The Command-Line Interface

The Command-Line Interface

This guide shows you how to create applications and deploy them to various native mobile platforms using the phonegap command-line interface (CLI). This tool allows you to create new projects, build them on different platforms, either locally or on a remote server, and run them within an emulator or device. You can also use the CLI to initialize project code, after which you use various platforms' SDKs to develop them further.


Before building projects locally, you need to install SDKs for each platform you wish to target. (See the Platform Guides for details on how to install each.) Otherwise, you can use the cloud-based PhoneGap Build service to compile apps for the following platforms remotely:

Unlike PhoneGap Build, local builds support BlackBerry 10. The WebOS and Symbian platforms are only available when building remotely. The following platforms are only available when building locally:

See Platform Support for an overview of all available options. See below for details on how to use PhoneGap Build to build remotely.

If building locally, you need to run the command-line interface from the same machine that supports the platform's SDK. The CLI supports the following combinations:

On the Mac, the command-line is available via the Terminal application. On the PC, it's available as Command Prompt under Accessories.

The more likely it is that you run the CLI from different machines, the more it makes sense to maintain a remote source code repository, whose assets you pull down to local working directories.

To install the phonegap command-line tool, follow these steps:

  1. Download and install Node.js. Following installation, you should be able to invoke node or npm on your command line.

  2. Install the phonegap utility. In Unix, prefixing the additional sudo command may be necessary to install development utilities in otherwise restricted directories:

    $ sudo npm install -g phonegap

    The installation log may produce errors for any uninstalled platform SDKs. Following installation, you should be able to run phonegap on the command line.

Create the App

Go to the directory where you maintain your source code, and run a command such as the following:

    $ phonegap create hello com.example.hello HelloWorld

The first argument specifies a hello directory to be generated for your project. Its www subdirectory houses your application's home page, along with various resources under css, js, and img, which follow common web development file-naming conventions. The config.xml file contains important metadata needed to generate and distribute the application.

The other two arguments are optional: the com.example.hello argument provides your project with a reverse domain-style identifier, and the HelloWorld provides the application's display text. The -i and -n command-line options and their corresponding flags make these explicit:

    $ phonegap create hello -n HelloWorld -i com.example.hello
    $ phonegap create hello --name HelloWorld --id com.example.hello

Alterately, you can edit both of these optional values in the config.xml file later during development.

Build the App

All subsequent commands need to be run within the project's directory, or any subdirectories within its scope:

    $ cd hello

By default, the phonegap create script generates a skeletal web-based application whose home page is the project's www/index.html file, with its default logic referenced from www/js/index.js. Edit this application however you want, but initialize it as part of a deviceready event handler, which executes once device APIs become available.

The build command compiles an application for whichever platform you specify, identified by common stub arguments, generating platform-specific files within the project's platforms subdirectory. For example, the following targets iPhone and iPad devices:

    $ phonegap build ios
    [phonegap] detecting iOS SDK environment...
    [phonegap] using the local environment
    [phonegap] compiling iOS...
    [phonegap] successfully compiled iOS app

High-level information on the command's progress displays as feedback. If you need lower-level details, use the -V (verbose) option:

    $ phonegap -V build ios

Test the App on an Emulator or Device

While PhoneGap applications are implemented as web pages, you can't use a standard browser to preview pages that invoke its device APIs. To test how an application interacts with platform features, install it onto a device or emulator. This example installs onto Android:

    $ phonegap install android

As an alternative, the combined run command performs both the build and install operations in one line:

    $ phonegap run android
    [phonegap] detecting Android SDK environment...
    [phonegap] using the local environment
    [phonegap] compiling Android...
    [phonegap] successfully compiled Android app
    [phonegap] trying to install app onto device
    [phonegap] no device was found
    [phonegap] trying to install app onto emulator
    [phonegap] successfully installed onto emulator

If your Android device is connected and properly configured, the application displays there by default, otherwise it displays on the SDK emulator.

Either the device or the emulator may need to be configured, as detailed in the Platform Guides. In Android's case, to test on the device you would have to enable a USB debugging option on the device, and perhaps add a USB driver depending on your development environment. To test in an emulator, you may first need to set up or choose a particular AVD (Android Virtual Device).

The run command makes the app accessible on the home screen as if you had downloaded it from an app store:

You can also override the device-to-emulator fallback behavior described above. Adding the -e (or --emulator) option to either the install or run command forces the app to display in the emulator, even if a device is connected. Likewise, adding the -d (or --device) option forces it to try to install onto the device, without falling back to the emulator in case it fails to install.

Add Plugin Features

When you build and view a new project, the default application that appears doesn't do very much. You can modify the app in many ways to take advantage of standard web technologies, but for the app to communicate closely with various device-level features, you need to add plugins that provide access to core PhoneGap APIs.

A plugin is a bit of add-on code that provides an interface to native components. You can design your own plugin interface, for example when designing a hybrid app that mixes a PhoneGap WebView with native components. (See Embedding WebViews and Plugin Development Guide for details.) More commonly, you would add a plugin to enable one of PhoneGap's basic device-level features detailed in the API Reference.

The phonegap local plugin add command requires you to specify the repository for the plugin code. Here are examples of features you might add:

Use plugin list to view currently installed plugins. Each displays by its identifier:

    $ phonegap local plugin list
    [phonegap] org.apache.cordova.core.console

To remove a plugin, refer to it by the same identifier that appears in the listing, which corresponds to subdirectories within the project's plugins directory. For example, here is how you would remove support for a debug console from a final release version:

    $ phonegap local plugin remove org.apache.cordova.core.console

You can batch-remove or add plugins by specifying more than one argument for each command.

Advanced Plugin Options

When adding a plugin, several options allow you to specify from where to fetch the plugin. The examples above use a well-known registry, from where the plugin is specified by its id:

    $ phonegap local plugin add org.apache.cordova.console

The id may also include the plugin's version number, appended after an @ character. The latest version is an alias for the most recent version. For example:

    $ phonegap local plugin add org.apache.cordova.console@latest
    $ phonegap local plugin add org.apache.cordova.console@0.2.1

If the plugin is not registered at but is located in another git repository, you can specify an alternate URL:

    $ phonegap local plugin add

The git example above fetches the plugin from the end of the master branch, but an alternate git-ref such as a tag or branch can be appended after a # character:

    $ phonegap local plugin add

If the plugin (and its plugin.xml file) is in a subdirectory within the git repo, you can specify it with a : character. Note that the # character is still needed:

    $ phonegap local plugin add

You can also combine both the git-ref and the subdirectory:

    $ phonegap local plugin add

Alternately, specify a local path to the plugin directory that contains the plugin.xml file:

    $ phonegap local plugin add ../my_plugin_dir

Customize Each Platform

While PhoneGap allows you to easily deploy an app for many different platforms, sometimes you need to add customizations. In that case, you don't want to modify the source files in various www directories within the top-level platforms directory, because they're regularly replaced with the top-level www directory's cross-platform source.

Instead, the top-level merges directory offers a place to specify assets to deploy on specific platforms. Each platform-specific subdirectory within merges mirrors the directory structure of the www source tree, allowing you to override or add files as needed. For example, here is how you might uses merges to boost the default font size for Android devices:

When you rebuild the project, the Android version features the custom font size, while others remain unchanged.

You can also use merges to add files not present in the original www directory. For example, an app can incorporate a back button graphic into the iOS interface, stored in merges/ios/img/back_button.png, while the Android version can instead capture backbutton events from the corresponding hardware button.

Build Applications Remotely

By default, building an application generates files in various subdirectories within platforms, and relies on locally installed SDK tools. As an alternative, you may be able to build the application remotely using Adobe's PhoneGap Build service. (See Introducing PhoneGap Build.) This development path means there's no need to maintain SDK tools on your system, and it also involves a different way to install apps onto your device, with no emulator testing available. PhoneGap Build also supports additional platforms (Symbian and WebOS) that can only be compiled remotely. (See the Overview section's Platform Support table for details.)

First, you need an account on the PhoneGap Build site. Then use the login command to associate your command-line environment with the account. Here are two minor variations of the same command:

    $ phonegap remote login -u -p mYpASSw0RD
    $ phonegap remote login --username --password mYpASSw0RD

If you don't first run this command, you are prompted for account details the first time you build a remote application. Credentials are stored indefinitely for each login. Use the corresponding logout command to dissociate the account with the local environment:

    $ phonegap remote logout

To compile your app remotely, prefix the build command with the additional remote command:

    $ phonegap remote build ios

To use plugins, you must first add them locally, then build them remotely. For example:

    $ phonegap local plugin add
    $ phonegap remote build ios

Since the remote build environment has no SDK that would allow you to run an emulator or tether a device, the install and run commands simply generate a QR code in the PhoneGap Build interface. Use a QR reader to scan this image, and the app installs over the air onto iOS, Android, or BlackBerry devices:

    $ phonegap remote install ios
    # ...or...
    $ phonegap remote run ios

Note that commands operate locally by default, but there is an explicit local command. For example, these commands do the same thing:

    $ phonegap local build ios
    $ phonegap build ios

Updating PhoneGap

After installing the phonegap utility, you can always update it to the latest version by running the following command:

    $ sudo npm update -g phonegap

The version command, or the -v option, displays the currently running version:

    $ phonegap version
    $ phonegap -v

Run the npm info command for a longer listing that includes the current version along with other available version numbers:

    $ npm info phonegap

Use this syntax to install a specific version listed there:

    $ sudo npm install -g phonegap@2.9.0-rc1-0.12.2

PhoneGap 3.0 is the first version to support the command-line interface described in this section. If you are updating from a version prior to 3.0, you need to create a new project as described above, then copy the older application's assets into the top-level www directory. Where applicable, further details about upgrading to 3.0 are available in the Platform Guides. Once you upgrade to the phonegap command-line interface and use npm update to stay current, the more time-consuming procedures described there are no longer relevant.

Updating a PhoneGap App

A PhoneGap app's native platform files can be updated to the latest PhoneGap version with the following command:

$ phonegap platform update <platform>

The <platform> keyword can be substituted for any supported platform, such as:

$ phonegap platform update android
$ phonegap platform update ios