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When my Alfred word counting workflow stopped working (flowing?) I discovered it was written as a php script – and could be re-written with JS. So I did!

I’ve been using Alfred for Mac as long as I can remember – occasionally installing ‘powerpack’ workflows or building simple flows with the graphic interface. The other day, I discovered one of my third-party workflows wasn’t working. It’s a word/character counter that I don’t use often, but like to have available.

Digging into it, I found a simple php script defining the entire word-count logic. That’s interesting, I didn’t know you could write Alfred workflows in php. I wonder what other languages are supported? Here’s the list provided in a dropdown:

Well, that explains why the php script wasn’t working – it must have broken when I got my new Mac. But JavaScript support means I can re-write this workflow myself, without learning a new language?

Yes! It turns out Apple now supports JavaScript for Automation as an alternative to AppleScript. You can do this in Automator as well as Alfred.

The basics of JS in Alfred

After selecting /usr/bin/osascript (JavaScript) from the language dropdown, I left the next option as-is: with input as {query}. That gives me the input pasted to Alfred.

For output, the docs recommend returning a JSON object. The object has a single items key, with an array of objects for each result row to be displayed. The essential properties of an item seem to be the title and arg keys. There’s more you can provide, but that’s enough to get started.

In my case, the result I want is:

{"items": [
"title": "Words: <word-count>",
"arg": "<word-count>"
"title": "Chars: <char-count>",
"arg": "<char-count>"

There doesn’t seem to be much magic around using the {query} or returning the JSON. If we define a function called wordCounter() that accepts a single argument and returns a JSON string, we can run it like this:


The {query} itself seems to be supplied as a direct text replacement before the script is run. If I remove the backticks or quotes around {query}, it assumes the first word is an undefined JS variable and throws an error.

My simple word counter

I didn’t put a lot of thought into edge cases beyond ‘the query is missing for some reason’, so we’ll see how well it holds up. Here’s the logic I used for counting:

const words = (text || '').trim().split(' ').length;
const chars = (text || '').length;

Nothing clever, and it seems to work even when I copy text with line-breaks – so that’s good enough for now. The rest is just to make sure the query is a string (maybe unnecessary since I’m already forcing it), and build the correct JSON from the results. Here’s the full script:

// generate an Alfred return item
const item = (title, arg) => ({
title: arg ? `${title}: ${arg}` : title,

// count words/chars and return as items
const count = (text) => {
const words = (text || '').trim().split(' ').length;
const chars = (text || '').length;

return [
item('Words', words),
item('Chars', chars),

// count or error, and return as JSON string
const wordCounter = (txt) => {
// error if query isn't text (maybe overkill?)
const items = (typeof txt === 'string')
? count(txt)
: [item('ERROR: please provide a string', null),];

return JSON.stringify({ items });

// run the script

That works great so far. The only other thing in the workflow is copying the output to the clipboard.

Now that I know how to do it, I wonder what other automations I might want to write!