Embedded Command Line Interface (CLI)

What’s a CLI?

A command-line interface (CLI) is a way to interact directly with a software program in the form of text commands and responses. Just as source code is a typed set of commands to produce a result, the CLI is also a typed set of commands to produce a result. The difference is that the commands are typed in real-time by a person (although may be captured for replay later). 

In embedded system development, a CLI is often developed to aid initial driver development and debugging. This CLI may become the interface (or one of the interfaces) used by a sophisticated end-user to interact with the product. Think of typing commands to control a machine, such as a spacecraft or NC mill, or perhaps for low-level access to the control system of an undersea ROV as a development tool, tweaking time-constants and monitoring low-level system performance during testing. 

One of my current projects, a scientific instrument, incorporates a home-grown CLI that has evolved with the project. It has limited functionality and supports simple commands only.  However, the potential exists that eventually a sophisticated end-user might appreciate more advanced functionality, including command history, variable substitution and simple scripting, akin to a unix shell such as csh or bash.  Should that become true, the current CLI will need to evolve, which will have a cost in time and effort. There is no customer demand now that would justify the effort, but it made me wonder if there was any open-source off-the-shelf CLI code that could be used.

CLI projects

Some concerted web searching identified the following projects:

Some general articles on creating a CLI interface are:

Future work

Once the project at hand has passed the basic data collection milestone, I think it will be time to think about the future of the CLI. The complexity of the home-grown solution will not have increased significantly, and there will be time to think through the amount of work to switch to any of the shortlist candidates.


3 Replies to “Embedded Command Line Interface (CLI)”

  1. Thanks for the feedback Dale, it’s been a fun hobby project of mine. If you ever have the time and interest to check it out and have any questions and/or suggestions feel free to give be a holler, I sure appreciate any feedback.


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