Creating an Elixir module

To get a better handle on Elixir, I developed a simple CLI tool for sending files in Slack.

To create a new project, run

$ mix new slack_bot

This creates a new Elixir project which looks like this

├── config
│   └── config.exs
├── lib
│   └── slack_bot.ex
├── mix.exs
└── slack_bot
    ├── slack_bot_helper.exs
    └── slack_bot_test.exs

Navigate to the lib folder and create a folder inside it called slack_bot. We will use this folder for our code (slack_bot.exs) will remain empty. Then, create the files bot.ex and cli.ex. cli.ex will be the entry point to our application. bot.ex will contain the code for the specific Slack functions.

├── config
│   └── config.exs
├── lib
│   ├── slack_bot
│   │   ├── bot.ex
│   │   └── cli.ex
│   └── slack_bot.ex
├── mix.exs
└── slack_bot
    ├── slack_bot_helper.exs
    └── slack_bot_test.exs

Our app is going to need to make HTTP requests and parse JSON into Elixir data structures. We can use HTTPoison and Poison for these functions, respectively.

Open mix.exs and modify the application and deps functions to look like this:

def application do
  [applications: [:logger, :poison, :httpoison]]

defp deps do
  [{:httpoison, "~> 0.8.0"}, {:poison, "~> 2.0"}]

These lines define our app dependencies and instruct our program to use them.

Install the dependencies with

$ mix deps.get

Now open the mix.ex file. Since we are creating a CLI, modify the project function to look like this:

def project do
  [app: :slack_bot,
   version: "0.0.1",
   elixir: "~> 1.1",
   escript: [main_module: SlackBot.CLI], # this line is new
   build_embedded: Mix.env == :prod,
   start_permanent: Mix.env == :prod,
   deps: deps]

First, we will create our CLI parser, which is the entry point we defined in the mix.exs file. Open lib/slack_bot/cli.ex and add the following code:

defmodule SlackBot.CLI do
  def main(args) do
    args |> parse_args |> process

  def process({[], _, _}) do
    IO.puts "No arguments given."

  def process({options, remaining, invalid}) do
    opts = Enum.into(options, %{})
    case opts do
      %{file: file, channel: channel} ->
        SlackBot.Bot.upload_file(file, channel)
      _ ->
        IO.puts "No match found for #{inspect opts}"

  def parse_args(args) do
      switches: [
        channel: :string,
        file: :string
      aliases: [
        c: :channel,
        f: :file


This module defines our CLI behavior. Our main function is the entry point of the module. We take the input arguments to the program and pipe (|>) them through a series of functions to validate and execute the real work of the program.We use an OptionParser and parse for two flags, --channel and --file as defined in the switches list. We also alias these flags to the abbreviated versions -c and -f respectively. Finally, we process the arguments and if they meet our expected conditions (both flags present), we call our function to upload the file (SlackBot.Bot.upload_file), which we will define now.

Open lib/slack_bot/bot.ex and add the following code:

defmodule SlackBot.Bot do
  @url_upload ""

  def url_with_params(url, params) do
    param_string =, fn {key, value} -> Enum.join([key, value], "=") end)
    |> Enum.join("&")

  def get_token() do

  def upload_file(path_to_file, channels) do
    IO.puts "Sending #{path_to_file} to #{channels}"
    params = %{
      "token" => get_token(),
      "file" => path_to_file,
      "channels" => channels
    url = url_with_params(@url_upload, params)!(url, {:multipart, [{"name", "value"}, {:file, path_to_file}]})
    IO.puts "Sent!"


According to the Slack API documentation for files.upload, we pass three query parameters in our POST request to their API: a token, a file and a comma seperated value list of channels. When we call upload_file from our CLI module, we grab our Slack API token (assumed to be set as an environment variable SLACK_TOKEN; visit Slack to get a token) and pass in our file path and channel arguments from the CLI. Next, we build our URL, injecting the query parameters:<token>&file=<file>&channels=<channels>

Examples for parameters:

token: xxxx-yyyyyyyyyy-zzzzzzzzzzz-aaaaaaaaaaa-xxxxxxxxxx
channels: @chris,#dev
file: ../dev/ui.pdf

Once we have our URL, we use HTTPoison to make a POST request to Slack, using an enctype of multipart/form-data. I had no idea what this meant, but got some help from this HTTPoison Github issue.

Lastly, run

$ mix

to compile the script to binary and run it like this:

$ ./slack_bot -c @chris -f ~/Downloads/that_one.gif

Hope you enjoy!