PlayCLI: Play Iteratees + UNIX pipe


TL;DR. PlayCLI is a new Scala library to work with UNIX commands and Play-Iteratees (a scala implementation of Iteratees facilitating the handling of data streams reactively). Here’s an overview:


"fr.greweb" %% "playcli" % "0.1"

Why PlayCLI

After having made Zound in a HackDay (an experiment to generate an audio stream with playframework iteratees and through the WAVE format), I figured out this was going to be hard to make it work with multiple audio format: tell me if I’m wrong but, there are not so much audio libraries in Java/Scala, or most of them does not support stream handling (and not reactively), and it was going to be crazy to re-implement everything in Scala (both in term of cost and performance).

Besides, UNIX has plenty of tools to do this and:

  1. they are complete and provide a lot of options
  2. they are easy to use (see how Bash is powerful as a consequence)
  3. Most of them support streams out of the box (via stdin / stdout)
  4. They are very efficient (written in C / assembly)

So why not re-use them from our reactive code?

Similarities with UNIX pipes

Take the expressivity of UNIX pipes, bring the power of Scala, mix it with Play Framework and you got a powerful framework for handling real-time and web streaming.

Play Iteratees are an elegant & powerful way to handle streams reactively, and I’ve actually always understood them like UNIX pipes, you have the same reactive code style: linearized declarative way of handling streams.


cat words.txt | grep $word > result.txt


Enumerator.fromFile("words.txt") &>   
  splitByNl &> // split a stream of Array[Byte] into stream of String (not impl here)  
  Enumeratee.filter(_.containsSlice(word))  |>>>   
  fileWriter // consume the steam while storing in a file (not impl here)

or if you prefer the “without symbol” version:

  through splitByNl.  
  through Enumeratee.filter(_.containsSlice(word)).  
  run fileWriter

However, It’s biased to say Iteratees are only UNIX pipes, they are more than that, but I’m not going to extend on that subject, they are at least statically typed and safe (it’s more than just a stream of bytes, see this article).

So if Iteratees are at least UNIX pipes, why can’t we use Unix pipes from iteratees?

PlayCLI provides a bridge to use scala.sys.Process with play-iteratees.

More about PlayCLI

(this is a copy of the API documentation)


Depending on your needs, you can Enumerate / Pipe / Consume an UNIX command:

CLI.enumerate is a way to create a stream from a command which generates output
(it creates an Enumerator[Array[Byte]] )

CLI.pipe is a way to pipe a command which consumes input and generates output
(it creates an Enumeratee[Array[Byte],Array[Byte]])

CLI.consume creates a process which consumes a stream – useful for side effect commands
(it creates an Iteratee[Array[Byte],Int])


import playcli._  
import scala.sys.process._  
// Some CLI use cases  
val tail = CLI.enumerate("tail -f /var/log/nginx/access.log")  
val grep = (word: String) => CLI.pipe(Seq("grep", word))  
val ffmpeg = CLI.pipe("ffmpeg -i pipe:0 ... pipe:1") // video processing  
val convert = CLI.pipe("convert - -colors 64 png:-") // color quantization  
// Some usage examples  
val sharedTail = Concurrent.broadcast(tail) -> "text/plain") // Play framework  
val searchResult: Enumerator[String] = dictionaryEnumerator &> grep("able") &> aStringChunker"image.jpg") &> convert).withHeaders(CONTENT_TYPE -> "image/png")  
Enumerator.fromFile("video.avi") &> ffmpeg &> ...


CLI uses scala.sys.process
and create a Process instance for each UNIX command.

A CLI process is terminates when:

CLI still waits for the Process to terminate by asking the exit code (via Process.exitCode()).
If the process is never ending during this phase, it will be killed when terminateTimeout is reached.

PS: Thanks to implicits, you can simply give a String or a Seq to the CLI.* functions a ProcessBuilder.


enumerate and pipe are immutable, in other words, re-usable
(each result can be stored in a val and applied multiple times).
A new process is created for each re-use.

consume is mutable, it should not be used multiple times: it targets side effect command.


A “CLI” logger (logback) is used to log different information in different log levels:

  • ERROR would mean a CLI error (not used yet).
  • INFO used for the process’ stdout output of a CLI.consume.
  • DEBUG used for the process life cycle (process creation, process termination, exit code).
  • WARN used for the process’ stderr output.
  • TRACE used for low level information (IO read/write).


I’m eager to see what you guys can do with such an API, it enables a lot of possibility, I’m especially thinking about multimedia purposes (using powerful commands like: ImageMagick, ffmpeg, sox,…).

As a generative plotter artist, I use code to generate art (creative coding) and physically create it with pen plotters, which is itself a generative process – each physical plot is a unique variant. I love dualities, like digital vs analog physical, abstract vs figurative, orthogonal vs polar, photo vs noise,...