SPM command-line interface

In the preceding articles, we’ve been using Xcode as a tool for creating, developing, and fetching Swift packages. At the end of the day, the program doing the heavy job is SPM. Xcode interfaces with it, providing a nice GUI.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at SPM itself, an independent program belonging to the Swift project. We’ll explore its main commands by building and releasing a trivial swift executable.

Main commands

If we type man swift in the terminal, it’ll display the manual page for Swift:

man page for the Swift command.

As we can see, the commands for controlling SPM are:

  • build
  • test
  • run
  • package and its subcommands

If we type swift package in the terminal, it lists the following sub-commands (notice how many they are, as opposed to the three commands Xcode provides):

The subcommands of swift package

Creating an executable

Besides libraries, a Swift Package can produce executables too. This is how the Swift project creates its command-line programs (e.g: docc, swift-driver). To create an executable package, we need to type the following in the terminal (I’m using ZSH):

mkdir simple-executable
cd simple-executable
swift package init --name "Simple Executable" --type executable

# If you wish to see other options available, type `swift package --help`

This will initialize a package with an executable target:

swift package init output.

Here’s what the manifest looks like:

// swift-tools-version:5.5

import PackageDescription

let package = Package(
    name: "Simple Executable",
    dependencies: [],
    targets: [
            name: "Simple Executable",
            dependencies: []),
            name: "Simple ExecutableTests",
            dependencies: ["Simple Executable"]),


To build our package, we use the swift build command:

Building the package.

Use the swift package clean command to clear the build caches.


Running the executable is simple, simply type swift run:

Running the executable.

Resolving & updating dependencies

Let’s first include a dependency in our manifest:

let package = Package(
    // ...
    dependencies: [
        .package(url: "https://github.com/apple/swift-argument-parser", from: "1.0.0"),
    targets: [
            name: "Simple Executable",
            dependencies: [
                .product(name: "ArgumentParser", package: "swift-argument-parser")
    // ...

With this dependency now declared, we can use the following commands:

  • swift package resolve to resolve the dependencies
  • swift package show-dependencies to show the currently resolved dependencies
  • swift package update to update the dependencies
  • swift package reset to reset the cache and build directories
Commands for handling dependencies.


Unfortunately, the swift package command doesn’t explain how we can build an executable for release. You can find this information in the GitHub repository. Here’s how it works:

  1. Use swift build -c release to build the executable using the release configuration
  2. The built executable lives inside the .build/release folder. We can invoke it directly from there: type .build/release/Simple\ Package to see what happens.
Building for release and running the executable.

Invoking it from ZSH

We can include the executable in one of the folders used in the $PATH variable. This allows ZSH to find and run the executable we created. Type the following in your terminal:

  1. echo $PATH, this will display the folders separated by colon characters (:)
  2. Rename the executable to an invokable name:
    1. mv .build/release/Simple\ Executable ./say-hello
    2. If /usr/local/bin doesn’t exist, create it with this command: sudo mkdir /usr/local/bin
    3. sudo mv ./say-hello /usr/local/bin
  3. Now we can simply invoke our command by typing say-hello
Invoking the executable using the terminal.


SPM is a powerful program capable of managing dependencies and building libraries and executables. It is a key component of the Swift project, supporting the usage of the language in different operating systems.

In this article, we saw how we can create a trivial package that builds an executable. We also explored the main SPM commands, and how we can invoke our executables directly from the terminal’s $PATH variable.

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