Argbash documentation


Argbash ( is a bash code generator that can assist you in writing scripts that accept arguments. You declare arguments that your script should use in a few lines and then, you run Argbash on those declarations to get a parsing code that can be used on all platforms that have bash (Linux, macOS, MS Windows, …).

You can have your parsing code in the script, you can have Argbash to help you to use it as a bash library, or you can generate the library yourself and include it yourself too, it’s up to you. A basic template generator argbash-init is part of the package, and you can get started with it in a couple of seconds.

Argbash is free and open source software, you are free to use it, share it, modify it and share the modifications with the world, since it is published under the 3-clause BSD linense.

Link to argbash online generator
Authors:Matěj Týč
Copyright:2014–2023, Matěj Týč


Both you and your users need:

  • bash>=3.0

Only you need those on the top:

  • autoconf>=2.64 (Argbash makes use of the autom4te utility)
  • grep, sed, etc. (if you have autoconf, you probably have those already)


In a nutshell, using Argbash consists of these simple steps:

  1. You write (or generate) a simple template of your script based on arguments your script is supposed to accept.
  2. You run the argbash script (located in the package’s bin directory) on it to get the fully functional script.

Eventually, you may want to add/remove/rename arguments your script accepts. In that case, you just need to edit the script — you don’t need to repeat the two steps listed above! Why? It is so because the script retains the template section, so if you need to make adjustments to the template, you just edit the template section of the script and run argbash on top of the script to get it updated.

How to use Argbash? You can either

Generating a template

Argbash features the argbash-init script that you can use to generate a template in one step. Assume that you want a script that accepts one (mandatory) positional argument positional-arg and two optional ones --option and --print, where the latter is a boolean argument.

In other words, we want to support these arguments:

  • --option that accepts one value,
  • --print or --no-print that doesn’t accept any value, and
  • an argument named positional-arg that we are going to refer to as positional that must be passed and that is not preceded by options (such as --foo, -f).

We call argbash-init and as the desired result is a script, we directly pipe the output of argbash-init to argbash:

bin/argbash-init --pos positional-arg --opt option --opt-bool print - | ../bin/argbash -o -

Let’s see what the auto-generated script can do!

./ -h

<The general help message of my script>
Usage: ./ [--option <arg>] [--(no-)print] [-h|--help] <positional-arg>
	-h, --help: Prints help
./ --print --option opt-value pos-value

Value of --option: opt-value
'print' is on
Value of 'positional-arg': pos-value

We didn’t have to do much, yet the script is pretty capable.

Writing a template

Now, let’s explore more advanced argument types on a trivial script that accepts some arguments and then prints their values. So, let’s say that we would like a script that produces the following help message:

This is a minimal demo of Argbash potential
Usage: ../resources/examples/ [-o|--option <arg>] [--(no-)print] [-h|--help] [-v|--version] <positional-arg>
	<positional-arg>: Positional arg description
	-o, --option: A option with short and long flags and default (default: 'boo')
	--print, --no-print: A boolean option with long flag (and implicit default: off) (off by default)
	-h, --help: Prints help
	-v, --version: Prints version

Then, it means that we need following arguments:

  • One mandatory positional argument. (In other words, an argument that must be passed and that is not preceded by options)
  • Four optional arguments:
    • --option that accepts one value,
    • --print or --no-print that doesn’t accept any value — it either is or isn’t specified,
    • --version that also doesn’t accept any value and the program is supposed just to print its version and quit afterwards, and finally
    • --help that prints a help message and quits afterwards.

Therefore, we call argbash-init like we did before:

bin/argbash-init --pos positional-arg --opt option --opt-bool print minimal.m4

Next, we edit the template so it looks like this:


# m4_ignore(
echo "This is just a script template, not the script (yet) - pass it to 'argbash' to fix this." >&2
exit 11  #)Created by argbash-init v2.10.0
# ARG_OPTIONAL_SINGLE([option], o, [A option with short and long flags and default], [boo])
# ARG_OPTIONAL_BOOLEAN([print], , [A boolean option with long flag (and implicit default: off)])
# ARG_POSITIONAL_SINGLE([positional-arg], [Positional arg description], )
# ARG_HELP([This is a minimal demo of Argbash potential])
# ARG_VERSION([echo $0 v0.1])

The body of the script (i.e. lines past the template) is trivial, but note that it is enclosed in a pair of square brackets. They are “hidden” in comments and not seen by the shell, but still, they have to be there for the “use the script as a template” feature to function.

# [ <-- needed because of Argbash

# For example:
if [ "$_arg_print" = on ]
  echo "Positional arg value: '$_arg_positional_arg'"
  echo "Optional arg '--option' value: '$_arg_option'"
  echo "Not telling anything, print not requested"


# ] <-- needed because of Argbash

We generate the script from the template:

bin/argbash minimal.m4 -o

Now we launch it and the output is good!

./ posi-tional -o opt-ional --print

Positional arg value: posi-tional
Optional arg --option value: opt-ional


If something still isn’t totally clear, take look at the Examples section.



Please read this carefully.

  1. The square brackets in your script have to match (i.e. every opening square bracket [ has to be followed at some point by a closing square bracket ]).

    There is a workaround — if you need constructs s.a. red=$'\e[0;91m', you can put the matching square bracket behind a comment, i.e. red=$'\e[0;91m'  # match square bracket: ].

    This limitation does apply only to files that are processed by argbash — you are fine if you have the argument parsing code in a separate file and you don’t use the INCLUDE_PARSING_CODE macro. You are also OK if you use argbash-init in the decoupled mode.

  2. The generated code generally contains bashisms as it relies heavily on bash arrays to process any kind of positional arguments and multi-valued optional arguments. That said, if you stick with optional arguments only, a POSIX shell s.a. dash should be able to process the Argbash-generated parsing code.


  • Q: What is the license of generated code? Is it also the 3-clause BSD, as it contains parts of Argbash source code?

    A: No, as it is mentioned in the LICENSE file, you can distribute Argbash output under your terms. We recommend you to adhere to the BSD license — keeping comments indicating that the code is generated is fair towards script’s users.

Indices and tables