Command line utility for custom project scaffolding.
Last updated 3 years ago by nickglenn .
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$ cnpm install helpful-cli 
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Helpful CLI

tl; dr "Templatize Anything"

This tool is currently undergoing a massive rewrite. You can still use the original version of this tool by installing it via npm, or review its source on the v1 branch.

Helpful CLI is a command line utility for quickly scaffolding new projects, or add files to existing projects, using remote templates. It's kind of like a Makefile, but on steroids. Templates must contain a helpful manifest file in JSON, CommonJS or YAML format.


Helpful CLI is written using NodeJS and is currently only available via npm. Run the following npm command to install. Once installed, you can access Helpful CLI using the helpme command in your terminal of choice.

npm install -g helpful-cli


  1. Find a repository that contains a helpful.json, helpful.js or helpful.yml manifest file.
  2. Change to a local directory that you would like to unpack the template into.
  3. Run helpme install <template_url> to start the installer.
  4. Follow the instructions in the prompt.


mkdir Example
cd Example
helpme install helpfulhuman/cli-example

Creating Templates

Helpful CLI can be used with just about any codebase, existing or otherwise. There are 2 requirements for creating a Helpful CLI compliant package.

  1. A properly constructed and formatted manifest file.
  2. Your template must be hosted by a supported remote type.

The helpful Manifest File

The helpful manifest file is a JSON, CommonJS or YAML file that provides a list of instructions to the Helpful CLI tool. The format of this file can be summed up as "ask, copy, run". The basic template for a manifest file looks like this...


  "ask": [],
  "copy": [],
  "run": []


This format allows you to use all the NodeJS runtime has to offer and can be useful for greater control when handling conditionals based on user input.

module.exports = {
  ask: [],
  copy: [],
  run: []




The ask portion of your manifest file contains a list of "question" objects. These objects are used to create terminal prompts that will collect configuration choices from your template's user. This input will allow you to alter Helpful CLI's behaviour when copying files and running scripts.

Helpful CLI currently uses inquirer under the hood and fully supports its question object API. We're only covering the basics here, so feel free to look at their documentation for more info.

Question Object (Basics)

Name Type Description
type String Defaults to input. The type of question prompt presented to the user. Possible options include input, confirm, list, and checkbox.
name String Required. The variable name that will store the captured user input.
message String Required. The message that will be displayed to the user.
default Mixed Default value(s) to use if nothing is entered.
choices Array Required with list and checkbox. Values can be simple strings, or objects containing a name (to display in list), a value (to save in the answers hash) and a short (to display after selection) properties.


  "ask": [
      "name": "projectName",
      "message": "What is the name of your project?"
      "type": "list",
      "name": "deployTarget",
      "message": "What is your project's target deployment environment?",
      "choices": [ "AWS", "Docker", "Heroku" ]


The copy property is an array containing "copy operation" objects. This tells Helpful CLI what to copy from the template to the target directory. All file locations are relative to where the manifest file is.

It's worth noting that every file that is copied is also run through the Nunjucks templating engine. This allows you to customize templates with the user input you collected in the ask step. For more information, check out the Nunjucks templating docs.

Copy Operation Object

Name Type Description
path String Required. Can be a path to a file, folder or a glob.
exclude String|Array An optional pattern or an array of glob patterns to exclude matches.
overwrite Boolean Defaults to false. When true, the copy operation will replace any existing folders at the file's destination with the new one. Use this wisely!
renameFile String Allows you to rename a file to the set string. Useful for copying over files like _gitignore as .gitgnore. Do not use with glob patterns or directories!
renameDir String Optionally change the directory that the file(s) will be copied to, relative to the target directory's root.
when String|Function Will only copy the file(s) when the result is true. See Using when Strings for more information on String usage.


  "copy": [
      "path": "package.json"
      "path": "_gitignore",
      "renameFile": ".gitignore"
      "path": "src/**/*.js",
      "overwrite": true


Finally, the run field is an array of "command objects". These objects represent shell commands that can be run in the target directory. Like the template files in the copy step, each command is run through the Nunjucks templating engine. This allows you to customize your commands with the input collected in the ask step.

Command Object

Name Type Description
cmd String Required. The shell command to run. Will be parsed by Nunjucks.
when String|Function Will only run the command when the result is true. See Using when Strings for more information on String usage.


  "ask": [
      "type": "checkbox",
      "name": "libs",
      "message": "Would you like to install any of these libraries?",
      "choices": ["lodash", "jquery", "rx"]
  "run": [
      "cmd": "npm install -S {{ libs | join(' ') }}",
      "when": "libs.length > 0"

Final Message on Success

It's not unlikely that you'll want to include a closing message upon successful installation of your template. You can do this using an object for a done property. The done property contains only a "Done object", which is outlined below.

Done Object

Name Type Description
message String Required. The message will be output as the final statement upon successful installation of a template. Will be parsed by Nunjucks.
when String|Function Will only run the command when the result is true. See Using when Strings for more information on String usage.


  "done": {
    "message": "Run `npm start` to see your application"

Using when Strings

Doing any kind of circumstancial or dynamic checking with static files like JSON or YAML is difficult. To circumvent this limitation, we've implemented the when property for copy and run objects. This property can take a string as an alternative that will be treated as a JS expression that only has access to user input (from the ask step).

Here's a quick sample of how it can be used.

  "ask": [
      "type": "confirm",
      "name": "createReadme",
      "message": "Would you like to add a README file?"
  "copy": [
      "path": "",
      "overwrite": true,
      "when": "createReadme == true"

Supported Remotes

These are the remotes currently supported by Helpful CLI.

Public GitHub repositories

GitHub is probably the easiest way to host your template. You can download a GitHub hosted template using either of of the following methods.

helpme install username/repository
helpme install

Publicly accessible .zip files

You can host a .zip template anywhere you like, but you need to make sure that the full URL (with a .zip extensions) is provided in order to download.

helpme install

Planned Remote Support

  • GitHub (private)
  • BitBucket (public and private)
  • GitLab (public and private)
  • .zip files (authenticated)

Current Tags

  • 2.0.0-alpha                                ...           latest (3 years ago)

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