required:

meltano run JOB_NAME
meltano invoke PLUGIN_NAME
meltano schedule list
meltano schedule remove SCHEDULE_NAME

Optional items

Use square brackets around an optional items. If there's more than one optional item, enclose each item in its own set of square brackets. In the following example the --log-level and --dump are optional, while PLUGIN_NAME is required:

meltano [--log-level=LEVEL] invoke [--dump=config] PLUGIN_NAME

Mutually exclusive items

Use curly braces ({}) to indicate that the user must choose one—and only one—of the items inside the braces. Use PIPES (|) to separate the items:

meltano schedule {list|remove}

Repeating items

Use three trailing dots and no spaces (...) to indicate that the user can specify multiple values for the items:

meltano run BLOCKS ...
meltano install [] [PLUGIN_NAME] ...

Short and Long Options

For official documentation such as walkthroughs and guides use the long form of the flag. For example:

meltano --environment=PROD

In help output and general examples default to the long form or provide combined examples of the short and long form:

meltano [-E/--environment ENVIRONMENT]

Placeholders and angle brackets

When writing help output it is often useful to provide examples that utilize placeholders. In complex cases where you're trying to illustrate how a user might use feature, it is often useful to use actual tap/target/mapping names to illustrate intent. But most commonly, especially for simple examples use common terms e.g. TAP rather than extractor or tap-something.

We also have significant historic use of angle brackets as placeholders for user input in our documentation (and also help out). Which often looks like:

meltano elt <tap_name> <target_name>

In the context of something like a more conversational guide or other online docs this does help indicate that we expect the user to supply this input. However, our current use in help output is often ambigous when it comes to indicating whether this is a required item or optional item. So moving forward if you use this form in CLI help out you should still follow the documented conventions for indicating whether something is required:

# TAP and TARGET are upper case since they are required inputs
meltano run <TAP_NAME> <TARGET_NAME>

# MAPPER1 is wrapped in [] since its optional and a series
meltano <TAP> [MAPPER1 ...] <TARGET>

Phrasing guidelines for command Deprecation and Preview commands

Prefer the term "deprecated" over "obsolete". Commands that are deprecated should be marked as such in help text and in the meltano documentation. Deprecated commands should also explicitly emit a notice when they are used indicating their deprecation. Where appropriate the notice and help text should indicate the replacement command, or link to further information. If known, you should also document in what version you expect a command to be fully removed.

Prefer the term "preview" over "beta". Commands that enable a preview feature should be marked as such in help text and in the meltano documentation. Where possible if not in the help output, then at least in the documentation, you should also document when the command is expected to graduate from preview status, and what if any shortcomings, defects, or missing functionality it currently has.