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Version: 2.0.x

Bash and Zsh Completion


zio-cli supports a mechanism for performing tab completion of command line options and arguments in bash and zsh. The approach that zio-cli uses to communicate with the shell tooling for performing tab completion is heavily inspired by the excellent Haskell optparse-applicative library. Every CliApp is extended with a few hidden built-in options for providing tab completions to shell environments.

In what follows, pretend that your CLI application (called my-cli-app) has been installed into a stable location in your path (such as the ~/.local/bin directory favored by the zio-cli installer script).

Generating a completion shell script

The --shell-completion-script and --shell-type built-in options produce a shell script that enables tab completion. In the example below, we generate a completion script (called

my-cli-app                                       \
--shell-completion-script `which my-cli-app` \
--shell-type bash >

After generating the script, you can quickly enable tab completion via:


Unfortunately, the tab completion will only be enabled within the current shell session. Normally, the output of --shell-completion-script should be shipped with the program and copied to the appropriate directory (e.g., /etc/bash_completion.d/) during program installation.

How Bash and Zsh Completions are Generated

The shell completion scripts register an event handler that fires whenever my-cli-app is the first term at the terminal prompt and the tab key is pressed. This event handler sends information about the terminal contents and cursor position back to my-cli-app using another built-in option called --shell-completion-index and some special environment variables (COMP_WORD_0, COMP_WORD_1, ...).

When my-cli-app receives these values, it runs a completion algorithm and prints the completion terms to the console (one line per completion term). The console output feeds back into the shell machinery, which renders the completion results in the terminal.

For example, when the user types the following in the terminal

$ my-cli-app foo bar baz

and then moves the cursor over "foo" and hits the tab key, my-cli-app is called as follows:

COMP_WORD_0=my-cli-app     \
COMP_WORD_1=foo \
COMP_WORD_2=bar \
COMP_WORD_3=baz \
my-cli-app \
--shell-completion-index 1 \
--shell-type bash

The COMP_WORD_ prefix of these environment variables is directly inspired by the COMP_WORD array-valued Bash variable that is part of its programmable completion system. Unfortunately, array-valued variables cannot be used as environment variables, so our approach instead uses one variable per term in the array.

Further Reading

The optparse-applicative documentation is an excellent resource that may help to clarify the implementation above.