Wednesday 10 June 2020

Generating PDFs with a Salesforce CLI Plug-In


Yeah, I know, another week another plug-in. Unfortunately this is likely to continue for some time, as my  plug-ins are only really limited by my imagination. I think this one is pretty cool though and I hope, dear reader, you agree.

At Dreamforce 2019, Salesforce debuted Evergreen - a technology to allow Heroku microservices to be invoked from Apex (and other places) seamlessly. One of the Evergreen use cases is creating a PDF from Salesforce data, and one of the strap lines around this is that with Evergreen you have access to the entire Node package ecosystem. Every time I heard this I'd think that's true, but CLI plug-ins have the same access, as they are built on node, and like Evergreen there is no additional authentication required.

Essentially this is the opposite of Evergreen - rather than invoking something that lives on another server that returns a PDF file, I invoke a local command that writes a file to the local file system. I toyed with the idea of calling this plug-in Deciduous, but decided that was but of a lengthy name to type, and I'd have to explain it a lot! (and yes I know that Evergreen is a lot more than creating a PDF, but I liked the image so decided to go with it).

The plug-in is available on NPM - you can install it by executing : sfdx plugins:install bbpdf

EJS Templates

There are a couple of ways to create PDFs with node - using something like PDFKit to add the individual elements to the document, or my preferred route - generating the document from an HTML page. And if I'm generating HTML from Salesforce data or metadata, I'm going to be using EJS templates.

I'm not going to go into too much detail in this post about the creation of the HTML via EJS, but if you want more information check out my blog post on how I used it in my bbdoc plug-in to create HTML documents from Salesforce metadata.  

My plug-in requires two flags to specify the template. The name of the template itself, specified via the --template/-t flag, and the templates directory, specified via the --template-dir/-d flag. The reason I need the directory is that any css or images required by the template will be specified relative to the template's location. You can see this working by cloning the samples repo and trying it out.

Salesforce Data

My plug-in provides two mechanisms to retrieve data from Salesforce.

Query Parameter

This is for the simple use case where the template requires a single record. The query to retrieve the record is supplied via the --query/-q flag.

Querying Salesforce data from a plug-in is quite straightforward, I specify that I need a username which guarantees me access to an org:

protected static requiresUsername = true;

then I create a connection:

const conn =;

and finally I run the query, based on the supplied parameter,  and check the results:

const result = await conn.query<object>(this.flags.query);

if (!result.records || result.records.length <= 0) {

Once I have the record I need to pass in the Salesforce data in an object to the template, with the property name expected by the template, and this is provided by the user through the --sobject/-s flag.

This is a bit clunky though, so here's the preferred route.

Query File

A query file is specified via the --query-file/-f flag.  This is a JSON format file containing an object with a property per query:

    "contact": {
        "single": true,
        "query": "select Title, FirstName, LastName from Contact where id='00380000023TUDeAAO'"
    "account": {
        "single": true,
        "query": "select id, Name from Account where id='0018000000eqTV7AAM'"

The property name is the name that will be supplied to the EJS template - in this example there will be two properties passed to the template - contact and account.  The single property specifies whether the query will result in a single record or an array, and the query property specifies the actual SOQL query that will be executed. Using this mechanism, any number of records or arrays of records can be passed through to the template.

Generating the PDF

In a recurring theme in this post, there are a couple of ways to generate the PDF from the HTML. The simplest in terms of setup and code is to use the html-pdf package, which is a wrapper around PhantomJS. While simple, this is sub-optimal - the package hasn't been updated for a while, development on Phantom is suspended and when I added this to my plug-in, npm reported a critical vulnerability, so clearly another way would be required.

The favoured mechanism on the interwebs was to use Puppeteer (headless chromium node api), so I set about this. After some hoop jumping around creating temporary directories and copying the templates and associated files around, it wasn't actually too bad. I loaded the HTML from the file that I'd created and then asked for a PDF version of it:

const page = await browser.newPage();

await page.goto('file:///' + htmlFile, {waitUntil: 'networkidle0'});
const pdf = await page.pdf({ format: 'A4' });

One area I did go off-piste slightly was not using chromium bundled with puppeteer, instead I rely on the user defining an environment variable for their local installation of chrome and I use that. Mainly because I didn't want my plug-in to have to download 2-300 Mb before it could be used. This may cause problems down the line, so caveat emptor.

The environment variable in question is PUPPETEER_EXECUTABLE_PATH. Here are the definitions from my Macbook Pro running MacOS Catalina:

export PUPPETEER_EXECUTABLE_PATH="/Applications/Google Chrome"

and my Surface Pro running Windows 10:

setx PUPPETEER_EXECUTABLE_PATH "C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe"

The PDF is then written to the location specified by the --output/-o flag.

The next hoop to jump through came up when I installed the plug-in - Puppeteer is currently at 3.3.0 which requires Node 10.18.1 but the Salesforce CLI node version is 10.15.3. Luckily I was able to switch to Puppeteer version 2.1.1 without introducing any further issues.

Samples Repo

There's a lot of information in this post and a number of flags to wrap your head around - if you'd like to jump straight in with working examples, check out the samples repo. This has a couple of example commands to try out - just make sure you've set your chrome location correctly - and the PDFs that were generated when I ran the plug-in against my dev orgs.

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