Using a generic command-line runner for utility tasks

23 Nov 2011
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Most enterprise projects have one or more console applications for utility tasks such as cleaning up or importing data into the database. These utilities tend to be project-specific and small in terms of code size, and instead of several smaller assemblies, it makes sense to combine these into a single assembly. The generic runner would read the utility, called the command, and arguments from the command-line and use the command pattern to create and execute it.

For the generic runner to work, each command has to fulfill the contract.

public enum ExitCode {
    Success = 0,

public interface ICommand {
    string Usage { get; }
    string Description { get; }
    ExitCode Execute(string[] args);

I want the runner to adhere to the open/closed principle. For its behavior to be modified without altering its core delegation logic. This requires the use of reflection to retrieve and instantiate a command based on command-line arguments.

class Program {
    static IEnumerable<ICommand> GetCommands() {
        var iCommand = typeof (ICommand);
        return System.Reflection.Assembly.GetExecutingAssembly().GetTypes().ToList()
            .Where(t => iCommand.IsAssignableFrom(t) && t != iCommand)
            .Select(t => Activator.CreateInstance(t) as ICommand);

    static void DisplayHelp() {
        Console.WriteLine("Console [Command] [Arg1] [Arg2] [ArgN]\n\n");
        GetCommands().ToList().ForEach(command => 
            Console.WriteLine(command.Usage + "\n" + command.Description + "\n\n"));

    static int Main(string[] args) {
        if (args.Length == 0) {
            return (int)ExitCode.Failure;

        var commandName = args[0];
        var command = GetCommands().SingleOrDefault(t => t.GetType().Name == commandName);
        if (command == null)
            throw new ArgumentException(string.Format("Command '{0}' not found", commandName));

        var executeArguments = new List<string>(args);

        var exitCode = command.Execute(executeArguments.ToArray());
        return (int)exitCode;

A trivial example of a command that adds two numbers would be the following:

// $> GenericRunner.exe Calculator 2 3 => 2 + 3 = 5
public class Calculator : ICommand {
    public string Usage {
        get { return "Calculator [Op1] [Op2]"; }

    public string Description {
        get { return "World's simplest calculator"; }
    public ExitCode Execute(string[] args) {
        try {
                "{0} + {1} = {2}",
                args[0], args[1], int.Parse(args[0]) + int.Parse(args[1]));
            return ExitCode.Success;
        } catch (Exception e) {
            return ExitCode.Failure;

Now multiple smaller assemblies can be grouped into one, with a description of all commands automatically being assembled, and without commands interfering (too much) with each other.