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A CLI for managing thrift IDL files.


idl provides a "package manager" for thrift interfaces. It comes with two CLI commands, idl-daemon and idl.


  • The source of truth for a service (the Thrift IDL file) should live with the service (i.e. the code repository). You want the thrift definition to be checked into the repository
  • Every service should keep a copy of the thrift definition for any service that it wants to talk too. This definition should be static. You do not want it to change at run-time, since that can result in mismatched interfaces that cause runtime exceptions and kill a process.
  • There should only be one version of the world. Your company runs at a single version of each service in production; all the Thrift IDL files representing the current version of every service in production should ultimately be treated as a single versioned collection. This versioned collection is the registry of all service definitions.
  • The one versioned collection should be live. Developers should not manually publish new versions; instead we should just take master containing the most recent Thrift IDL file for every service as the source of truth.
  • When service interface definitions are fetched and copied to a a project that consumes those services, they should be organized such that cross-service include/import statements are possible (i.e. the directory structure should support relative filepath import/include statements).


The CLI is currently broken down into two commands:

  • idl - CLI tool meant for end-users, but the publish command can also be run a continuous integration job when interface changes land in production (push-based publishing)
  • idl-daemon - daemonized process that can be configured to poll all service repositories for interface changes (pull-based publishing).


As a developer I want to be able to talk to other services; To do this I need to find their Thrift interface definitions.

The idl CLI solves this need.

The idl CLI tool has the following sub-commands:

  • idl list - List all available services published to the registry.
  • idl fetch <service-name> - Fetch a particular service's idl and copy it to your project in a standard location.
  • idl update - Update all previously fetched services to the most recent versions. Note: You cannot pick and choose which services to update. This is intentional.
  • idl publish - Publish the Thrift IDL file for your service to the idl registry repository. This command should set up to be automatically executed when a change to the service IDL lands on master or when that change on master is deployed to production.

All commands follow the unix standard of being silent if successful. If you would like more information about what is happening, run the CLI with the --verbose flag.

idl init

This command will create a starter IDL file at the correct filepath in a new service. You should use it if you've got a new service and want to quickly scaffold a simple thrift IDL file at the path expected by the idl publish command.


$ idl init

idl list

This command will list all available services published to the registry.


$ idl list
 -   2015-09-11T23:07:57.610Z
 -   2015-09-11T23:07:58.159Z
 -  2015-09-11T23:07:58.716Z

idl fetch <service-name>

This command will fetch a particular service's idl file and copy it to your project in a standard location.

Once you fetch your first service we also write the ./idl/meta.json meta file that contains the version of the registry as well as the time it was last changed.

Note: Fetching a new service will result in an implicit update of any services that have been fetched. For example, if you fetched service foo a month ago and then fetch service bar, idl will first update service foo to the most current version before fetching bar.

This command will also update the ./idl/meta.json file in your project.


$ idl fetch

idl update

This command will update all previously fetched services to the most recent versions. Note: You cannot pick and choose which services to update. This is intentional.

Since the thrift definitions define the interfaces of the services in production, there is only one version for all files. When you update anything, you update everything to the current version.

This command will also update the ./idl/meta.json file in your project.


$ idl update

idl publish

This command will publish the Thrift IDL file for your service to the idl registry repository. This command should set up to be automatically executed when a change to the service IDL lands on master or when that change on master is deployed to production.


$ idl publish

Command line flags

The idl CLI takes the following command line flags. The first flag, --repository, is mandatory until this tool has .rc file support.

  • --repository=<git url> - The idl command needs to know the git URL of the registry to be able to run any of the commands above. e.g.
  • --cacheDir=<path to cache dir> - This is the path to the cache directory that idl should use. The default value is ~/.idl/
  • --cwd=<current working directory> - The path to the current working directory in which to execute idl
  • --verbose - This tool follows the unix philosophy of being silent on success. Use this flag if you want to see output of what it is doing.
  • --config=<path to config file> - The path to a JSON config file that specifies any of the above properties.


Internally idl uses dominictarr/rc for options configuration. This module helps with parsing configuration from arguments specified at the command line, from environment variables and from .rc files. It will probe the following locations:

Given your application name (appname), rc will look in all the obvious places for configuration.

  • command line arguments (parsed by substack/minimist)
  • environment variables prefixed with IDL_
    • or use "__" to indicate nested properties
      (e.g. IDL_REGISTRY => repo)
    • keys will automatically be camelCased to match the possible options above.
  • if you passed an option --config file then from that file
  • a local .idlrc or the first found looking in ./ ../ ../../ ../../../ etc.
  • $HOME/.idlrc
  • $HOME/.idl/config
  • $HOME/.config/idl
  • $HOME/.config/idl/config
  • /etc/idlrc
  • /etc/idl/config

The ./idl/ directory

All services and clients will have a ./idl/ directory at the root of the repo. All thrift IDL files are contained in this directory.

Service authors need to understand how this directory is organized and should only every edit/modify the thrift IDL files for the service in question. Client authors should never have to edit/modify files in this directory and should only use the files contained therein as references for the interfaces they are consuming.

The idl directory is organized so that every thrift IDL file (for the service being authored or the services being consumed) is located at a sub-path that mirrors the git remote origin URL of a service.

When you execute git remote -v in your service's repository, you will see output similar to one of the following:

$ git remote -v
origin (fetch)
origin (push)


$ git remote -v
origin  ssh:// (fetch)
origin  ssh:// (push)

The idl directory for your service mirrors these two addresses. Assuming the output above, the idl path for the service being authoring will be ./idl/ This directory will contain the thrift IDL files that will be published to your idl registry repo when idl publish is executed. The IDL files in this particular sub-directory are to be manually managed by service authors.

All other directories are contain service defitions for services being consumed and should not be edited/modified and should only be consulted as a reference when looking up a type definition for a service or a function definition for a service being consumed.

For service repositories, where the service is also a client of other services, the unmanaged definitions for that service and managed definitions for the services being consumed will live side by side in sibling directories.

The reason for mixing both managed and unmanaged directories together is to support relative filepath includes in thrift files.

For example, if the service references type definitions from the services and, then you might see the following directory and file structure:

$ tree
└── idl
    │   ├── foo
    │   │   ├── bar
    │   │   │   └── bar.thrift
    │   │   └── baz
    │   │       └── baz.thrift
    │   └── qux
    │       └── quux
    │           └── quux.thrift
    └── meta.json

7 directories, 4 files

... and the ./idl/ would contain the following includes in its header section:

include "../baz/baz.thrift"
include "../../qux/quux/quux.thrift"

The complexity of how this directory is organized is a necessary evil to support relative file includes. If, in the future, the include directive supports richer semantics, it may be possible to simplify this directory, but for now it is what is is.


The idl-daemon will fetch all the remotes and place their thrift files in the upstream repository. You can use idl fetch to fetch from the upstream repository.

The idl-daemon is a command that should be run with cron.

To set up the idl repository you can run the idl-daemon. Run idl-daemon --config-file={path} and it will populate the idl remote repository.

The config file contains the following fields

    "upstream": "git+ssh://",
    "repositoryDirectory": "/var/lib/my-company/idl/repo",
    "cacheLocation": "/var/lib/my-company/idl/cache",
    "remotes": [{
        "repository": "git+ssh://",
        "branch": "master"
    }, {
        "repository": "git+ssh://",
        "branch": "master"


This project is not done yet:

  • Implicit update whenever idl fetch is run.
  • Implement idl validate so that service authors can locally validate the thrift IDL files for their service before publishing.
  • Implement idl init to automatically create a boilerplate thrift IDL file using the git URL of the remote origin.
  • Implement idl config get <property> to get a idl configuration property.
  • Implement idl config set <property> <value> to set a idl configuration property.
  • Implement fetching from remotes into upstream.
  • Support main file in config to indicate service entry point.
  • Support branch in config.
  • Disable publish command using a regex saved in the .rc file.


npm install idl --global


npm test


  • andrewdeandrade (Andrew de Andrade)
  • Raynos (Jake Verbaten)
  • kriskowal (Kris Kowal)
  • prashantv (Prashant Varanasi)

MIT Licensed