Monday, April 19, 2010

To Have a CLI or Not?

Any embedded product for the telco market will eventually have a CLI. Most have Web GUIs but they are not good enough as scripting a JavaScript-heavy GUI is hell.

So customers usually demand a CLI so they can script their operations and perhaps make the configuration job easy -- any network admin worth his salt dislikes clicking a 1000 times to bring a system up to scratch.

Cīsco reigns king here. Everybody in the industry is familiar with their style of CLI and expects it. (The alternative is to give access to the native OS commands, i.e Linux, but this can be dangerous and does not make the configuration job easier.)

In a previous life I have seen this implemented ad-hoc in C (using ncurses) and in a different shop a horrendous mess made with Python (the latter was quasi-unmaintainable). Both had problems and did not conform to the Cīsco style.

Luckily a smart cookie published a LGPL libcli (written in C) which actually works well.

The only modification I had to make [and submit back] for adapting it to a serial port was to cut out some funny characters it was sending at the beginning of the session.

The downside was that I had to convince the powers that be in my company that this won't blow up their IP. Also I had to link in statically libsqlite3 so I can manipulate the password database which pushed the size of my custom CLI to 0.5 megabyte.