by Michael Hunger

How to write a command-line database client in just 10 minutes using OCLIF with TypeScript

This week I came across the “OCLIF, Open Source Command Line Framework” by SalesForce/Heroku in a medium post by Jeff Dickey.

I was intrigued, it looked really easy and clean (thanks to TypeScript), and I knew from past experience that there is a lot of chores and boilerplate involved in CLIs. The documentation and examples also looked really good.

I spent a good amount of time in both neo4j-shell and cypher-shell, both in Java, so I wanted to give JavaScript (JS) a try.

Having used the neo4j-javascript-driver before for graph visualization, I knew it was quite straightforward and fast.

The driver sends Cypher queries via the binary Bolt protocol to the database and also handles smart routing, transactions, and retries.

For a pretty output, I chose ascii-table , a neat JS library to produce pretty tables for the terminal.

Basically, you have to provide a bolt-url, username, and password and a query to run, so I imagine our client to look like this.

boltsh -a bolt://host:port -u neo4j -p pa55w0rd \  "MATCH (n:Person) RETURN, n.age LIMIT 10"


I recorded a session of doing this coding. It comes down to 15-minute runtime, mostly due to the typing. Feel free to watch it at 2x :)

Running a Neo4j Instance

To get Neo4j running with some data, you have two options. You can install Neo4j Desktop, which is an electron app for managing databases, and create a project with a local, empty database. Or you can launch a Neo4j Sandbox, and chose a “Blank Sandbox.”

Please note the server-IP address and the bolt port as well as username and password from the “Details” tab.

In both cases, after launching the “Neo4j Browser”, which is just a nice React-based frontend (and also uses the neo4j-javascript-driver), please enter and run in the top command-line.

:play movie graph

This gives you a slideshow, where on the second page you see a huge statement to create sample data. Click and run that, and you should see Tom Hanks visualized with a bunch of his movies and some of the directors.

Getting started with OCLIF

It’s very straightforward — just decide if you want a multi- or single-command client and run the appropriate npx (npm package runner) command.

npx oclif single boltsh

This asks you a few questions about the name, license, and github-repo, and generates a skeleton, in our case for a single-command CLI.

To see if everything worked, you can run the ./bin/run command and should see an output like this:

hello world from /Users/mh/d/js/boltsh/src/index.ts!

Ok, so we can find the code to edit in that file which is a Command class. Opening it in the editor, we see where to add a description, a usage example, and the flags mentioned above.

We set all flags to required, and provide defaults for address and user. Then we also add the query argument, which is also required.

import { Command, flags } from '@oclif/command'
class Boltsh extends Command {  static description = 'Execute Cypher Queries via Bolt'
  static examples = [    `$ boltsh -a bolt://localhost -u neo4j -p test \                 "MATCH (n:Person) return"n.nameKeanu ReevesTom Hanks...`,  ]
  static flags = {    version: flags.version({ char: 'v' }),    help:{ char: 'h' }),
    address: flags.string({ char: 'a', description: 'bolt address',                       required: true, default: 'bolt://localhost' }),    user: flags.string({ char: 'u', description: 'neo4j user',                      required: true, default: 'neo4j' }),    password: flags.string({ char: 'p', required: true,                      description: 'user password' }),  }
  static args = [{ name: 'query', required: true,                    description: 'Cypher Query to Run' }]
  async run() {    const { args, flags } = this.parse(Boltsh)
    this.log(`boltsh: ${flags.address} ${flags.user}               ${args.query} from ${__filename}!`)  }}
export = Boltsh

So we output our command line inputs and give it a go. As a nice side-effect, the run command also runs the TypeScript compiler, so we don’t have to do that manually.

./bin/run -p test "MATCH (n:Person) RETURN"
boltsh: bolt://localhost neo4j MATCH (n:Person) RETURN from /Users/mh/d/js/boltsh/src/index.ts!

Cool, now we can add the neo4j-driver and send our query to the server:

yarn add neo4j-driver

Add imports on top:

import * as neo4j from 'neo4j-driver'

You’ll find the details of the Neo4j Driver API here.

  1. We’ll create a driver with our address, user, and password, and acquire a session, which we use to run the query.
  2. Get the results and output the record-keys of the first row as headers and the values of all records as rows, all tab-separated.
  3. At the bottom, we also output the total number of rows and the time taken from the result-summary.

(Note that the Neo4j driver uses it’s own Number type for Numbers, as Javascript can’t express 64-bit numbers.)

async run() {  const { args, flags } = this.parse(Boltsh)
  const driver = neo4j.v1.driver(flags.address,                    neo4j.v1.auth.basic(flags.user, flags.password))  const session = driver.session()  const result = await  session.close()  driver.close()  const records = result.records;  if (records.length > 0) {    // header    this.log(records[0].keys.join("\t"))    // rows    records.forEach(r => this.log(           => r.get(k)).join("\t")))
    this.log(`Returned ${records.length} row(s) in              ${result.summary.resultAvailableAfter.toNumber() +                result.summary.resultConsumedAfter.toNumber()} ms.`)  } else {    this.log('No Results.')  }}

If we run our test again, it “just works.” Cool!

./bin/run -p test "MATCH (n:Person) RETURN limit 2"
n.nameKeanu ReevesCarrie-Anne MossReturned 2 row(s) in 3 ms.

Now we can make it pretty with ascii-table

yarn add ascii-table

As ASCII-table doesn’t come with TypeScript definition, the compiler would error — that’s why we have to declare the module in a separate file `src/ambient.d.ts`:

declare module 'ascii-table';

Again, add the imports. This time we add a non-required flag -t that switches on table mode.

import * as AsciiTable from 'ascii-table'

Then we construct and output the AsciiTable instance instead of plain text when that flag is set.

static flags = {  // ...  table: flags.boolean({ char: 't', description: 'Table Format' })}
async run() {  const { args, flags } = this.parse(Boltsh)
  const driver = neo4j.v1.driver(flags.address,                   neo4j.v1.auth.basic(flags.user, flags.password))  const session = driver.session()  const result = await  session.close()  driver.close()  const records = result.records;
  if (records.length > 0) {    // extract data to be rendered    const data = { heading: records[0].keys,           rows: => => r.get(k))) }
    if (flags.table) {      const table = AsciiTable.factory(data)      this.log(table.toString())    } else {      this.log(data.heading.join("\t"))      data.rows.forEach(r => this.log(r.join("\t")))    }
    this.log(`Returned ${records.length} row(s) in              ${result.summary.resultAvailableAfter.toNumber() +                  result.summary.resultConsumedAfter.toNumber()} ms.`)  } else {    this.log('No Results.')  }}

So let’s give this a try and see what our table looks like:

./bin/run -p test -t "MATCH (n:Person) RETURN limit 10"
.--------------------.|       ||--------------------|| Keanu Reeves       || Carrie-Anne Moss   || Laurence Fishburne || Hugo Weaving       || Lilly Wachowski    || Lana Wachowski     || Joel Silver        || Emil Eifrem        || Charlize Theron    || Al Pacino          |'--------------------'Returned 10 row(s) in 25 ms.

Also, a more complex query looks good (except, it’s too wide for Medium, so screenshot). This renders people’s name, birth-year, and three of the movies they are related to.

What’s nice about OCLIF is that it comes with batteries included. For example, we can run boltsh --help to get a proper help page:

./bin/run --helpExecute Cypher Queries via Bolt
USAGE  $ boltsh QUERY
ARGUMENTS  QUERY  Cypher Query to Run
OPTIONS  -a, --address=address    (required) [default: bolt://localhost] bolt address  -h, --help               show CLI help  -p, --password=password  (required) user password  -u, --user=user          (required) [default: neo4j] neo4j user  -v, --version            show CLI version
EXAMPLE  $ boltsh -a bolt://localhost -u neo4j -p test \           "MATCH (n:Person) return"  Keanu Reeves  Tom Hanks  ...

In the article mentioned at the beginning, Jeff shows how to build a multi-command CLI. The code is basically the same as ours, the only difference being that you have multiple Commands.

Check out the OCLIF documentation and examples.

The framework has a plugin infrastructure, and there are already a few plugins, like self-update. I hope we’ll see more.

I think OCLIF is really nicely done by the folks at Heroku, thanks to Jeff Dickey.

Cool, mission accomplished, now all that remains is to push to GitHub and publish to npm.

So why don’t you give it a try and built a CLI of your own?

Happy Hacking!