An introduction to the use of Inbuild on the command line.

§1. What Inbuild is. Inbuild is a rudimentary build and package manager for the Inform tools. It consists of a large part of the front end of the Inform 7 compiler, together with a command-line interface to access its functions. Because it doesn't contain the middle or back ends of Inform 7, it cannot itself compile Inform projects. But it can issue shell commands which have this effect. When used that way, it's a little like the traditional Unix build tool make.

It can also be used in make scripts itself. Inbuild returns an exit code of 0 if successful, or else it throws errors to stderr and returns 1 if unsuccessful.

§2. Installation. When it runs, Inbuild needs to know where it is installed in the file system. There is no completely foolproof, cross-platform way to know this (on some Unixes, a program cannot determine its own location), so Inbuild decides by the following set of rules:

§3. Basic concepts. Inbuild manages "copies". A copy is an instance in the file system of an asset like an Inform project, an extension, a kit of Inter code, and so on. Those categories are called "genres". Any given copy will be a copy of what is called an "edition", which in turn is a version of a "work".

For example, perhaps the user has two copies of version 3 of the extension Locksmith by Emily Short, in different places in the file system, and also a further copy of version 4. These are three different "copies", but only two different "editions", and all are of the same "work". A work — in this case, Locksmith by Emily Short — is identified by its title, author name and genre — in this case, an Inform extension.

§4. Inbuild has a plethora of command-line options, but at its most basic, the user should specify what to do and then give a list of things to do it to. For example, here we run -inspect on a single copy, and get a one-line description of what it is:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect 'inform7/Internal/Extensions/Emily Short/Locksmith.i7x'
    extension: Locksmith by Emily Short v12 in directory inform7/Internal/Extensions/Emily Short

This is reassuring — the file which looks as if it ought to be a copy of Locksmith actually is. Inbuild always looks at the contents of something, and doesn't trust its location as any indication of what it is. For example:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect junk/Mystery.i7x
    extension: Complex Listing by Emily Short v9 in directory junk.

If Inbuild can see that something is damaged in some way, it will report that. For example,

    extension: Skeleton Keys by Emily Short - 1 error
        1. extension misworded: the opening line does not end 'begin(s) here'

Only superficial problems can be spotted so far in advance of actually using the software, but it's still helpful.

§5. Graphs. More ambitiously, we can look at the "graph" of a copy.

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -graph 'Basic Help Menu.i7x'
    [c0] Basic Help Menu by Emily Short
      --use---> [c26] Menus by Emily Short v3
        --use---> [c34] Basic Screen Effects by Emily Short v8

The graph begins at the copy we asked for, and then continues through arrows to other copies. It gives a systematic answer to the question "how do I build or use this?". There are two kinds of arrows, use arrows and build arrows. A use arrow from A to B means that you need to have B installed in order to be able to use A. The above example, then, tells us that we need Menus in order to use Basic Help Menu, and we need Basic Screen Effects in order to use Menus.

§6. Now suppose we have an Inform project called Menu Time.inform, whose source text is as follows:

    Include Basic Help Menu by Emily Short.

    The French Laundry is a room.

Once again, we can inspect this:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect 'Menu Time.inform'
    projectbundle: Menu Time.inform at path Menu Time.inform

We can also use -graph, but the output from this is surprisingly long, because an innocent-looking source text like the above depends on many other resources.

    [f59] Menu Time.inform/Build/output.ulx
      --build-> [f58] Menu Time.inform/Build/auto.inf
        --build-> [f57] Menu Time.inform/Build/auto.inf
          --build-> [c0] Menu Time.inform
            --build-> [c53] Basic Help Menu by Emily Short
              --use---> [c47] Menus by Emily Short v3
                --use---> [c55] Basic Screen Effects by Emily Short v8
            --build-> [f1] Menu Time.inform/Source/
            --build-> [c12] BasicInformKit

...and so on. What's going on here is that if the user wants to compile the source text, that will (by default) mean making a story file in Glulx format, called output.ulx, which sits inside the project bundle. So that is the top node. Note that it is a "file node", not a "copy node", as we can see from the f not c in its node number. This means that output.ulx is not a kind of resource managed by Inbuild (like an extension, pr a project): it's just a plain old file.

There's then a build arrow to another file called auto.inf. That's because in order to build output.ulx, we first need auto.inf to exist. This is a file in Inform 6 format. Something unexpected then happens: a further arrow appears, and connects to another auto.inf. There aren't really two files here: this is a device to capture the fact that generating auto.inf is a two-stage process, with the intermediate results between the two stages being held in memory rather than in a file. (These stages are, first, converting I7 source text to inter code, and then code-generating that inter code to I6.) Finally, though, we have a build arrow leading to the place we might have expected to start: the Menu Time.inform project.

And that is where the graph branches outwards, because we need many different resources in order to build Menu Time.inform. We finally see that we need Basic Help Menu, and because that uses two other extensions in turn, we'll need both of those as well. We need the actual file which holds the source text inside the project bundle, And then we need various build-in extensions and kits, the first of which is BasicInformKit, and that turns out to need lots of files to exist.

§7. The full -graph is not always what we want to see. Often all we really want to know is: what do I need to use, or to build, something?

The command -use-needs applied to our example extension gives:

    extension: Basic Help Menu by Emily Short
      extension: Menus by Emily Short v3
        extension: Basic Screen Effects by Emily Short v8

and applied to our example story gives just:

    projectbundle: Menu Time.inform

That's because once Menu Time is built, nothing else is needed to use it. On the other hand, -build-needs has the opposite effect. Applied to the extension, we get:

    extension: Basic Help Menu by Emily Short

because extensions need no building, so certainly nothing else is needed to build them. But -build-needs on our story produces:

    projectbundle: Menu Time.inform
      extension: Basic Help Menu by Emily Short
        extension: Menus by Emily Short v3
          extension: Basic Screen Effects by Emily Short v8
      kit: BasicInformKit
        extension: Basic Inform by Graham Nelson v1
        extension: English Language by Graham Nelson v1
      kit: CommandParserKit
        kit: WorldModelKit
          extension: Standard Rules by Graham Nelson v6
        extension: Standard Rules by Graham Nelson v6
      language: English
        kit: EnglishLanguageKit
          extension: English Language by Graham Nelson v1

And there it is: six extensions, four kits and one natural language definition are needed. Two of the extensions are listed twice: that's because they are each needed for two different reasons.

§8. The version numbers listed above do not mean that only those exact versions will do: they mean that this is (the best) version Inbuild has access to. They're given because two different versions of the same extension might make different choices about which other extensions to include. We can say that version 3 of Menus wants to have Basic Screen Effects, but maybe someday there will be a version 4 which doesn't need it.

Another issue to watch out for is that a copy may use different other copies when compiled to different virtual machines. For example, an extension can contain a heading of material "for Glulx only", and that heading might comtain a line which includes another extension X. If so, then we use X on Glulx but not on other architectures. We can also flag material as being for release only, or for debugging only.

Inbuild accepts the same command-line options as inform7 does to specify these: -debug for debugging features, -release for a release run, and -format=X to select a virtual machine. (See the inform7 documentation.)

§9. Now suppose that the project asks for something impossible, with a line such as:

Include Xylophones by Jimmy Stewart.

No such extension exists. If we look at the graph, or the -build-needs list for the project, we see that it includes:

    missing extension: Xylophones by Jimmy Stewart, any version will do

If we had instead written:

Include version 6.2 of Xylophones by Jimmy Stewart.

we would see:

    missing extension: Xylophones by Jimmy Stewart, need version in range [6.2,7-A)

This slightly arcane mathematical notation means that Inform would accept any version from 6.2 upwards, provided it still begins with a 6. This is a change over pre-2020 versions of Inform, and has been brought about by the adoption of the semantic version number standard.

Inbuild can list missing resources with -use-missing and -build-missing respectively. At present, it has no means of fetching missing resources from any central repository.

§10. Finally, -build-locate and -use-locate are identical to -build-needs and -use-needs, except that they print a list of the file system paths at which the relevant resources have been found. This can be useful if you're managing a complex mass of extensions, and aren't sure (say) which actual copy of Xylophones inbuild proposes to use, and from where.

§11. Building. The graph for a copy tells Inbuild not only what is necessary for a build, but also how to perform that build.

As noted above, not everything needs building. Extensions do not, in particular, so running -build on one will do nothing. Kits do need building: what this does is to "assimilate" the Inform 6-notation source files inside the kit into binary files of Inter, one for each possible architecture.

But building is mostly done with projects. If we run:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -build Example.inform

then Inbuild will first build everything needed to build the Example story file, including everything needed to use the things needed to build it, and so on; and then will build Example itself. As with the Unix utility make, this is an incremental process, and looks at the timestamps of files to see which steps are needed and which are not. If all the kits needed by Example are up to date, then the kits will not be rebuilt, and so on. If the same project is built twice in a row, and nothing about it has changed since the first time, the second -build does nothing.

Inbuild uses the graph to work out what needs to be done, and then issues a series of shell commands to other Inform tools. If any of those commands fail (returning a non-zero exit code) then the build process halts at once.

As noted above, the -release switch tells Inbuild that we want to go all the way to a release of the project, not just a build. This makes a more extensive graph, and is likely to mean that the final step followed by Inbuild is a call to inblorb, the releasing tool for Inform.

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -release -build Example.inform

Using the -rebuild command performs a build in a way which isn't incremental: timestamps of files are ignored and everything is remade from scratch.

§12. It takes a certain trust to just let Inbuild rip, and if you don't feel that trust, adding the -dry switch causes shell commands to be printed out but not actually executed — a dry run. If you are debugging Inbuild, you may also want to look at the copious output produced when -build-trace is used. These are not commands: they simply modify the behaviour of -build and -rebuild.

Inbuild uses a handful of standard Unix shell commands, but it also uses inform7, inform6, inblorb and inter. To do that, it needs to know where they are installed. By default, Inbuild assumes they are in the same folder as Inbuild itself, side by side. If not, you can use -tools P to specify path P as the home of the other Intools.

§13. Specifying what to act on. In all of the examples above, Inbuild is given just one copy to act on. (That action may end up involving lots of other copies, but only one is mentioned on the command line.) In fact it's legal to give a list of copies to work on, one at a time, except that only one of those copies can be an Inform project. Multiple extensions, or kits, are fine.

We can also tell Inbuild to work on everything it finds in a given directory D using -contents-of D:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect -contents-of inform7/Internal/Inter
    kit: EnglishLanguageKit at path inform7/Internal/Inter/EnglishLanguageKit
    kit: CommandParserKit at path inform7/Internal/Inter/CommandParserKit

For compatibility with the inform7 command line syntax, we can also specify the project target using -project:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -build -project Example.inform

But this is quite unnecessary: the effect is the same as if -project had been missed out.

§14. Listing filenames or pathnames of copies on the command line, or using the -contents-of D switch, is only possible if we know where in the file system these copies are; and sometimes we do not.

If we instead specify -matching R, where R is a list of requirements, Inbuild will act on every copy it can find which matches that. For example,

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect -matching 'genre=kit'

lists all the kits which Inbuild can see; and

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect -matching 'genre=extension,author=Eric Eve'

lists all extensions by Eric Eve which Inbuild can see. The legal clauses to specify are title, author, genre and version. Note that version=5.1.1 would match version numbers 5.1.1, 5.1.2, 5.2.0, etc., but not 6 or above: again, this is following semver conventions. (Extensions giving their version numbers in the old-fashioned format "N/YYMMDD" are read as if N.0.YYMMDD, with the release date being treated as a patch number: see the Inform language documentation for examples.)

To specify an explicit maximum and minimum version number, use max and min. For example:

    -matching 'genre=extension,author=Emily Short,title=Locksmith,min=6.1-alpha.2,max=17.2'

§15. Nests and searches. When searching with -matching R, or indeed when running Inform and needing to find certain resources, Inbuild looks inside what are called "nests".

A nest is a directory with structured subdirectories, which correspond to the genres of copies put into them. For example, in the standard distribution of Inform as a command-line tool, the path inform7/Internal is a nest: this contains the extensions, kits and so on which are built in to Inform when it's used as an app.

Inbuild recognises the following subdirectories of a nest as significant:


Other subdirectories can also exist, and Inbuild ignores those. The above five containers hold website templates (used by Inblorb), Inter pipelines, kits, language definitions, and extensions. In the case of extensions, where there may be very many in total, a further level of subdirectory is used for the author's name. Thus:

    Extensions/Emily Short/Locksmith.i7x

(In some early releases of Inform 7, it was legal for this file not to have the .i7x extension: but now it is compulsory.)

As of 2020, nests can contain multiple versions of the same work. To do this, they should have a filename (or pathname) which ends with -vN, where N is semantic version number but with any dots replaced by underscores. Thus, we can have e.g.:

    Extensions/Emily Short/Locksmith-v3_2.i7x
    Extensions/Emily Short/Locksmith-v4_0_0-prealpha_13.i7x

co-existing side by side. If the user asks to

Include Locksmith by Emily Short.

then version 4.0.0-prealpha.13 will be chosen, as the one with highest precedence in this nest (but see below for how Inbuild chooses between versions in the same nest). But if the user asks for

Include version 3 Locksmith by Emily Short.

then version 3.2 is the winner, as the highest-numbered extension in the nest with the right major version number (3).

§16. In most runs of the Inform compiler, three nests are used: the "internal" one, so-called, which holds built-in extensions and is read-only; the "external" one, which will be somewhere outside of the Inform GUI app, and will hold additional extensions downloaded by the user; and the Materials folder for an Inform project, which is a nest all by itself.

Inbuild looks for these as follows:

In addition, extra nests can be specified with -nest N.

§17. When Inbuild searches for some resource needed by Inform — let's continue to use the Locksmith extension as an example — it always has some range of version numbers in mind: it will only accept a version in that range. (The range can be unlimited, in which case any version is acceptable.)

This may well produce multiple results: as noted above, we might have multiple copies of Locksmith around. Inbuild first reduces the list to just those whose version lies in the acceptable range. It then applies the following rules:

Suppose the Materials folder for our project contains Locksmith-v3_2.i7x, while the external folder contains Locksmith-v3_3.i7x and Locksmith-v4.i7x. Then the sentence:

Include Locksmith by Emily Short.

would result in Locksmith-v3_2.i7x from Materials being used, even though there's a later version in the external area: Materials always wins. But

Include version 4 of Locksmith by Emily Short.

would use Locksmith-v4.i7x from the external area, because the copy in the Materials folder doesn't qualify.

§18. Copy, sync and archive. Clerical work is generally best done automatically, and Inbuild offers some useful filing commands.

The command -copy-to N makes a duplicate copy in the nest N. For example:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect junk/Mystery.i7x
    extension: Complex Listing by Emily Short v9 in directory junk.
    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -copy-to MyNest junk/Mystery.i7x
    cp -f 'junk/Mystery.i7x' 'MyNest/Extensions/Emily Short/Complex Listing-v9.i7x'

Note that Inbuild replies to the -copy-to N command by executing a shell command to copy what is, in this case, a single file. As when building, the -dry option puts Inbuild into dry-run mode, where it prints the commands it would like to execute but doesn't execute them.

The command -sync-to N is similar, but will overwrite any existing copy already in N, rather than producing an error if a collision occurs.

§19. If the version numbers are not wanted in the filenames which -copy-to and -sync-to write to, set -no-versions-in-filenames:

    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -inspect junk/Mystery.i7x
    extension: Complex Listing by Emily Short v9 in directory junk.
    $ inbuild/Tangled/inbuild -no-versions-in-filenames -copy-to MyNest junk/Mystery.i7x
    cp -f 'junk/Mystery.i7x' 'MyNest/Extensions/Emily Short/Complex Listing.i7x'

§20. The -archive-to N command performs -sync-to N on any resource needed to build the copy it is working on (with one exception, for technical reasons: the configuration file telling Inform how to use the English natural language).

This is really only useful for Inform projects, and the abbreviated form -archive performs -archive-to to the Materials folder for a project. The net effect of this is that all extensions needed to build a story file are gathered, with their correct versions, into the Materials folder; this means that if the project and its Materials are moved to a different user's computer, where a quite different set of extensions may be installed, then the project will still work exactly as it originally did.