Last Modified 2013-02-18 by Jan Schneider


Extending Horde_Argv

Since the two major controlling factors in how Horde_Argv interprets command-line options are the action and type of each option, the most likely direction of extension is to add new actions and new types.

Adding new types

To add new types, you need to define your own subclass of the Horde_Argv_Option class. This class has a couple of properties that define Horde_Argv's types: $TYPES and $TYPE_CHECKER.

$TYPES is a tuple of type names; in your subclass, simply define a new tuple $TYPES that builds on the standard one.

$TYPE_CHECKER is a dictionary mapping type names to type-checking functions. A type-checking function has the following signature:

foo check_foo(Horde_Argv_Option $option, string $opt, string $value)

You can name it whatever you like, and make it return any type you like (e.g. the hypothetical type foo). The value returned by a type-checking function will wind up in the Horde_Argv_Values instance returned by Horde_Argv_Parser->parseArgs(), or be passed to callbacks as the $value parameter.

Your type-checking function should throw Horde_Argv_OptionValueException if it encounters any problems. Horde_Argv_OptionValueException takes a single string argument, which is passed as-is to Horde_Argv_Parser's parserError() method, which in turn prepends the program name and the string "error:" and prints everything to stderr before terminating the process.

Here's a silly example that demonstrates adding an imaginary MyComplex option type to parse complex numbers on the command line.

You need to define your type-checker, since it's referred to in the $TYPE_CHECKER class attribute of your Horde_Argv_Option subclass:

class MyOption extends Horde_Argv_Option
    public function __construct()
        $this->TYPES[] = 'complex';
        $this->TYPE_CHECKER['complex'] = 'checkComplex';

    public function checkComplex($option, $opt, $value)
        try {
            return new MyComplex(value);
        } catch (Exception $e) {
            throw new Horde_Argv_OptionValueException(
                sprintf('option %s: invalid complex value: %s', (opt, value))

That's it! Now you can write a script that uses the new option type just like any other Horde_Argv-based script, except you have to instruct your Horde_Argv_Parser to use MyOption instead of Horde_Argv_Option:

$parser = new Horde_Argv_Parser(array('optionClass' => 'MyOption'));
$parser->addOption('-c', array('type' => 'complex'));

Alternately, you can build your own option list and pass it to Horde_Argv_Parser; if you don't use addOption() in the above way, you don't need to tell Horde_Argv_Parser which option class to use:

$option_list = array(
    new MyOption(
        array('action' => 'store', 'type' => 'complex', 'dest' => 'c')
parser = new Horde_Argv_Parser(array('optionList' => $option_list));

Adding new actions

Adding new actions is a bit trickier, because you have to understand that Horde_Argv has a couple of classifications for actions:

"store" actions
actions that result in Horde_Argv storing a value to a property of the current Horde_Argv_Values instance; these options require a dest attribute to be supplied to the Horde_Argv_Option constructor
"typed" actions
actions that take a value from the command line and expect it to be of a certain type; or rather, a string that can be converted to a certain type. These options require a type attribute to the Horde_Argv_Option constructor.

These are overlapping sets: some default "store" actions are store, store_const, append, and count, while the default "typed" actions are store, append, and callback.

When you add an action, you need to decide if it's a "store" action, a "typed" action, neither, or both. Three class properties of Horde_Argv_Option (or your Horde_Argv_Option subclass) control this:

all actions must be listed in $ACTIONS
"store" actions are additionally listed here
"typed" actions are additionally listed here

In order to actually implement your new action, you must override Horde_Argv_Option's takeAction() method and add a case that recognizes your action.

For example, let's add an extend action. This is similar to the standard append action, but instead of taking a single value from the command-line and appending it to an existing list, extend will take multiple values in a single comma-delimited string, and extend an existing list with them. That is, if "--names" is an extend option of type string, the command line

--names=foo,bar --names blah --names ding,dong

would result in a list

array('foo', 'bar', 'blah', 'ding', 'dong')

Again we define a subclass of Horde_Argv_Option:

class MyOption extends Horde_Argv_Option
    public function __construct()
        $this->ACTIONS[] = 'extend';
        $this->STORE_ACTIONS[] = 'extend';
        $this->TYPED_ACTIONS[] = 'extend';

    public function takeAction($action, $dest, $opt, $value, $values, $parser)
        if ($action == 'extend') {
            $lvalue = explode(',', $value);
            $values->dest = array_merge($values->ensureValue('dest', array()),
        } else {
            parent::takeAction($action, $dest, $opt, $value, $values, $parser);

Features of note:

  • extend both expects a value on the command-line and stores that value somewhere, so it goes in both $STORE_ACTIONS and $TYPED_ACTIONS
  • MyOption::takeAction() implements just this one new action, and passes control back to Horde_Argv_Option::takeAction() for the standard Horde_Argv actions
  • $values is an instance of the Horde_Argv_Values class, which provides the very useful ensureValue() method. ensureValue() is essentially a getter with a safety valve; it is called as
$values->ensureValue($attr, $value)
If the $attr property of $values doesn't exist or is null, then ensureValue() first sets it to $value, and then returns $value. This is very handy for actions like extend, append, and count, all of which accumulate data in a variable and expect that variable to be of a certain type (an array for the first two, an integer for the latter). Using ensureValue() means that scripts using your action don't have to worry about setting a default value for the option destinations in question; they can just leave the default as null and ensureValue() will take care of getting it right when it's needed.

Other reasons to extend Horde_Argv

Adding new types and new actions are the big, obvious reasons why you might want to extend Horde_Argv. I can think of at least two other areas to play with.

First, the simple one: Horde_Argv_Parser tries to be helpful by calling exit() when appropriate, i.e. when there's an error on the command line or when the user requests help. In the former case, the traditional course of letting the script crash with a traceback is unacceptable; it will make users think there's a bug in your script when they make a command-line error. In the latter case, there's generally not much point in carrying on after printing a help message.

If this behaviour bothers you, it shouldn't be too hard to "fix" it. You'll have to

  1. subclass Horde_Argv_Parser and override parserError()
  2. subclass Horde_Argv_Option and override takeAction() -- you'll need to provide your own handling of the help action that doesn't call exit()

The second, much more complex, possibility is to override the command-line syntax implemented by Horde_Argv. In this case, you'd leave the whole machinery of option actions and types alone, but rewrite the code that processes argv. You'll need to subclass Horde_Argv_Parser in any case; depending on how radical a rewrite you want, you'll probably need to override one or all of parseArgs(), _processLongOpt(), and _processShortOpts().

Both of these are left as an exercise for the reader. I have not tried to implement either myself, since I'm quite happy with Horde_Argv's default behaviour (naturally).

Happy hacking, and don't forget: Use the Source, Luke.