Writing Mix Tasks for Fun and Profit.

Mark Simpson
Def Method
Published in
2 min readMar 10, 2017


I’m beginning to learn a little Elixir & Phoenix and I ran into a case where I wish I had a Mix task for something. Specifically I wanted to run npm scripts with mix so I’d only have one command to run instead of both mix and npm for my toy Phoenix project.

Writing a Mix task is reasonably straightforward with only a few steps:

  1. If you want to create a mix task called “echo” then create a module called Mix.Tasks.Echo. The task name seen in mix help is based upon the name of the module minus Mix.Tasks. (The module needs to be called Mix.Tasks.Something otherwise mix will not see it.)
  2. Add use Mix.Task to this module.
  3. Write a public method called run. It has the type signature: run([binary]) :: any. That means that it will get a list of strings (the command line arguments) and can return anything.
  4. Add a @shortdoc. This will be used as the text in mix help. Without this your task will not appear in mix help but will still be usable.
  5. Optionally add a @moduledoc. This will be used if you run mix help YOURTASK

You can put this module where ever you want in lib but typically you would put it into lib/mix/tasks.

That’s it.

An interesting thing I found was that step #2 was not actually needed. That behaviour defines @shortdoc so without it you cannot use @shortdoc to add the task to mix help output.

Since I was creating a mix task for use in a build I needed to make sure that if the task was not successful that mix would return an error code so that the shell could see the error and fail a build. At first I assumed that the return value of the task was how that would be done; however I didn’t find much documentation about this. I experimented with some likely return values like :error or {:error, "something"}but that had no effect, it always returned a zero exit status to the shell. Ultimately I choose to raise an error when the task didn’t work and that definitely caused a non-zero exit status.

If you want to see the end of result of this experimentation you can check out my first ever hex package: mix-npm. The source can be found in the GitHub repository: verdammelt/mix_npm.

Originally published at code-and-cocktails.herokuapp.com on March 10, 2017.