Using a "run" file to simplify project tasks

Every project has its own set of commands that need to be run regularly.

From starting a local server or the project’s containers with Docker or Docker Compose, running tests or clearing a cache, or generating the CSS and JavaScript assets, these commands can get quite complicated and time-consuming and error-prone to type over and over again.

One common way to simplify these commands is using a Makefile.

A Makefile contains a number of named targets that you can reference, and each has one or more commands that it executes.

For example:

# Start the project.
start:
	docker-compose up -d

# Stop the project.
stop:
	docker-compose down

# Run a Drush command.
drush:
	docker-compose exec php-fpm drush $(ARGS)

With this Makefile, I can run make start to start the project, and make stop to stop it.

Makefiles work well, but I don’t use the full functionality that they offer, such as dependencies for targets, and passing arguments to a command - like arguments for a Drush, Symfony Console, or Artisan command, doesn’t work as I originally expected.

In the example, to pass arguments to the drush command, I’d have to type ARGS="cache:rebuild" make drush for them to get added and the command to work as expected.

An agency that I worked for created and open-sourced their own Makefile-like tool, written in PHP and built on Symfony Console. I gave a talk on it called Working with Workspace and used it on some of my own personal and client projects.

What I’m using now

The solution that I’m using now is a run file, which is something that I learned from Nick Janetakis’ blog and YouTube channel.

It’s a simple Bash file where you define your commands (or tasks) as functions, and then execute them by typing ./run test or ./run composer require something.

Here’s the Makefile example, but as a run script:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

function help() {
  # Display some default help text.
  # See examples on GitHub of how to list the available tasks.
}

function start {
  # Start the project.
  docker-compose up -d
}

function stop {
  # Stop the project.
  docker-compose down
}

function drush {
  # Run a Drush command with any additional arguments.
  # e.g. "./run drush cache:rebuild"
  docker-compose exec php-fpm drush "${@}"
}

# Execute the command, or run "help".
eval "${@:-help}"

As it’s Bash, I can just use $1, $2 etc to get specific arguments, or [email protected] to get them all, so ./run drush cache:rebuild works as expected and any additional arguments are included.

You can group tasks by having functions like test:unit and test:commit, and tasks can run other tasks. I use this for running groups of commands within a CI pipeline, and to extract helper functions for tasks like running docker-compose exec within the PHP container that other commands like drush, console or composer could re-use.

As well as running ad-hoc commands during development, I also use the run file to create functions that run Git pre-commit or pre-push hooks, deploy code with Ansible, or build, push or pull the project’s latest Docker images.

I also use one within my Talks repository to generate PDF files using rst2pdf, present them using phdpc, and generate thumbnail images.

For examples of run files that I use in my open-source code, you can look in my public GitHub repositories, and for more information, here is Nick’s blog post where I first found the idea.