Formatting help output

New in CLI11 1.6

Customizing an existing formatter

In CLI11, you can control the output of the help printout in full or in part. The default formatter was written in such a way as to be customizable. You can use app.get_formatter() to get the current formatter. The formatter you set will be inherited by subcommands that are created after you set the formatter.

There are several configuration options that you can set:

Set method Description Availability
column_width(width) The width of the columns Both
label(key, value) Set a label to a different value Both

Labels will map the built in names and type names from key to value if present. For example, if you wanted to change the width of the columns to 40 and the REQUIRED label from (REQUIRED) to (MUST HAVE):

app.get_formatter()->label("REQUIRED", "(MUST HAVE)");


You can further configure pieces of the code while still keeping most of the formatting intact by subclassing either formatter and replacing any of the methods with your own. The formatters use virtual functions most places, so you are free to add or change anything about them. For example, if you wanted to remove the info that shows up between the option name and the description:

class MyFormatter : public CLI::Formatter {
    std::string make_option_opts(const CLI::Option *) const override {return "";}

Look at the class definitions in FormatterFwd.hpp or the method definitions in Formatter.hpp to see what methods you have access to and how they are put together.

Anatomy of a help message

This is a normal printout, with <> indicating the methods used to produce each line.

  <make_group(app, "Positionals", true, filter>
<make_groups(app, mode)>
  <make_group(app, "Option Group 1"), false, filter>
  <make_group(app, "Option Group 2"), false, filter>
  <make_subcommand(sub1, Mode::Normal)>
  <make_subcommand(sub2, Mode::Normal)>

make_usage calls make_option_usage(opt) on all the positionals to build that part of the line. make_subcommand passes the subcommand as the app pointer.

The make_groups print the group name then call make_option(o) on the options listed in that group. The normal printout for an option looks like this:

 -n,--name  (REQUIRED)      This is a description
└────┬────┘                └──────────┬──────────┘
make_option_name(o,p)        make_option_desc(o)


  • *1: This signature depends on whether the call is from a positional or optional.
  • o is opt pointer, p is true if positional.

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