1.3.1 • Public • Published


Turn any git repository into a project template! Just upload your template to Github - or any other publicly accessible Git URL - and then use the ta command to generate a new project instance.

Umm, that sounds like you've just reinvented git clone...

The key to template-anything's power is that its behaviour can be fully customized by adding a template plan to your template. This plan, written in a file called plan.tpl in your template's root directory, can gather user input, set variables and orchestrate necessary filesystem operations to configure a new project. template-anything also includes a template expansion language that allows file contents to be customized based on user input.

Core Principles

  • Simple: template plans should be straightforward to both read and write. Ease of writing matters because authoring templates is a mundane operation and users should be able to dive in, make a template and get out with minimal time investment. Ease of reading matters because template plans should be easy to review in terms of both fitness for purpose and security.

  • Fat-core/no plugins: everything required to scaffold any kind of project should be included in the core distribution. Common high-level operations should be extracted to their own directives and contributed back to the core tool. Not supporting plugins is a feature, and will hopefully a) guarantee that templates will work anywhere and b) make it easy to review template-anything's suitability for a given use-case - without having to trawl the web for a bunch of plugins.

  • No centralised registries: publishing a template should be as simple as publishing a git repository - there is no reason to make users sign up to a 3rd party service.

template-anythings design has been strongly influenced by Ansible.


npm install -g template-anything

Usage - using an existing template

To scaffold a project from an existing template use the command:

$ ta <template> <target>

template can be either a git URL or a path to a local directory, and target should be a path to a non-existant target directory. So, to start a new project based on my tpl-simple-site template and put it in projects/my-new-site you would do this:

$ ta git@github.com:jaz303/tpl-simple-site.git projects/my-new-site

That's a bit of mouthful so there is special shortcut syntax for using templates hosted on Github:

$ ta jaz303/tpl-simple-site projects/my-new-site

Any git URL can be suffixed with @revsion to use a specific SHA1/branch/tag:

$ ta jaz303/tpl-simple-site@master projects/my-new-site
$ ta git@github.com:jaz303/tpl-simple-site.git@2a78059019a projects/my-new-site

Once you've run this command and answered a couple of questions about your new project you will have a brand new front end web project all ready to play with based on PHP, browserify, SCSS, livereload and spinup. This is the way I like to work on simple frontend builds, but maybe you prefer something else. Read on to learn how to create your own project templates compatible with template-anything...

Usage - creating a template

To create a template all you need to do is create a directory structure containing your template, (optionally) add a plan.tpl declaring the operations to be performed when the template is invoked, and then upload it to a publicly-accessible Git URL.

If plan.tpl is omitted the default behaviour is to copy the contents of the template to the target directory.

Here's an example plan.tpl:


# Get project name from the user
# The response will be stored in $project_name
prompt project_name, prompt: "Project name: ",
                     default: "site-template"

# Ask user if they'd like to create a git repo
# The response will be stored in $create_repo
yesno create_repo, prompt: "Create git repo?",
                   default: 1


# Copy everything from 'contents', within the template directory,
# to the target directory. This directive is using positional,
# rather than named, parameters. The default destination for
# tree is the target directory so in this case it doesn't need
# to specified.
tree contents

# Perform in-place template substitions to the file package.json,
# located within the target directory. All variables are available
# when performing template substitutions.
template inplace: package.json

# Shell command!
shell "npm install"

# Conditional blocks are supported; we only want to create a git
# repo if the user requested it:
if $create_repo then
  # ... if they did, copy in a .gitignore file...
    copy optional/gitignore, .gitignore
    # ... and initialize the repo
    shell "git init"
    shell "git add ."
    shell "git commit -m 'First commit'"

Template Plans in Depth


template path is the source directory of the original template.

target directory is the target directory where we are creating our new project.


The basic format of plan.tpl is:

[input directives]

[action directives]

Generally speaking, input directives are variable-setting directives like set, prompt and yesno, and action directives are those which actually do the work, such as copy, tree and template. template-anything doesn't actually enforce which directives are valid for each section, but its good practice to maintain the distinction.

When executing a plan, each inputs section will be executed in source order, followed by each actions section.


To invoke a directive simply write its name:


Arguments are separated with commas and can specified either positionally:

tree ".", "."

Or by name:

tree src: "contents", dest: "."

You can mix both styles in a single invocation if you like, with positional arguments appearing first:

prompt my_val, prompt: "please enter a value: ", default: 10

Arguments may be split over multiple lines:

prompt my_val, 
       prompt: "please enter a value: ",
       default: 10

Conditional blocks are supported and they look like this:

if {expression} then
    # execute these directives if {expression} is truthy

Else blocks are supported:

if {expression} then
    # truthy
    # falsey

Empty strings, empty arrays and zero are considered false; everything else is true. template-anything does not have a dedicated boolean type.

Expression Syntax

The basic expression literals are:

  • string: "able was I ere I saw elba"
  • integer: 42
  • symbols: foo/bar/baz.txt

Symbols can include the special characters ./_-, making it possible to express filenames without wrapping them in quotes. They can also include : as long as it does not appear at the end of the symbol.

Variable references are dollar-prefixed and evaluate to the contents of the variable. For example: $name evaluates to the value of the variable name.

Arrays are denoted with the familiar syntax [1, 2, 3]. Arrays are not particularly useful yet but as template-anything grows to support repetition and iteration I expect their importance to increase.

Function calls are written simply as function(arg1, arg2, ... argn); arguments can be any valid expression.

Expressions can be filtered through functions using the pipeline syntax:

$name | prepend("hello ") | upcase()

In a pipeline the result of the previous operation is passed as the first argument to the next function (in the function documentation below, this is denoted in parameter lists by subject). For example, given that variable $name is "Bob" the code above would evaluate to "HELLO BOB".

Strings can contain template interpolations e.g. "Mr {{ $name | upcase() }}".

Some actions (notably prompt) accept callbacks in the form of "partial pipelines". A partial pipeline is a standard pipeline with the initial value omitted; this value will instead be supplied by the directive itself when it invokes the callback. The syntax for a partial pipeline is thus:

| downcase() | dasherize()

And it would be used like this:

`prompt username, filter: | trim() | downcase() | dasherize()`

The prompt directive would take the user's input and then pass it through the filter partial pipeline, and use the pipeline's output value as the value to assign to the username variable.

Template Syntax

A template is simply a text file, optionally containing moustache-delimited ({{ ... }}) expressions. For example, evaluating the following template:

  "name": "{{ $name | downcase() }}"

with an environment of { "name": "Sauron" } yields:

  "name": "sauron"

Built-in Directives



Prompt the user for input and assign the response to a variable.

  • name: name of variable to assign; do not include the $ prefix (required)
  • prompt: prompt to display
  • default: default value to be used if user does not enter anything
  • filter: a partial pipeline that will be applied to the submitted value
  • postfilter: a partial pipeline that will be applied to the submitted value, after validation
  • validate: a partial pipeline that will be used to validate the returned value. If the pipeline is falsey the user will be prompted to re-enter the value.


prompt username,
       prompt: "Enter username: ",
       filter: | downcase()

Sets a variable to a specified value.

  • name: name of variable to assign; do not include the $ prefix (required)
  • value: value to assign (required)

Example: set name, "Jason"

  • name: name of variable to assign; do not include the $ prefix (required)
  • prompt: prompt to display
  • default: default value (should be either 1 or 0)

Example: prompt create_git_repo, prompt: "Create git repository? "



Append a line to file. file will be created if it does not exist.

  • file: target file (required)
  • line: line of text append; trailing newline will be added (required)

Append a string to file. file will be created if it does not exist.

  • file: target file (required)
  • string: string of text append (required)

Copy a single file from the template to the target directory.

  • src: source file (required)
  • dest: destination file (required)

Example: copy src: foo.txt, dest: bar.txt


Initialise a git repository in the target directory and optionally commit its contents.

  • commit: set to 1 or string to commit target directory to git repo; when a string is specified this will be the commit message.

Example: create_git_repo commit: "Initial commit!"


Create a (possibly nested) subdirectory directory in in the target directory.

  • name: directory name (required)

Example: dir name: a/b/c


Write a message to standard output.

  • msg: message to write; newline will be added (required)

Example: echo "hello world!"


Execute a shell command. The working directory will be the target directory.

  • cmd: shell command to execute (required)
  • cwd: working directory; defaults to the target directory
  • echo: echo subprocess's stdout and stderr

Example: shell cmd: "git init && git add . && git commit -m 'Initial'"


Perform template substitution in a single file, either in-place or by copy.

  • src: source template file
  • dest: destination file
  • inplace: in-place file

If src and dest are specified, src will be copied from the template path to dest inside the target directory, with all template expressions expanded.

inplace, if specified, is relative to the target directory. The file will be opened, template expressions expanded, and the updated file saved back to the same path.

src/dest and inplace are mutually exclusive.

For more information about expression/template syntax, see below.


Copy an entire tree of files from the template to the target directory.

  • src: source directory, relative to template (default: .)
  • dest: destination directory, relative to target (default: .)

All variables currently defined by the template plan are available for use in templates.

Built-in Functions


join(subject, str)

Join elements of subject with string str.


eq(subject, other)

Compare subject with other. Returns 1 if equal, 0 otherwise. Equivalent to Javascript's == operator.

is(subject, other)

Compare identity of subject with other. Returns 1 if identical, 0 otherwise. Equivalent to Javascript's === operator.



Return a random number between 0 and 1.


Return a random integer between 0 and n-1, inclusive.

random(min, max)

Return a random integer between min and max-1, inclusive.


append(subject, suffix)

Append suffix to subject.

prepend(subject, prefix)

Prepend prefix to subject.

replace(subject, needle, replacement)

Replace all occurrences needle with replacement in subject.


Replace all runs of 1 or more spaces in subject with dashes.

substr(subject, start, length)

Equivalent to Javascripts substr() method.

substring(subject, start, end)

Equivalent to Javascripts substring() method.


Convert subject to lower case.


Convert subject to upper case.


Remove leading and trailing space from subject.

Built-in Variables

template-anything defines the following variables:

  • $TEMPLATE_PATH: absolute path to template source
  • $TARGET_PATH: absolute path to target directory
  • $TARGET_NAME: basename of target directory


Adding a function

Adding a function is as straightforward writing a Javascript function and registering it with the default environment.

  1. have a look in lib/functions... does your new function fit into one of the existing libraries? If so, edit that file. If not, create a new library using one of the existing libraries (e.g. lib/functions/math.js) as a starting point.

  2. add your new function to the library file. Note: functions always run synchronously.

  3. if you created a new library in step 1, update lib/Context.js to ensure the library is included when an environment is created.

Adding a directive

Adding a directive is a two-step process - firstly you must write the "raw" version as a single function with conforming signature, and then write some wrapper code that will expose it to the template-anything's scripting environment. The wrapper code also specifies parameter names, required parameters and default values.

1. Implement raw directive

Create a new file in lib/directives/raw with the same name as your new directive. This file should export a single function with the signature:

module.exports = function(ctx, env, opts, cb) {
    // ...

The arguments are as follows:

  • ctx: instance of lib/Context.js; stores the paths of the template and target, as well as a reference to the root environment.
  • env: the execution environment; an instance of lib/Environment.js. Use this to access defined variables, functions and directives.
  • opts: object containing all arguments passed to the directive. This will be preprocessed by the directive's wrapper so the raw implementation does not need to worry about default values, checking for presence of required arguments, or the difference between positional/named arguments.
  • cb: callback to invoke on completion or error. Pass no arguments if directive executed successfully, or an Error instance in the event of error.

2. Implement wrapper

Wrappers are defined in lib/directives/index.js in alphabetical order. A fluent builder syntax is used to keep their definition reasonably succinct. Here's an example:

    .param('src', {
        required: true,
        key: 'sourcePath'
    .param('dest', {
        required: true,
        key: 'destinationPath'

This wrapper exposes the copy directive to the scripting environment which accepts two parameters, src and dest, both of which are required. The function exported by ./raw/copy is then registered as the handler for this wrapper.

Available builder functions:

  • param(name, [opts]): add a new parameter to this directive with given name; this is the same name that will be used when passing a corresponding argument by name from within a template plan. The order of param() calls on the builder determines the order that positional arguments will be assigned.
  • requiredParams(paramGroups): used to denote that the directive accepts two or more groups of mutually exclusive arguments (see the template directive for an example). paramGroups is an array wherein each entry is an object mapping parameter names to booleans, denoting whether not an argument with that name must (true) or must not (false) be present. When the directive is invoked, this list of constraints will be searched and the invocation will succeed if and only if one parameter group matches the supplied arguments.
  • handler(fn): register fn as the handler for this directive; this should have the signature (ctx, env, opts, cb), as described above.

Supported parameter option keys:

  • key: used to specify an alternative name for the parameter when it is dispatched to the raw handler function; this allows for brevity in the template itself but more descriptive names in the implementation of the directive.
  • required: this parameter must be specified otherwise invocation is erroneous
  • defaultValue: default value for this parameter if unspecified

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