Skip to content


milpa help docs milpa use-case

I built milpa with a few use cases in mind:

My goal with milpa is to make following the Command Line Interface Guidelines require as little effort as possible.

milpa is great for

Tasks like bootstrapping development environments are usually left out for the user to accomplish by following through a README or wiki with likely outdated links; milpa is great when these tasks can be accomplished by prompting for information, querying identity providers and then running configuration commands or modifying the filesystem directly.

⚠️ milpa is still under development and is currently on beta!


Here's some examples of how I've used used milpa so far:

I found milpa useful for these particular problems, since it only requires Bash and a supported OS/arch. milpa helps setup the computers I use (directly or remotely) and makes working with whatever languages my employer prefers (today and beyond) a breeze to integrate into a cohesive set of scripts. milpa takes care of parsing, validation, offering help when things go sideways, and so on, so these small scripts remain just so: small scripts.

Where milpa won't shine

I haven't tested the performance beyond dozens of repos with dozens of commands, and that being said, I can't see myself using milpa for anything more complex than that. I'd usually reach for another language to build a domain-specific CLI, specially if working with a team that is not very comfortable with shell scripting.

When there's a need to distribute stand-alone CLI programs, milpa won't be the best method to package and distribute CLIs. While facilities to work with milpa repos exists (see milpa itself repo install), it may be less than ideal since there's a dependency in milpa.

milpa could be the wrong tool when the primary runner of commands is not gonna be a human. Sorry robot friends! milpa's features are oriented primarily towards improving the experience of maintaining and running scripts by humans, and while there's nothing wrong with having an automated system (say CI, for example) run milpa commands, there is an overhead to consider (both cognitive, and in terms of resource usage).

That being said, it can be done and it works fine (or, if you like writing bash scripts as much as I do, beautifully); check out unRob/smoked-by-the-house where milpa orchestrated and operated a Raspberry Pi running an art installation for three months of 2022 at the Anahuacalli Museum in Mexico City.

Alternatives to milpa

Regular scripts in the filesystem

These are great, as long as: a) you know the path to your script, b) it doesn't consume many arguments/options, c) rarely changes, and/or d) is used only by the same few folks.

milpa provides usability advantages over this approach which will come handy when any of the constraints listed before are not met. With milpa, scripts that change often get updated docs and autocomplete for free, and may be appreciated by new users and non-regulars alike. Coming back to rarely used commands is one --help away when these scripts are part of a milpa repo.

Other command launchers

There's some amazing tools out there, such as:

These all serve different purposes, and there is some feature overlap between milpa and each of these.

milpa aims to provide the same level of support to non-bash scripts (hello applescript) without the need for another runtime to be installed. These projects are great for distributing and packaging software that may be used beyond your organization, while milpa aims to help smaller user bases, such as engineering teams, keep their shared scripts organized and up-to-date.


Make is great! I love using make for building artifacts, but given enough time, I'll always end up hacking around it and wishing I had all of Make's strengths and the expressiveness of bash. I used make to build milpa initially since it's really a great tool, has a huge user base and flavors of it produce software used by millions.

That being said, organizing makefiles and dealing with arguments is not something I can say I enjoy, and producing anything other than artifacts to the filesystem with Make doesn't feel right to me. milpa can be a good companion to Make workflows, and fill in the gaps upstream or downstream of make.


Building your own CLI is usually what ends up happening given a team with enough time and direction to invest in building a proper CLI with whatever language is already at use. Some teams use more than one language, which may complicate this approach. In the micro-services world, many codebases come with their own CLIs that may follow slightly different conventions, are seldomly documented and often just end up calling other binaries through exec.

In my limited experience with engineering teams of less than 300 folks, many of the bootstrapping tasks will involve operations that can easily (and more succinctly) be expressed with a shell scripting language. milpa could also be a useful intermediate step, that could help teams avoid the dread of confluence/notion/google-docs runbooks until it's a good time to build your own CLI.

Building a CLI is something that happens to me somewhat often, and when golang is a good choice, I get most of milpa's niceties by building my CLI on chinampa. joao, a configuration manager, is an example of something that started as a milpa repo that later became it's own CLI; getting it to work with milpa first was fundamental in figuring out what it needed to do, and it only took a few hours.