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0.6 Introduction to dfx



dfx is a command line utility that is used to interact with the IC SDK. It is the primary tool that is used for creating, managing, and deploying dapps onto the Internet Computer.

The dfx parent command has several flags and subcommands that can be used to perform a wide array of operations. First, you'll take a look at basic usage of the command, then you'll get started creating your first project using dfx.

Basic usage

The syntax for using dfx is as follows:

dfx [subcommand] [flag]


The following is a list of the essential dfx subcommands that you'll be using throughout the developer journey series. For the full list of all possible subcommands, check out the dfx reference documentation.

  • build: Used to build the canister output from the project's source code.
  • canister: Used to manage deployed canisters.
  • cycles: Used to manage the cycles balance for your identity.
  • deploy: Deploys one or all canisters from the project's source code. By default, all canisters are deployed.
  • help: Returns usage information for a specific subcommand.
  • identity: Used to create and manage identities.
  • info: Used to display information, such as version or port values.
  • ledger: Used to interact with accounts within the ledger canister.
  • new: Used to create a new project. By default, creates a Motoko project.
  • ping: Used to test network connectivity to the mainnet or the local canister execution environment.
  • quickstart: Used to perform an initial one-time identity and wallet setup.
  • start: Used to start the local canister execution environment for the current project.
  • stop: Used to stop the local canister execution environment.
  • upgrade: Used to upgrade the version of dfx installed.


  • -h, --help: Used to display usage information.
  • -q, --quiet: Used to suppress informational messages.
  • -v, --verbose: Used to display detailed information about operations.
  • -V, --version: Used to display the version of dfx installed.


Below are the essential options that you'll be referencing throughout the developer journey. For the full list of options, see the reference documentation.

  • --identity <identity>: Used to specify the user identity to be used with the command.
  • --logfile <logfile>: Used to write the command's output logs to a specific file.

Upgrading to the latest version of dfx

When a new version of dfx is released, it is recommended that the latest version be installed whenever possible. This ensures that you are benefiting from the latest features, enhancements, and fixes.

To upgrade to the latest version, the dfx upgrade command can be used. This command will compare your current version of dfx to the latest version available, and if a new version is available, the command will automatically download and install the newest version.

Installing a specific version of dfx

If there is a specific release of dfx you'd like to use, you can set the DFX_VERSION environment variable, then run the install script. The install script looks for this environment variable during installation to determine which version should be downloaded. If no variable is set, the latest version is downloaded.

To set the DFX_VERSION variable and install a specific version of dfx, run the command:

DFX_VERSION=0.14.1 sh -ci "$(curl -sSL"

Creating a new project with dfx

All dapps on ICP start off as projects. Projects are created using the dfx command and subcommands.

To get started, you'll use the default sample app to demonstrate how to create a project and explore the default project structure that is generated when a new project is created.

Step 1: Open a terminal window on your local computer.

Assure that you are in your working directory, developer_journey.

Step 2: Create a new project with the name 'hello_world' with the command:

Use `dfx new [project_name]` to create a new project:

dfx new hello_world

You will be prompted to select the language that your backend canister will use:

? Select a backend language: ›
❯ Motoko
TypeScript (Azle)
Python (Kybra)

Then, select a frontend framework for your frontend canister. In this example, select:

? Select a frontend framework: ›
❯ Vanilla JS
No JS template
No frontend canister

Lastly, you can include extra features to be added to your project:

? Add extra features (space to select, enter to confirm) ›
⬚ Internet Identity
⬚ Bitcoin (Regtest)
⬚ Frontend tests
dfx new hello_world
cd hello_world
npm install

For projects created with `dfx new` (Motoko and Rust) the command automatically generates the project's default
configuration and two default smart contracts.

When no flags are used, the dfx new command will create a new project using the default Motoko template. To create a project using the Rust project template, the flag --type=rust should be included in the command.

In this developer journey, you will be using Motoko for our development language, so you do not need to pass any additional flags with this command.

When creating new projects with dfx, only alphanumeric characters and underscores should be used. This is to assure that project names are valid within Motoko, JavaScript, and other contexts.

This command will create a new project directory called hello_world that contains the project's default template files and a new git repository for your project.

Step 3: Then, navigate into the project's directory with the command:

cd hello_world

Exploring the default project structure

By default, the project structure will resemble the following:

├── # Default project documentation
├── dfx.json # Project configuration file
├── node_modules # Libraries for frontend development
├── package-lock.json
├── package.json
├── src # Source files directory
│ ├── hello_world_backend
│ │ └──
│ ├── hello_world_frontend
│ ├── assets
│ │ ├── logo.png
│ │ ├── main.css
│ │ └── sample-asset.txt
│ └── src
│ ├── index.html
│ └── index.js
└── webpack.config.js

In this directory, the following files and directories are notable:

  • The default README file to be used for documenting your project.
  • dfx.json: The default configuration file used to set configurable options for your project.
  • src/: The source directory that contains all of your dapp's source files.
  • hello_world_backend: The source directory that contains your dapp's backend code files.
  • hello_world_frontend: The source directory that contains your dapp's frontend code files.
  • hello_world_backend/ The default template Motoko file that can be modified or replaced to include your dapp's core programming logic.

Reviewing the default configuration

By default, the dfx.json file will contain some automatically generated configuration settings for your new project. These settings will provide basic functionality for the default dapp, which is a simple 'Hello, world' program.

To review the default configuration file for the project, open the dfx.json file in a code or text editor. The contents will resemble the following:

"canisters": {
"hello_world_backend": {
"main": "src/hello_world_backend/",
"type": "motoko"
"hello_world_frontend": {
"dependencies": [
"frontend": {
"entrypoint": "src/hello_world_frontend/src/index.html"
"source": [
"type": "assets"
"defaults": {
"build": {
"args": "",
"packtool": ""
"output_env_file": ".env",
"version": 1

Let's explore these settings a bit further:

  • There are two canisters defined in this file; hello_world_frontend and hello_world_backend.
  • The hello_world_backend canister has a main attribute which specifies the file path of the program's core file,
  • The hello_world_backend canister has a type of 'motoko', which specifies the programming language. If the canister was written in Rust, this value would read 'rust'.
  • The hello_world_frontend canister has a dependency of the hello_world_backend canister, meaning it relies on the backend canister to be deployed and running for it to be deployed and ran.
  • The hello_world_frontend canister has a frontend endpoint of src/hello_world_frontend/src/index.html, which specifies the primary frontend asset.
  • Additional assets for the hello_world_frontend canister are specified in the source configuration.
  • Lastly, the hello_world_frontend canister has a type of 'assets', configuring it as a frontend asset canister.

Reviewing the default program code

Now that you've explored the default project structure, let's take a look at the default program code located in the file. This is located in the src/hello_world_backend directory. The developer journey will cover frontend development and the default files located in the frontend canister directory in a later tutorial.

New Motoko projects will always include a default, template file. To take a look at the file's default contents, open the src/hello_world_backend/ file in a code or text editor. The code will resemble the following:

actor {
public query func greet(name : Text) : async Text {
return "Hello, " # name # "!";

In this simple 'Hello, world' program, there are a few key elements:

  • This code defines an actor rather than a main function as some other languages define. In Motoko, the main function is implicit in the file itself.
  • Instead of the traditional 'Hello, world' that uses a simple print function, this version of 'Hello, world' defines an actor with a public greet function that takes an input of a name argument with the type of Text.
  • Then, the program uses an async keyword to indicate that the program will return an async message that consists of text string that is constructed using "Hello, ", the # operator, the name argument, and "!".

You'll explore actor objects, classes, and asynchronous messages in a future tutorial. For now, this will wrap up our introduction to dfx.

Need help?

Did you get stuck somewhere in this tutorial, or feel like you need additional help understanding some of the concepts? The ICP community has several resources available for developers, like working groups and bootcamps, along with our Discord community, forum, and events such as hackathons. Here are a few to check out:

Next steps