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First of all, this software is a reimplementation of tagref. The primary goal was to test LuaX and argparse. If you need a faster implementation I strongly recommend to use tagref.

Tagref helps you maintain cross-references in your code. You can use it to help keep things in sync, document assumptions, manage invariants, etc. The original implementation of tagref is used at Airbnb for their front-end monorepo. You should use it too!

Tagref works with any programming language, and it respects your .gitignore file (git must be installed). It’s recommended to set up Tagref as an automated continuous integration (CI) check. The original Tagref implementation is blazing fast (as they say) and almost certainly won’t be the bottleneck in your CI.

What is it?

When writing code, it’s common to refer to other parts of the codebase in comments. The traditional way to do that is to provide a file path and a line number. For example:

# Keep this in sync with controllers/profile.py:304.

Unfortunately, as we all know, this is brittle:

  1. As the code evolves, the line numbers may shift.
  2. The file might be renamed or deleted.

One strategy is to reference a specific commit. At least then you know the reader will be able to find the line that you’re referencing:

# Keep this in sync with controllers/profile.py@55217c6:304.

But that approach isn’t ideal, since the current version of the code may have diverged from the referenced commit in non-trivial ways.

Tagref solves this problem in a better way. It allows you to annotate your code with tags (in comments), which can be referenced from other parts of the codebase. For example, you might have a tag like this:

# [tag:cities_nonempty] This function always returns a non-empty list.
def get_cities():
  return ['San Francisco', 'Tokyo']

Elsewhere, suppose you’re writing some code which depends on that postcondition. You can make that clear by referencing the tag:

cities = get_cities()

first_city = cities[0] # This is safe due to [ref:cities_nonempty].

Tagref ensures such references remain valid. If someone tries to delete or rename the tag, Tagref will complain. More precisely, it checks the following:

  1. References actually point to tags. A tag cannot be deleted or renamed without updating the references that point to it.
  2. Tags are unique. There is never any ambiguity about which tag is being referenced.

Note that, in the example above, Tagref won’t ensure that the get_cities function actually returns a non-empty list. It isn’t magic! It only checks the two conditions above.


The easiest way to use Tagref is to run the tagref command with no arguments. It will recursively scan the working directory and check the two conditions described above. Here are the supported command-line options:

Usage: tagref [-p path] [-r ref-prefix] [-t tag-prefix] [-h]
       [<command>] ...

Tagref helps you maintain cross-references in your code.

   -p path               Adds the path of a directory to scan (default: .)
   -r ref-prefix         Sets the prefix used for locating references (default: ref)
   -t tag-prefix         Sets the prefix used for locating tags (default: tag)
   -h, --help            Show this help message and exit.

   check                 Checks all the tags and references (default)
   list-refs             Lists all the references
   list-tags             Lists all the tags
   list-unused           Lists the unreferenced tags

Installation instructions

You can download and compile Tagref with these commands:

git clone https://github.com/CDSoft/tagref
make -C tagref install

This will install tagref to ~/.local/bin.


The idea for Tagref was inspired by the GHC notes convention. This article has more insights into how the GHC developers manage their codebase.