Make console apps with node

-24 Apr 2015-

So you’ve got an idea for the next Ack, but you don’t know how to write console applications! No worries, you can write console applications with JavaScript and publish them to npm pretty easily. I recently did this with a project called sfold which allows you to quickly scaffold files and folders for a project.


First you need to make an empty directory and run npm init. If you’ve never done this, it simply sets this directy up to hold a node project and will create a package.json file. For the rest of this tutorial, let’s assume we want to make a console application called salute which takes in a name and then prints to the console “Hello, your_name”.

Let’s now make a main.js file which will hold our application. This will be the main file for our console app. These are the full contents of the file.

#!/usr/bin/env node
'use strict';

console.log('Hello ' + process.argv[2]);

The first line is a shebang which says that we should use the node program to run this script. Then we just print to the console the string “Hello “ and the 3rd argument. The reason we want the 3rd is because when you call this from the command line using npm, the first argument will be ‘node’ and the second will be the absolute path to your main.js file so that when calling salute colby, the 3rd argument is actually ‘colby’.

##Running it

Now we need to edit the package.json a little bit. Delete the property called ‘main’ and add one called ‘bin’ which should look like this.

    "name": "salute",
    "bin": {
        "salute": "main.js"

The bin attribute contains key-value pairs where the key is the name of the command called from the command line, which we want to be salute. If you wanted to call your application by typing ‘say_name’, you would change salute to that here. And the value is the location of the script that will be run, which is just main.js for us.

Now we need to hop back into your terminal. To test this, first we need to link this package, which will allow you to run it locally. just run npm link. Now your app should be linked to your system so you can just run salute colby and it will print out “Hello, colby” back to you. Great! now we need to publish it.


If you haven’t already, you need to go to the npm website and register an account. Then from your terminal you can login with npm login with your credentials. After that, all you have to do is run npm register ./ and your application will be publically available. All people will have to do is run npm install --global salute (or whatever you name your app), and they can use your awesome command line application!

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