Common pattern for bash auto complete

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After reading my last article, I was disappointed. I could have shown you how to deal with the point 1:

[You can] Suggest based on subcommands and options available to the user. This means you need to create a tree of possibilities: goat push supports —force option but goat pull does not, etc.

The first thing to discuss is the COMP_WORDS variable. COMP_WORDS[0] is always the name of the command, goat in our case. Also the current word to be completed ${COMP_WORDS[COMP_CWORD]} represent at least an empty string. You can be sure that you have at least 2 string in your COMP_WORDS array. We’ll use that at our avantage and use a case to complete subcommands:

_goat() {
  prev=${COMP_WORDS[COMP_CWORD - 1]}
  cur=${COMP_WORDS[COMP_CWORD]}

  COMPREPLY=()
  case "$prev" in
    goat)
        COMPREPLY=( $( compgen -W "log commit push pull clone add" -- ${cur} ) )
      return
      ;;
    commit)
      case "$cur" in
        -*)
          COMPREPLY=( $( compgen -W "--author= --edit --no-edit --amend --include --only --allow-empty" -- ${cur} ) )
          return
          ;;
      esac
      break
      ;;
  esac
  COMPREPLY=( $( compgen -f "${cur}" ) )
}

complete -F _goat goat

We declared $prev and we are sure it equals either goat, a subcommand or some other string. Note that we use compgen -f to suggest files in current directory, like the default behavior of bash auto complete. This code would grow in complexity pretty fast if we were to add some more subcommands. Let’s first gather each behavior in a function:

__goat_commit() {
  case "$cur" in
    -*)
      COMPREPLY=( $( compgen -W "--author= --edit --no-edit --amend --include --only --allow-empty" -- ${cur} ) )
      return
      ;;
  esac
  COMPREPLY=( $( compgen -f "${cur}" ) )
}

# Somewhere in _goat()
case "$prev" in
  # ...
  commit)
    __goat_commit
    return
    ;;
esac

Now the main function consist only of a giant case, and could be pretty good as such. But after reading the git usage of Bash, i’ve crossed a pretty smart way to make the code less brittled by the verbosity of case statement, the trick is a simple two-liner:

# declaring _goat() with $prev and $cur globals
local completion_func="__goat_${prev}"
declare -f $completion_func >/dev/null 2>/dev/null && $completion_func && return
# default completion here

The first line allow to declare the name of the function the code is going to execute. We use the same pattern that we presented in the last example: __goat_commit, etc. The second line can be explained in steps:

  1. declare -f $completion_fun will display the content of function $completion_fun

    • if the function exists, we forward the standard and error output in /dev/null
    • otherwise, it interrupts the evaluation of the line (more info on declare)
  2. the function is evaluated

  3. we exit from the current function

Although the technique seems like a hack, it’s really nice because it allows you to add a new subcommand without modifying the main or dealing with a very verbose case. You have to make sure that people contributing know the convention, because it’s not obvious for people not proficient in Bash.


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