Consider TTY::Command for all your external process/shell out needs in ruby

When writing a ruby app, I regularly have the need to execute and wait for an external non-ruby “command line” process. Sometimes I think of this as a “shell out”, but in truth depending on how you do it a shell (like bash or sh) may not be involved at all, the ruby process can execute the external process directly.  Typical examples for me are the imagemagick/graphicsmagick command line.

(Which is incidentally, I think, what the popular ruby minimagick gem does, just execute an external process using IM command line. As opposed to rmagick, which tries to actually use the system C IM libraries. Sometimes “shelling out” to command line utility is just simpler and easier to get right).

There are a few high-level ways built into ruby to execute external processes easily. Including the simple system and  backticks (`), which is usually what most people start with, they’re simple and right there for you!

But I think many people end up finding what I have, the most common patterns I want in a “launch and wait for external command line process” function are difficult with system and backticks.  I definitely want the exit value — I usually am going to wait to raise an exception if the exit value isn’t 0 (unix for “success”).   I usually want to suppress stdout/stderr from the external process (instead of having it end up in my own processes stdout/stderr and/or logs), but I want to capture them in a string (sometimes separate strings for stdout/stderr), because in an error condition I do want to log them and/or include them in an exception message. And of course there’s making sure you are safe from command injection vulnerabilities. 

Neither system nor backticks will actually give you all this.  You end up having to do Open3#popen3 to get full control. And it ends up pretty confusing, verbose, and tricky, to make sure you’re doing what you want, and without accidentally dead-blocking for some of the weirder combinations. In part because popen3 is just an old-school low-level C-style OS API being exposed to you in ruby.

The good news is @piotrmurrach’s TTY::Command will do it all for you. It’s got the right API to easily express the common use-cases you actually have, succinctly and clearly, and taking care of the tricky socket/blocking stuff for you.

One common use case I have is:  execute an external process. Do not let it output to stderr/stdout, but do capture the stderr/stdout in string(s). If the command fails,  raise with the captured stdout/stderr included (that I intentionally didn’t output to logs, but I wanna see it on error). Do it all with proper protection from command injection attack, of course. :null).run('vips', 'dzsave', input_file_path_string)

Woah, done! run will already:

If the command fails (with a non-zero exit code), a TTY::Command::ExitError is raised. The ExitError message will include: the name of command executed; the exit status; stdout bytes; stderr bytes

Does exactly what I need, cause, guess, what, what I need is a very common use case and piotr recognized that, prob from his own work.

Want to not raise on the error, but still detect it and log stdout/stderr? No problem.

result = :null).run("vips", "dzsave", whatever)
if result.failed?
$stderr.puts("Our vips thing failed!!! with this output:\n #{result.stdout} #{result.stderr}")

If you want to not raise on error but still detect it, pass ENV, a bunch of other things, TTY::Command has got ya. Supply stdin too? No prob.  Supply a custom output formatter, so stuff goes to stdout/stderr but properly colorized/indented for your own command line utility, to look all nice and consistent with your other output? Yup. You even get a dry-run mode!

Ordinary natural rubyish options for just about anything I can think of I might want to do, and some things I hadn’t realized I might want to do until I saw em doc’d as options in TTY::Command. Easy-peasy.

In the past, I sometimes end up writing bash scripts when I’m writing something that calls a lot of external processes, cause bash seems like the suitable fit for that, it can be annoying and verbose to do a lot of that how you want in ruby script. Inevitably the bash script grows to the point that I’m looking up non-trivial parts of bash (I’m not an expert), and fighting with them, and regretting that I used bash.  In the future, when I have the thought “this might be best in bash”, I plan to try using just ruby with TTY::Command, I think it’ll lessen the pain of lots of external processes in ruby to where there’s no reason to even consider using bash.



1 thought on “Consider TTY::Command for all your external process/shell out needs in ruby”

  1. Thank you for writing article about tty-command and spreading the word! It captures the sentiment behind creating this library. There is many ways to skin a cat and Ruby doesn’t really provide much guidance to running external commands. You are left to pick among many dishes, system, exec… My preference is to work with powerful abstractions that provide intuitive apis and I hope that tty-command does that.

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