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Build a business card CLI tool

This week I built my own command line business card! Open up a terminal, and run the following command to see it in action.

npx whitep4nth3r

After running the command, you'll see something that looks like this (depending on your base terminal styles). Pretty cool, right? 😎

A terminal showing the command npx whitep4nth3r which has output a box with a list of links inside, the titles of the links are coloured with the brand colours, eg youtube is white text on a red background, and there's a little intro paragraph as well.

In this post, I'll take you through how to build your own command line business card. By the end of this tutorial, you'll know how to:

  • Create a new npm package,

  • configure a JavaScript file to run via the Node package runner (npx),

  • publish the code to npm,

  • and add optional styles to the terminal output.

Prerequisites

Ensure you’ve installed Node.js and npm on your machine.

Create an account on npm

You’ll need this to be able to publish your package. Sign up here.

Login to npm via your terminal

Run npm login in your terminal and enter your username, password and email. This will ensure you can publish your package later via the CLI.

A screenshot of the output in a terminal after running npm login

Project set up

Using your terminal, create a new project directory. Name it whatever you like. And then cd into that directory.

Note: you won't be able to publish an npm package named "fancy-business-card" unless it's a scoped package — because I already published one of that name! You can read more about how to publish scoped packages in this blog post: How to build, test and release a node module in ES6.

mkdir fancy-business-card
cd fancy-business-card

Run the following command in your new project directory. This will create a package.json file to build the scaffolding for your CLI tool.

npm init

Follow the instructions in your terminal. When the setup is complete, you should have something that looks like this. (Note: I removed the auto generated "no test specified" message which appears in "scripts". We won't be writing tests in this tutorial.)

{
"name": "fancy-business-card",
"version": "1.0.0",
"description": "A fancy business card that outputs to the terminal using npx.",
"main": "index.js",
"scripts": {},
"author": "whitep4nth3r",
"license": "MIT"
}

If you'd like to add version control to your CLI tool, run the following command to initialise a git repository.

git init

Add the script file

Create a new file inside the project directory and call it index.js. This is where we will write the code to output the business card to the terminal.

Screenshot from VSCode of an index.js file next to a package.json file in the file explorer.

Add the following code to index.js. You can output whatever you like in the console.log at this stage, but it's really just to test everything is working correctly.

//index.js

console.log("My fancy business card!")

Head over to your terminal. Inside the project directory, run the following command.

node index.js

You should see the text inside your console.log output to the terminal. Now we're ready to configure the script to run with npx.

Terminal showing running the command node index.js which has output the text my fancy business card!

Set up the npx CLI tool

npm stands for "Node package manager", which allows you to use open source JavaScript and TypeScript packages in your projects. When you run npm install {package-name} in your project, npm fetches the code for that package and adds it to a node_modules directory in your project on your machine.

npx is the Node.js package runner. This lets you run code built with Node.js and published through the npm registry — without needing to download the code to your machine.

Add the following code to the top of index.js. This is used to tell Node.js that this is a CLI tool.

//index.js

#!/usr/bin/env node

Add the following code to your package.json file. This tells Node.js what the executable command is, and what file to run.

"bin": {
"fancy-business-card": "./index.js"
},

The code above tells Node that our command is fancy-business-card. Running npx fancy-business-card will run the index.js file code, and output the console.log we wrote above to the terminal. Switch out "fancy-business-card" for your own command — such as your name or Twitter handle, or use the name of your project directory.

Now, let's test that npx is wired up correctly.

Test the CLI tool locally

We can use npm link to test out the functionality of an npm package before publishing it to the npm registry.

In your project directory, run the following command:

npm link

Open up a separate terminal window, and run your npx command. Make sure to switch out "fancy-business-card" for whatever you specified in the "bin" section of your package.json file.

npx fancy-business-card

And look! Node package runner has executed the code in the index.js file, and output the console.log to the terminal.

Two terminal windows showing npm link has run in the left window, and npx fancy-business-card has run in the right window, outputting the console log from index.js.

At this point, feel free to add more information and links to the console.log of your index.js file. Next up, it's time to publish the package to npm.

Publish to npm

Let's publish the fancy business card CLI tool to npm. At this stage, you might like to commit and push the files to git using your preferred method. I like using the GitHub CLI.

Make sure you are logged into npm via the CLI as described above. At the root of your project directory, run the following command in your terminal and follow the instructions. If you have 2FA enabled for npm, you'll be prompted for a one time passcode (OTP) from your authenticator app.

npm publish

Once your package is published to npm, you can run npx {your-command} to execute your script wherever and whenever you like!

View the demo repo on npm or fork the demo repo on GitHub to view the code in full.

Optional: style your business card

There are many tools available to help with styling your command line output. For my business card, I used a combination of boxen to draw the box around the content, and chalk to power the font styles and colours. I'll leave this part up to you, but you can view the code on GitHub to see how I did it. Be aware that if you want to use ES6 imports in Node, you'll need to update your index.js file extension to .mjs, and edit the package.json "bin" section accordingly.

A terminal showing the command npx whitep4nth3r which has output a box with a list of links inside, the titles of the links are coloured with the brand colours, eg youtube is white text on a red background, and there's a little intro paragraph as well.

Publishing new changes to npm

After you've styled your business card, publish your new changes to npm using npm publish in your terminal. Remember to bump the version number in package.json each time you want to publish new changes!

And you're done! You've just published a node module that can be executed on the fly using npx. Have you created your own command line business card? Let me know on Twitter!

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