# Command Line Interface (CLI)

# Handling Program Options

Program options can be handled with the getopt() function. It operates with a similar syntax to the POSIX getopt command, with additional support for GNU-style long options.


// a single colon indicates the option takes a value
// a double colon indicates the value may be omitted
$shortopts = "hf:v::d";
// GNU-style long options are not required
$longopts = ["help", "version"];
$opts = getopt($shortopts, $longopts);

// options without values are assigned a value of boolean false
// you must check their existence, not their truthiness
if (isset($opts["h"]) || isset($opts["help"])) {
    fprintf(STDERR, "Here is some help!\n");

// long options are called with two hyphens: "--version"
if (isset($opts["version"])) {
    fprintf(STDERR, "%s Version 223.45" . PHP_EOL, $argv[0]);

// options with values can be called like "-f foo", "-ffoo", or "-f=foo"
$file = "";
if (isset($opts["f"])) {
    $file = $opts["f"];
if (empty($file)) {
    fprintf(STDERR, "We wanted a file!" . PHP_EOL);
fprintf(STDOUT, "File is %s" . PHP_EOL, $file);

// options with optional values must be called like "-v5" or "-v=5"
$verbosity = 0;
if (isset($opts["v"])) {
    $verbosity = ($opts["v"] === false) ? 1 : (int)$opts["v"];
fprintf(STDOUT, "Verbosity is %d" . PHP_EOL, $verbosity);

// options called multiple times are passed as an array
$debug = 0;
if (isset($opts["d"])) {
    $debug = is_array($opts["d"]) ? count($opts["d"]) : 1;
fprintf(STDOUT, "Debug is %d" . PHP_EOL, $debug);

// there is no automated way for getopt to handle unexpected options

This script can be tested like so:

./test.php --help
./test.php --version
./test.php -f foo -ddd
./test.php -v -d -ffoo
./test.php -v5 -f=foo
./test.php -f foo -v 5 -d

Note the last method will not work because -v 5 is not valid.

Note: As of PHP 5.3.0, getopt is OS independent, working also on Windows.

# Argument Handling

Arguments are passed to the program in a manner similar to most C-style languages. $argc is an integer containing the number of arguments including the program name, and $argv is an array containing arguments to the program. The first element of $argv is the name of the program.


printf("You called the program %s with %d arguments\n", $argv[0], $argc - 1);
foreach ($argv as $i => $arg) {
    printf("Argument %d is %s\n", $i, $arg);

Calling the above application with php example.php foo bar (where example.php contains the above code) will result in the following output:

You called the program example.php with 2 arguments
Argument 1 is foo
Argument 2 is bar

Note that $argc and $argv are global variables, not superglobal variables. They must be imported into the local scope using the global keyword if they are needed in a function.

This example shows the how arguments are grouped when escapes such as "" or \ are used.

Example script

var_dump($argc, $argv);

Command line

$ php argc.argv.php --this-is-an-option three\ words\ together or "in one quote"     but\ multiple\ spaces\ counted\ as\ one
array(6) {
  string(13) "argc.argv.php"
  string(19) "--this-is-an-option"
  string(20) "three words together"
  string(2) "or"
  string(12) "in one quote"
  string(34) "but multiple spaces counted as one"

If the PHP script is run using -r:

$ php -r 'var_dump($argv);'
array(1) {
  string(1) "-"

Or code piped into STDIN of php:

$ echo '<?php var_dump($argv);' | php
array(1) {
  string(1) "-"

# Input and Output Handling

When run from the CLI, the constants STDIN, STDOUT, and STDERR are predefined. These constants are file handles, and can be considered equivalent to the results of running the following commands:

STDIN = fopen("php://stdin", "r");
STDOUT = fopen("php://stdout", "w");
STDERR = fopen("php://stderr", "w");

The constants can be used anywhere a standard file handle would be:


while ($line = fgets(STDIN)) {
    $line = strtolower(trim($line));
    switch ($line) {
        case "bad":
            fprintf(STDERR, "%s is bad" . PHP_EOL, $line);
        case "quit":
            fprintf(STDOUT, "%s is good" . PHP_EOL, $line);

The builtin stream addresses referenced earlier (php://stdin, php://stdout, and php://stderr) can be used in place of filenames in most contexts:

file_put_contents('php://stdout', 'This is stdout content');
file_put_contents('php://stderr', 'This is stderr content');

// Open handle and write multiple times.
$stdout = fopen('php://stdout', 'w');

fwrite($stdout, 'Hello world from stdout' . PHP_EOL);
fwrite($stdout, 'Hello again');


As an alternative, you can also use readline() (opens new window) for input, and you can also use echo or print or any other string printing functions for output.

$name = readline("Please enter your name:");
print "Hello, {$name}.";

# Return Codes

The exit construct can be used to pass a return code to the executing environment.


if ($argv[1] === "bad") {
} else {

By default an exit code of 0 will be returned if none is provided, i.e. exit is the same as exit(0). As exit is not a function, parentheses are not required if no return code is being passed.

Return codes must be in the range of 0 to 254 (255 is reserved by PHP and should not be used). By convention, exiting with a return code of 0 tells the calling program that the PHP script ran successfully. Use a non-zero return code to tell the calling program that a specific error condition occurred.

# Restrict script execution to command line

The function php_sapi_name() (opens new window) and the constant PHP_SAPI both return the type of interface (Server API) that is being used by PHP. They can be used to restrict the execution of a script to the command line, by checking whether the output of the function is equal to cli.

if (php_sapi_name() === 'cli') {
    echo "Executed from command line\n";
} else {
    echo "Executed from web browser\n";

The drupal_is_cli() (opens new window) function is an example of a function that detects whether a script has been executed from the command line:

function drupal_is_cli() {
    return (!isset($_SERVER['SERVER_SOFTWARE']) && (php_sapi_name() == 'cli' || (is_numeric($_SERVER['argc']) && $_SERVER['argc'] > 0)));

# Behavioural differences on the command line

When running from the CLI, PHP exhibits some different behaviours than when run from a web server. These differences should be kept in mind, especially in the case where the same script might be run from both environments.

  • No directory change When running a script from a web server, the current working directory is always that of the script itself. The code require("./stuff.inc"); assumes the file is in the same directory as the script. On the command line, the current working directory is the directory you're in when you call the script. Scripts that are going to be called from the command line should always use absolute paths. (Note the magic constants __DIR__ and __FILE__ continue to work as expected, and return the location of the script.)
  • No output buffering The php.ini directives output_buffering and implicit_flush default to false and true, respectively. Buffering is still available, but must be explicitly enabled, otherwise output will always be displayed in real time.
  • No time limit The php.ini directive max_execution_time is set to zero, so scripts will not time out by default.
  • No HTML errors In the event you have enabled the php.ini directive html_errors, it will be ignored on the command line.
  • Different php.ini can be loaded. When you are using php from cli it can use different php.ini than web server do. You can know what file is using by running php --ini.

# Running your script

On either Linux/UNIX or Windows, a script can be passed as an argument to the PHP executable, with that script's options and arguments following:

php ~/example.php foo bar
c:\php\php.exe c:\example.php foo bar

This passes foo and bar as arguments to example.php.

On Linux/UNIX, the preferred method of running scripts is to use a shebang (opens new window) (e.g. #!/usr/bin/env php) as the first line of a file, and set the executable bit on the file. Assuming the script is in your path, you can then call it directly:

example.php foo bar

Using /usr/bin/env php makes the PHP executable to be found using the PATH. Following how PHP is installed, it might not be located at the same place (such as /usr/bin/php or /usr/local/bin/php), unlike env which is commonly available from /usr/bin/env.

On Windows, you could have the same result by adding the PHP's directory and your script to the PATH and editing PATHEXT to allow .php to be detected using the PATH. Another possibility is to add a file named example.bat or example.cmd in the same directory as your PHP script and write this line into it:

c:\php\php.exe "%~dp0example.php" %*

Or, if you added PHP's directory into the PATH, for convenient use:

php "%~dp0example.php" %*

# Running built-in web server

As from version 5.4, PHP comes with built-in server. It can be used to run application without need to install other http server like nginx or apache. Built-in server is designed only in controller environment for development and testing purposes.

It can be run with command php -S :

To test it create index.php file containing

echo "Hello World from built-in PHP server";

and run command php -S localhost:8080

Now yout should be able to see content in browser. To check this, navigate to http://localhost:8080

Every access should result in log entry written to terminal

[Mon Aug 15 18:20:19 2016] ::1:52455 [200]: /

# Edge Cases of getopt()

This example shows the behaviour of getopt when the user input is uncommon:

    getopt("ab:c::", ["delta", "epsilon:", "zeta::"])

$ php getopt.php -a -a -bbeta -b beta -cgamma --delta --epsilon --zeta --zeta=f  -c gamma
array(6) {
  array(2) {
  array(2) {
    string(4) "beta"
    string(4) "beta"
  array(2) {
    string(5) "gamma"
  string(6) "--zeta"
  string(1) "f"

From this example, it can be seen that:

  • Individual options (no colon) always carry a boolean value of false if enabled.
  • If an option is repeated, the respective value in the output of getopt will become an array.
  • Required argument options (one colon) accept one space or no space (like optional argument options) as separator
  • After one argument that cannot be mapped into any options, the options behind will not be mapped either.