Smart CLIs with Typer

Published: Sat 06 May 2023
Updated: Tue 29 August 2023
By Rahul Pai

In Python.

The go-to library for adding CLI functionality in python is the built in argparse library. This works really well, but there is a relatively new 3rd party library called typer that boasts a number of improvements.

Firstly, with typer, rather than configuring a parser with each argument, you can simply let the it auto-detect the configuration based on your function definition. Type hints will be used for input validation. Required arguments will become positional arguments, and optional arguments will become CLI options.

Take this simple argparse example:

import argparse
from typing import Optional

parser = argparse.ArgumentParser()
parser.add_argument("--age", type=int)

def main(name: str, age: Optional[int] = None):
    message = f"Hello {name}"
    if age is not None:
        message = f"{message}, age {age}"

if __name__ == "__main__":
    args = parser.parse_args()
    main(, args.age)

With typer it will instead look like this:

from typing import Optional
import typer

def main(name: str, age: Optional[int] = None):
    message = f"Hello {name}"
    if age is not None:
        message = f"{message}, age {age}"

if __name__ == "__main__":

You can run both of these with python NAME --age AGE.

Help texts

It's not perfect though, because to add help texts, the syntax gets less simple.

With argparse:

parser.add_argument("name", help="what is your name?")
parser.add_argument("--age", type=int, help="how old are you?")

With typer:

from typing_extensions import Annotated
def main(
    name: Annotated[str, typer.Argument(help="what is your name?")],
    age: Annotated[Optional[int], typer.Option(help="how old are you?")] = None,

However, this is still worth it for the extra functionality you can now get.

Prompting for input

You can tell typer to prompt for input if an argument was not provided. Simply set the prompt message in the Option.

def main(
    name: Annotated[str, typer.Argument(help="what is your name?")],
    age: Annotated[int, typer.Option(prompt="how old are you?")],

Now if the user did not provide their age via --age, they will be prompted to enter it.

With argparse, you would have to make it Optional, and implement your own logic to prompt for input when age is None.

Environment Variables

With typer you can specify that an argument can default to a value from an environment variable.

For example:

typer.Argument(help="what is your name?", envvar="NAME")

Now you don't have to specify the argument if the NAME environment variable is set. If both are provided, the CLI argument takes priority.

With argparse, this is not supported by default. For example, you could do this:

import os
parser.add_argument("name", default=os.environ.get("NAME"))

However, this would not raise an error if neither were provided. You'd have to add your own logic to handle when is None.

Explicit app

For more configuration options you can create an instance of the Typer class.

cli = typer.Typer()

def main(name: str, age: Optional[int] = None):

if __name__ == "__main__":

No args is help

Specify this option to tell typer to print the help text if no arguments are provided. Unfortunately this only works for apps with more than one command (GitHub issue).

cli = typer.Typer(no_args_is_help=True)

Short Help Option

Note that by default, typer only registers --help to trigger the help text. To add -h you can specify it when creating the typer app:

cli = typer.Typer(context_settings={"help_option_names": ["-h", "--help"]})

Multiple Commands

With the explicit app, you can now easily add multiple commands, simply by adding the decorator to more functions.

def greet(name: str, age: Optional[int] = None):

def math(num: int):

With only more than one command registered, now the first positional argument specifies which command to run. Note, I renamed the main function to a more appropriate greet. You can run this with python greet NAME --age AGE or python math NUM. The command name is by default the function name, but you can change that by specifying in the decorator eg.

def bar():

This is so much more simple than with argparse where you would have to use the sub parser system, and add your own logic to run the correct function.

Sub commands in argparse

To illustrate, here is the equivalent to the above:

subparsers = parser.add_subparsers(dest="command")

greet_parser = subparsers.add_parser("greet")
greet_parser.add_argument("name", help="what is your name?")
greet_parser.add_argument("--age", type=int, help="how old are you?")

math_parser = subparsers.add_parser("math")
math_parser.add_argument("num", type=int)

if __name__ == "__main__":
    args = parser.parse_args()
    match args.command:
        case "greet":
            greet(, args.age)
        case "math":
        case _:

In argparse the way to have multiple commands is using subparsers. Specify the dest parameter to store the command entered. This is significantly more boilerplate than with typer.

Reusable commands with result_callback

Functions that you expose as a command are still reusable as functions in the rest of your code. For example you may have one command that gets a value, and another that gets and uses the value in some way. You can reuse the get command's function in your get and use command.

def get():
    # get value...
    return value

def get_and_use()
    value = get()
    # use value...

However, in the get only endpoint you probably want to print the value for the user. But you might not want that for all usages of the function. In that case you can configure typer to use and print the return values of commands.

import json
from typing import Any

def result_callback(result: Any):
    if result is not None:

cli = typer.Typer(result_callback=result_callback)

def get():
    # get value...
    return value

In this case, it also serializes the output to json, which is useful for processing with jq for example.

Other features

  • It includes support for shell autocompletion
  • It supports full colour output and more using the rich library