BioThings CLI


The BioThings CLI (Command Line Interface) provides a set of conveniance command line tools for developers to create and test data plugins locally. Compared to the option of setting up a local Hub running in docker containers, the CLI further lowers the entry barrier by NOT requiring docker or any external databases installed locally. It is particularly suitable for data plugin developers to build and test their data plugin independantly. When a data plugin is ready, they can then pass the data plugin to a running BioThings Hub to build the data plugin into a BioThings API.

This tutorial aims to provide a comprehensive guide to the BioThings CLI, covering its essential commands and functionalities. We will explore a range of topics including installation, initial setup, and core features such as data plugin dump, upload, inspect, and other utility commands. Additionally, we will delve into practical applications of the CLI, demonstrating how to work with the local API server for data inspection and parser debugging.


To use the BioThings CLI, you need to have Python installed on your system, specifically version 3.7 or higher.

Ensure that your Python version meets this requirement by running:

python --version

If you need to install or upgrade Python, visit the official Python website at for the latest version.

In addition to Python 3.7 or higher, having Git installed on your system is essential for using the BioThings CLI, particularly if you need to clone repositories or manage version-controlled code.

To check if Git is installed on your system, run:

git --version

If Git is not installed, you can download and install it from the official Git website:

  • For Windows and macOS: Visit Git’s official download page.

  • For Linux: Use your distribution’s package manager (e.g., apt-get install git for Ubuntu, yum install git for Fedora).

After installing Git, you can proceed with the setup and usage of the BioThings CLI.

Setting Up

Clone the tutorials repository on our BioThings group.

git clone
cd tutorials
git checkout pharmgkb_v5

Now we will need to install the requirements to run our BioThings CLI. We will first create a virtual environment and then install a BioThings Hub CLI environment.

python -m venv .venv
source ./.venv/bin/activate
pip install "biothings[cli]"

Run/Test a data plugin

Let’s check out our command line inputs. Here is a quick summary of every command we will be using in this tutorial.

  • biothings-cli dataplugin dump: Download source data files to local

  • biothings-cli dataplugin list: Listing dumped files or uploaded sources

  • biothings-cli dataplugin upload: Convert downloaded data from dump step into JSON documents and upload the to the source database

  • biothings-cli dataplugin serve: serve command runs a simple API server for serving documents from the source database.

  • biothings-cli dataplugin clean: Delete all dumped files and drop uploaded sources tables

If you have any further questions on what other options are available in our biothings-cli. You can check out more using the --help or -h flag on any attribute. Examples:

  • biothings-cli --help

  • biothings-cli dataplugin --help

  • biothings-cli dataplugin dump -h

The BioThings CLI can only be used for a manifest based plugin. Looking at our manifest file, we are using a JSON based manifest with multiple uploaders. Check out our manifest section to know more about the different types of manifest files that can be used with our Hub.

    "version": "0.3",
    "requires": [
    "dumper": {
        "data_url": [
        "uncompress": true
    "uploaders": [
            "name": "annotations",
            "parser": "parser:load_annotations",
            "mapping": "parser:custom_annotations_mapping",
            "on_duplicates": "error"
            "name": "druglabels",
            "parser": "parser:load_druglabels",
            "on_duplicates": "error"
            "name": "occurrences",
            "parser": "parser:load_occurrences",
            "on_duplicates": "error"
  • version specifies the manifest version (it’s not the version of the datasource itself) and tells the CLI what to expect from the manifest.

  • parser uses pandas and numpy library, we declare that dependency in requires section.

  • the dumper section declares where the input files are, using data_url key. In the end, we’ll use 3 different files so a list of URLs is specified there. A single string is also allowed if only one file (ie. one URL) is required. Since the input file is a ZIP file, we first need to uncompress the archive, using uncompress : true. We will see the uncompressed contents shortly after dumping.

  • the uploaders section tells the CLI how to upload JSON documents to local SQLite database. parser has a special format, module_name:function_name. For example the first parsing function is named load_annotations and can be found in module. "on_duplicates" : "error" tells the CLI to raise an error if we have documents with the same _id (this would mean we have a bug in our parser).

Now we will run the dump process using the dump command:

biothings-cli dataplugin dump

There should be a successful dump along with the dump contents in the .biothings_hub/archive/<DATE_TIME> directory.


Remember since we set uncompress as true in the manifest the .biothings_hub/archive/<DATE_TIME> will contain both the zip files and the uncompressed contents.

In our .biothings_hub directory, there should be a SQLite database that was created called biothings_hubdb. Let’s take a look at the contents using biothings-cli dataplugin list --hubdb.


We can see two collections/tables that have been created during our dump.

The data_plugin collection contains the information of our “tutorial” dataplugin. The each entry within the data_plugin contains:

  • _id: name of the plugin

  • download.data_folder: where the plugin is located

  • if the plugin is still being used

  • plugin.loader: type of plugin, at the moment, we can only using manifest type plugins for the cli, but more features will be updated in the future to include other types

  • plugin.type: local vs remote repository

  • plugin.url: plugin source folder

The src_dump collection contains the information of our dumps:

  • _id: name of the dataplugin

  • download.data_folder: location of the dumped contents

  • download.last_success: datetime of last successful dump

  • download.logfile: location of generated log files

  • download.release: name of release

  • download.started_at: datetime of when the dump was started

  • download.status: status of the dump

  • download.time: how long the dump process took

Now that our dumper has been populated, we can continue to the upload process. Let’s take a look at the upload command.


Since our data is small, we do not need to use the --batch-limit tag for testing. Instead, we can directly run:

biothings-cli dataplugin upload

After a successful upload, the SQLite database .biothings_hub/.data_src_database is created with three different collections. Each collection matches the corresponding uploader in our manifest file: annotations, druglabels, occurences.

To view our data, we will need to use the serve command.

biothings-cli dataplugin serve

Once we have served the data, there should be 3 endpoints that are created. Go to http://localhost:9999/ to view all of the available endpoints. For each endpoint we can query by id:

or field:

Try out a few of the examples for yourself listed in the serve output!


You may have noticed that we are able to serve occurences and druglabels without registering a mapping. The reason is because BioThings CLI does not check for correct mappings. If you want to know if your mapping is correctly registered, you will have to use our BioThings Studio.

To review we can use the biothings-cli dataplugin list command. Using this command we can see all of our dump and upload information.


Once we are finished with our plugin we can delete our unused data with biothings-cli dataplugin clean --all. This will delete all the dumped files and drop all the uploaded source data.


We can check if all the data is deleted using biothings-cli dataplugin list.


In Summary

We have successfully set up a BioThings CLI environment and created a test environment from a flat file using only the CLI. Here is what we have achieved:

  • Create a data plugin: by defining a data plugin, we pointed the BioThings CLI to where the remote data is and which parser functions to process the remote data

  • Dump remote data: we used the BioThings CLI to dump the data locally

  • Parse remote data: we also generated an uploader to run the parser and store resulting JSON documents into a SQLite database

  • Run the test API: we served the resulting data with a simple API server from the source database.

Next Steps

  • Deploy to production:

    • After you successfully created and tested your data plugin locally, you are ready to host your data plugin as a BioThings API in the production environment (e.g. AWS cloud environment).

    • Please contact the Manager of one of our managed BioThings Hubs. The rest of the deployment process will be handled by the managed Hub.

  • Managing multiple plugins:

    If you need to manage multiple data plugins locally, there are different options to organize them:

    • Option 1: Create a new directory for every plugin and use the biothings-cli dataplugin command to manage one data plugin at a time as we described in the tutorial above.

    • Option 2: Create a parent directory and organize multiple data plugins in subdirectories. You can then run the biothings-cli dataplugin-hub command at the parent directory as a controller to manage all data plugins, with almost identical subcommands (e.g. dump, upload etc.) described above.

    • Option 3: Follow our BioThings Studio Tutorial to install a full-featured web UI to manage multiple data plugins, which is the same interface we use to manage a BioThings dataplugin hub in our production environment.