reddit river: what flows online!When traveling I just love to read news from my favorite social news site A few weeks ago I saw this 'Ask Reddit' post which asked if we could get a reddit version for mobile phones. Well, I thought, it's a cool project and I can do it quickly.

While scanning through the comments of 'Ask Reddit' post, I noticed davidlvann's comment where he said that already had almost a plain text version of Digg, called

It didn't take me long to do a

$ whois
No match for "REDDITRIVER.COM".

to find that the domain was not registered! What a great name for a project! I quickly mailed my friend Alexis [kn0thing] Ohanian at Reddit (check his alien blog) to ask a permission to do a Reddit River project. Sure enough, he registered the domain for me and I was free to make it happen!

I'll describe how I made the site, and I will release full source code.

Update: The project is now live!

Update: Full source code is now available! It includes all the scripts mentioned here!

Download full source code (downloaded 10166 times)

My language of choice for this project is Python, the same language is written in.

This is actually the first real project I am doing in Python (I'm a big Perl fan). I have a good overall understanding of Python but I have never done a project from the ground up! Before doing the project I watched a few Python video lectures and read a bunch of articles to get into a mindset of a Pythonista.

Designing Stages of

The main goal of the project was to create a very lightweight version of reddit, which would monitor for story changes (as they get up/down voted) on several pages across the most popular popular subreddits, and which would find mobile versions of stories posted (what I mean is rewrite URLs, say, a post to The Washington Post gets rewritten to the print version of the same article, or a link to gets rewritten to the mobile version of --, etc.).

The project was done in several separate steps.

  • First, I set up the web server to handle Python applications,
  • Then I created a few Python modules to extract contents of Reddit website,
  • Next I created an SQLite database and wrote a few scripts to save the extracted data,
  • Then I wrote a Python module to discover mobile versions of given web pages,
  • Finally, I created the application to handle requests to!

Setting up the Web Server

This blog and run on a dedicated linux server. I use lighttpd web server and PHP programming language for this project. To get RedditRiver running, I had to add Python support to the web server.

I decided to run web framework to serve the HTML contents because of its simplicity and because Reddit guys used it themselves after rewriting Reddit from Lisp to Python.

Following the install instructions, getting running on the server was as simple as installing the package!

It was also just as easy to get lighttpd web server to communicate with and my application. This required flup package to be installed to allow lighttpd to interface with

Update: after setting it all up, and experimenting a bit with (version 0.23) and Cheetah's templates, I found that for some mysterious reason did not handle "#include" statements of the templates. The problem was with's '' file, line 23, where it compiled the regular expression for handling "#include" statements:

r_include = re_compile(r'(?!\\)#include \"(.*?)\"($|#)', re.M)

When I tested it out in interpreter,

>>> r_include = re.compile(r'(?!\\)#include \"(.*?)\"($|#)', re.M)
>>>'#include "foo"').groups()
('foo', '')
>>>'foo\n#include "bar.html"\nbaz').groups()
('bar.html', '')

it found #include's accross multiline text lines just fine, but it did not work with my template files. I tested it like 5 times and just couldn't get it why it was not working.

As RedditRiver is the only application running on my server, I easily patched that regex on line 23 to something trivial and it all started working! I dropped all the negative lookahead magic and checking for end of the line:

r_include = re_compile(r'#include "(.*?)"', re.M)

As I said, I am not sure why the original regex did not work in the application, but did work in the interpreter. If anyone knows what happened, I will be glad to hear from you!

Accessing Reddit Website via Python

I wrote several Python modules (which also work as executables) to access information on Reddit - stories across multiple pages of various subreddits (and front page) and user created subreddits.

As Reddit still does not provide an API to access the information on their site, I had to extract the relevant information from the HTML content of the pages.

The first module I wrote is called '' which accesses and returns (or prints out, if used as an executable) the list of the most popular subreddits (a subreddit is a reddit for a specific topic, for example, programming or politics)

Get this program here: subreddit extractor ( project) (downloaded: 9793 times).

This module provides three useful functions:

  • get_subreddits(pages=1, new=False), which gets 'pages' pages of subreddits and returns a list of dictionaries of them. If new is True, gets 'pages' pages of new subreddits (,
  • print_subreddits_paragraph(), which prints subreddits information in human readable format, and
  • print_subreddits_json(), which prints it in JSON format. The output is in utf-8 encoding.

The way this module works can be seen from the Python interpreter right away:

>>> import subreddits
>>> srs = subreddits.get_subreddits(pages=2)
>>> len(srs)
>>> srs[:5]
[{'position': 1, 'description': '', 'name': '', 'subscribers': 11031, 'reddit_name': ''}, {'position': 2, 'description': '', 'name': 'politics', 'subscribers': 5667, 'reddit_name': 'politics'}, {'position': 3, 'description': '', 'name': 'programming', 'subscribers': 9386, 'reddit_name': 'programming'}, {'position': 4, 'description': 'Yeah reddit, you finally got it. Context appreciated.', 'name': 'Pictures and Images', 'subscribers': 4198, 'reddit_name': 'pics'}, {'position': 5, 'description': '', 'name': 'obama', 'subscribers': 651, 'reddit_name': 'obama'}]
>>> from pprint import pprint
>>> pprint(srs[3:5])
[{'description': 'Yeah reddit, you finally got it. Context appreciated.',
  'name': 'Pictures and Images',
  'reddit_name': 'pics',
  'subscribers': 4198},
 {'description': '',
  'name': 'obama',
  'reddit_name': 'obama',
  'subscribers': 651}]
>>> subreddits.print_subreddits_paragraph(srs[3:5])
position: 4
name: Pictures and Images
reddit_name: pics
description: Yeah reddit, you finally got it. Context appreciated.
subscribers: 4198

position: 5
name: obama
reddit_name: obama
subscribers: 651
>>> subreddits.print_subreddits_json(srs[3:5])
        "position": 4,
        "description": "Yeah reddit, you finally got it. Context appreciated.",
        "name": "Pictures and Images",
        "subscribers": 4198,
        "reddit_name": "pics"
        "position": 4,
        "description": "",
        "name": "obama",
        "subscribers": 651,
        "reddit_name": "obama"

Or it can be called from the command line:

$ ./ --help
usage: [options]

  -h, --help  show this help message and exit
  -oOUTPUT    Output format: paragraph or json. Default: paragraph.
  -pPAGES     How many pages of subreddits to output. Default: 1.
  -n          Retrieve new subreddits. Default: nope.

This module reused the awesome BeautifulSoup HTML parser module, and simplejson JSON encoding module.

The second program I wrote is called '' which accesses the specified subreddit and gets the latest stories from it. It was written pretty much the same way I did it for redditmedia project in Perl.

Get this program here: reddit stories extractor ( project) (downloaded: 8276 times).

This module also provides three similar functions:

  • get_stories(subreddit='front_page', pages=1, new=False), which gets 'pages' pages of stories from subreddit and returns a list of dictionaries of them. If new is True, gets new stories only,
  • print_stories_paragraph(), which prints subreddits information in human readable format, and
  • print_stories_json(), which prints it in JSON format. The output is in utf-8 encoding.

It can also be used as a Python module or executable.

Here is an example of using it as a module:

>>> import redditstories
>>> s = redditstories.get_stories(subreddit='programming')
>>> len(s)
>>> s[2:4]
[{'title': "when customers don't pay attention and reply to a "" email address, it goes to Chet Faliszek, a programmer in Seattle", 'url': '', 'unix_time': 1206408743, 'comments': 54, 'subreddit': 'programming', 'score': 210, 'user': 'srmjjg', 'position': 3, 'human_time': 'Tue Mar 25 03:32:23 2008', 'id': '6d8xl'}, {'title': 'mysql --i-am-a-dummy', 'url': '', 'unix_time': 1206419543, 'comments': 59, 'subreddit': 'programming', 'score': 135, 'user': 'enobrev', 'position': 4, 'human_time': 'Tue Mar 25 06:32:23 2008', 'id': '6d9d3'}]
>>> from pprint import pprint
>>> pprint(s[2:4])
[{'comments': 54,
  'human_time': 'Tue Mar 25 03:32:23 2008',
  'id': '6d8xl',
  'position': 3,
  'score': 210,
  'subreddit': 'programming',
  'title': "when customers don't pay attention and reply to a "" email address, it goes to Chet Faliszek, a programmer in Seattle",
  'unix_time': 1206408743,
  'url': '',
  'user': 'srmjjg'},
 {'comments': 59,
  'human_time': 'Tue Mar 25 06:32:23 2008',
  'id': '6d9d3',
  'position': 4,
  'score': 135,
  'subreddit': 'programming',
  'title': 'mysql --i-am-a-dummy',
  'unix_time': 1206419543,
  'url': '',
  'user': 'enobrev'}]
>>> redditstories.print_stories_paragraph(s[:1])
position: 1
subreddit: programming
id: 6daps
title: Sign Up Forms Must Die
score: 70
comments: 43
user: markokocic
unix_time: 1206451943
human_time: Tue Mar 25 15:32:23 2008

>>> redditstories.print_stories_json(s[:1])
        "title": "Sign Up Forms Must Die",
        "url": "http:\/\/\/articles\/signupforms",
        "unix_time": 1206451943,
        "comments": 43,
        "subreddit": "programming",
        "score": 70,
        "user": "markokocic",
        "position": 1,
        "human_time": "Tue Mar 25 15:32:23 2008",
        "id": "6daps"

Using it from a command line:

$ ./ --help
usage: [options]

  -h, --help   show this help message and exit
  -oOUTPUT     Output format: paragraph or json. Default: paragraph.
  -pPAGES      How many pages of stories to output. Default: 1.
  -sSUBREDDIT  Subreddit to retrieve stories from. Default:
  -n           Retrieve new stories. Default: nope.

These two programs just beg to be converted into a single Python module. They have the same logic with just a few changes in the parser. But for the moment I am generally happy, and they serve the job well. They can also be understood individually without having a need to inspect several source files.

I think that one of the future posts could be a reddit information accessing library in Python.

I can already think of one hundred ideas what someone can do with such a library. For example, one could print out top programming stories his or her shell:

$ echo "Top five programming stories:" && echo && ./ -s programming | grep 'title' | head -5 && echo && echo "Visit to view them!"

Top five programming stories:

title: Sign Up Forms Must Die
title: You can pry XP from my cold dead hands!
title: mysql --i-am-a-dummy
title: when customers don't pay attention and reply to a "" email address, it goes to Chet Faliszek, a programmer in Seattle
title: Another canvas 3D Renderer written in Javascript

Visit to view them!

Creating and Populating the SQLite Database

The database choice for this project is SQLite, as it is fast, light and this project is so simple, that I can't think of any reason to use a more complicated database system.

The database has a trivial structure with just two tables 'subreddits' and 'stories'.

CREATE TABLE subreddits (
  reddit_name  TEXT     NOT NULL     UNIQUE,
  name         TEXT     NOT NULL     UNIQUE,
  description  TEXT,
  subscribers  INTEGER  NOT NULL,
  position     INTEGER  NOT NULL,
  active       BOOL     NOT NULL     DEFAULT 1

INSERT INTO subreddits (id, reddit_name, name, description, subscribers, position) VALUES (0, 'front_page', ' front page', 'since subreddit named has different content than the frontpage, we need this', 0, 0);

CREATE TABLE stories (
  title         TEXT       NOT NULL,
  url           TEXT       NOT NULL,
  url_mobile    TEXT,
  reddit_id     TEXT       NOT NULL,
  subreddit_id  INTEGER    NOT NULL,
  score         INTEGER    NOT NULL,
  comments      INTEGER    NOT NULL,
  user          TEXT       NOT NULL,
  position      INTEGER    NOT NULL,
  date_reddit   UNIX_DATE  NOT NULL,
  date_added    UNIX_DATE  NOT NULL

CREATE UNIQUE INDEX idx_unique_stories ON stories (title, url, subreddit_id);

The 'subreddits' table contains information extracted by '' module (described earlier). It keeps the information and positions of all the subreddits which appeared on the most popular subreddit page (

Reddit lists '' as a separate subreddit on the most popular subreddit page, but it turned out that it was not the same as the front page of reddit! That's why I insert a fake subreddit called 'front_page' in the table right after creating it, to keep track of both '' subreddit and reddit's front page.

The information in the table is updated by a new program -

View: subreddit table updater ( project) (downloaded: 6762 times)

The other table, 'stories' contains information extracted by '' module (also described earlier).

The information in this table is updated by another new program -

As it is impossible to keep track of all the scores and comments, and position changes across all the subreddits, the program monitors just a few pages on each of the most popular subreddits.

View: story table updater ( project) (downloaded: 5641 times)

These two programs are run periodically by crontab (task scheduler in unix). The program gets run every 30 minutes and every 5 minutes.

Finding the Mobile Versions of Given Websites

This is probably the most interesting piece of software that I wrote for this project. The idea is to find versions of a website suitable for viewing on a mobile device.

For example, most of the stories on politics subreddit link to the largest online newspapers and news agencies, such as The Washington Post or MSNBC. These websites provide a 'print' version of the page which is ideally suitable for mobile devices.

Another example is websites who have designed a real mobile version of their page and let the user agent know about it by placing <link rel="alternate" media="handheld" href="..."> tag in the head section of an html document.

I wrote an 'autodiscovery' Python module called ''. This module is used by the program described in the previous section. After getting the list of new reddit stories, the tries to autodiscover a mobile version of the story and if it is successful, it places it in 'url_mobile' column of the 'stories' table.

Here is an example run from Python interpreter of the module:

>>> from autodiscovery import AutoDiscovery
>>> ad = AutoDiscovery()
>>> ad.autodiscover('')
>>> ad.autodiscover('')

And it can also be used from command line:

$ ./

Source: mobile webpage version autodisovery ( project) (downloaded 10078 times)

This module actually uses a configuration file 'autodisc.conf' which defines patterns to look for in the web page's HTML code. At the moment the config file is pretty primitive and defines just three configuration options:

  • REWRITE_URL defines a rule how to rewrite URL of a website which makes it difficult to autodiscover the mobile link easily. For example, a page could use JavaScript to pop-up the print version of the page. In such a case REWRITE_URL rule can be used to match the host which uses this technique and rewrite part of the url to another.
  • PRINT_LINK defines how a print link might look like. For example, it could say 'print this page' or 'print this article'. This directive defines such phrases to look for.
  • IGNORE_URL defines urls to ignore. For example, a link to a flash animation should definitely be ignored, as it does not define a mobile version at all. You can place the .swf extension in this ignore list to avoid it being downloaded by

Configuration used by autodiscovery configuration ( project) (downloaded 10772)

Creating the Application

The final part to the project was creating the application.

It was pretty straight forward to create it as it only required writing the correct SQL expressions for selecting the right data out of the database.

Here is how the controller for the application looks like:

urls = (
    '/',                                 'RedditRiver',
    '/page/(\d+)/?',                     'RedditRiverPage',
    '/r/([a-zA-Z0-9_.-]+)/?',            'SubRedditRiver',
    '/r/([a-zA-Z0-9_.-]+)/page/(\d+)/?', 'SubRedditRiverPage',
    '/reddits/?',                        'SubReddits',
    '/stats/?',                          'Stats',
    '/stats/([a-zA-Z0-9_.-]+)/?',        'SubStats',
    '/about/?',                          'AboutRiver'

The first version of reddit river implements browsable front stories (RedditRiver and RedditRiverPage classes), browsable subreddit stories (SubRedditRiver and SubRedditRiverPage classes), list of the most popular subreddits (SubReddits class), front page and subreddit statistics (most popular stories and most active users, Stats and SubStats classes) and an about page (AboutRiver class).

The source code: application ( project) (downloaded: 10078 times)


I have put it online! Click to visit the site.

I have also released the source code. Here are all the files mentioned in the article, and a link to the whole website package.

Download Programs which Made Reddit River Possible

All the programs in a single .zip:
Download link: full source code
Downloaded: 10166 times

Individual scripts:

Download link: subreddit extractor ( project)
Downloaded: 9793 times

Download link: reddit stories extractor ( project)
Downloaded: 8276 times

Download link: subreddit table updater ( project)
Downloaded: 6762 times

Download link: story table updater ( project)
Downloaded: 5641 times

Download link: mobile webpage version autodisovery ( project)
Downloaded: 10078 times

Download link: autodiscovery configuration ( project)
Downloaded: 10772 times

Download link: application ( project)
Downloaded: 6816 times

All these programs are released under GNU GPL license, so you may derive your own stuff, but do not forget to share your derivative work with everyone!

Vote for this article:

Alexis recently sent me a reddit t-shirt for doing redditmedia project, I decided to take a few photos wearing it.

peteris krumins loves reddit

Have fun and I hope to hear a lot of positive feedback on redditriver project!

learning python through video lecturesOne of the upcoming projects I am doing (I will reveal it in one of the next blog posts.) is going to be written entirely in Python. I have a good understanding of Python but, same as I had with JavaScript, I have little experience doing projects from the ground up in it.

Update: the project was, read designing (includes full source code).

Before diving into the project I decided to take a look at a few Python video lectures to learn language idioms and features which I might have not heard of.

Finding Python video lectures was pretty easy as I run a free video lecture blog.

First Python Lecture: Python for Programmers

Interesting moments in the lecture:

  • [07:15] There are several Python implementations - CPython, PyPy, IronPython and Jython.
  • Python has similarities with [12:04] Java, [15:30] C++ and [19:05] C programming languages.
  • [15:37] Python is multi-paradigm language supporting object oriented, procedural, generic and functional programming paradigms.
  • [19:49] Python follows C standard's rationale: 1. trust the programmer; 2. don't prevent the programmer from doing what needs to be done; 3. keep the language small and simple; 4. provide only one way to do an operation.
  • [13:02] Python code is normally implicitly compiled to bytecode.
  • [13:25] Everything inherits from object.
  • [14:56] Garbage collection in classic Python happens as soon as possible.
  • [24:50] Python has strong but dynamic typing.
  • [28:42] Names don't have types, objects do.
  • [36:25] Why are there two ways to raise a number to a power (with double star ** operator and pow())? - Because pow() is a three argument function pow(x, y, z) which does x^y mod z.
  • [36:52] Python supports plain and Unicode strings.
  • [38:40] Python provides several built-in container types: tuple's, list's, set's, frozenset's and dict's.
  • [41:55] c[i:j:k] does slicing with step k.
  • [42:45] c[i:j] always has first bound included and last bound excluded.
  • [44:11] Comparisons can be "chained", for example 3 < x < 9.
  • [45:05] False values in Python are 0, "", None, empty containers and False.
  • [49:07] 'for' is implemented in terms of iterators.
  • [52:18] Function parameters may end with *name to take a tuple of arbitrary arguments, or may end with **name to take a dict of arbitrary arguments.
  • [55:39] Generators.
  • [01:00:20] Closures.
  • [01:02:00] Classes.
  • [01:05:30] Subclassing.
  • [01:07:00] Properties.
  • [01:14:35] Importing modules.
  • [01:16:20] Every Python source file is a module, and you can just import it.
  • [01:17:20] Packages.

Okay, this talk was a very basic talk and it really was an introduction for someone who never worked in Python. I could not find many interesting points to point out from the lecture, so the last 8 points are just titles of topics covered in the lecture.

Second Python Lecture: Advanced Python or Understanding Python

Interesting moments in the lecture:

  • [03:18] Python is designed by implementation.
  • [04:20] Everything is runtime (even compiletime is runtime).
  • [04:42] A namespace is a dict.
  • [05:33] A function is created by having its code compiled to code object, then wrapped as a function object.
  • [10:00] Everything is an object and a reference, except variables.
  • [11:00] Python has 3-scopes rule - names are either local, global or builtin.
  • [11:12] Global names mean they exist in a module, not everywhere!
  • [14:02] 'import mod' statement is just a syntactic sugar for mod = __import__("mod").
  • [14:15] sys.modules contains a list of cached modules.
  • [14:30] You may set the value of a module name in sys.modules dict to None, to make it unimportable.
  • [15:20] Mutable objects are not hashable, most immutable objects are hashable.
  • [18:05] Assignments, type checks, identity comparison, 'and or not', method calls are not object hooks.
  • [22:15] Any Python object has two special attributes __dict__ which holds per object data and __class__ which refers to the class.
  • [27:18] Iterators are not rewindable, reversible or copyable.
  • [29:04] Functions with yield return generators.
  • [39:20] "New" style classes unified C types and Python classes.
  • [47:00] __slots__ prevent arbitrary attribute assignments.
  • [48:10] __new__ gets called when the object gets created (__init__ gets called when the object has already been constructed).
  • [01:01:40] Inheritance is resolved using a C3 Method Resolution Order algorithm.
  • [01:04:57] Unicode in Python.
  • [01:06:45] UTF8 is not Unicode, it's a Unicode encoding!
  • [01:11:50] codecs module automatically converts between encodings.
  • [01:13:00] Recommended reading - Functional Programming HOWTO and Python source code ;)

This lecture gets pretty complicated towards the end as the lecturer goes deep into subjects which require adequate experience with Python.

Third Python Lecture: Python: Design and Implementation

Interesting moments in the lecture:

  • [01:27] Python started in late 1989, around December 1989.
  • [01:57] Python's named after Monty Python's Flying Circus.
  • [06:20] Python was first released to USENET and then a public group comp.lang.python was started.
  • [08:06] Guido van Rossum, the author of Python, moved to US in 1995.
  • [09:58] Python will never become a commercial project thanks to Python Software Foundation, founded in 2001.
  • [11:23] Python origins go back to ideas from ABC programming language (indentation for statement grouping, simple control structures, small number of data types).
  • [13:01] Being on ABC's implementation team, Guido learned a lot about language design and implementation.
  • [16:37] One of the main goals of Python was to make programmer's productivity more important than program's performance.
  • [17:10] Original positioning of Python was in the middle between C and sh.
  • [21:13] Other languages, such as, Modula-3, Icon and Algol 68 also had an impact on Python's implementation details.
  • [24:32] If a feature can be implemented as a clear extension module, it is always preferable to changing the language itself.
  • [25:23] The reason Python uses dictionaries for namespaces is that it required minimal changes to the stuff the language already had.
  • [28:11] Language features are accepted only if they will be used by a wide variety of users. A recent example of a new language feature is the 'with' statement.
  • [31:13] Question from the audience - "Can't the 'with' statement be implemented via closures?"
  • [34:25] Readable code is the most important thing.
  • [37:57] To add a new language feature, PEP, Python Enhancement Proposal has to be written.
  • [40:47] Python's goal was to be cross-platform (hardware & OS) right from the beginning.
  • [47:09] Python's lexer has a stack to parse indentation.
  • [49:20] Two passes are run over abstract syntax tree, one to generate symbol table and the other to produce bytecode.
  • [50:20] Bytecode opcodes are very high level, close to conceptual primitive operations in language, rather close to what hardware could do.
  • [01:02:54] Jython generates pure Java bytecode.
  • [01:03:01] Jython's strings are always Unicode.
  • [01:06:45] IronPython is as fast or even faster than CPython.

Question and answer session:

  • [01:08:57] Have there been attempts to compile Python to machine code (for example, x86)?
  • [01:13:46] Why not use simple tail recursion?
  • [01:16:09] How does the garbage collection work?

This video lecture gives an insight on history and development ideas of Python language. I believe it is important to know the history and details of the language design decisions to be really competent in it.

There are a few more lectures I have found:

There is also some great reading material available:

Have fun learning Python!

PS. Do you know any other video lectures on Python that I haven't mentioned here? Feel free to post them in the comments! Thanks!

bash readline emacs editing mode default keyboard shortcut cheat sheetLet me teach you how to work efficiently with command line history in bash.

This tutorial comes with a downloadable cheat sheet that summarizes (and expands on) topics covered in this guide.

Download PDF cheat sheet: bash history cheat sheet (.pdf) (downloaded: 245011 times)
Download ASCII cheat sheet: bash history cheat sheet (.txt) (downloaded: 31914 times)
Download TEX cheat sheet: bash history cheat sheet (.tex) (downloaded: 19961 times)

In case you are a first time reader, this is the 3rd part of the article series on working efficiently in bourne again shell. Previously I have written on how to work efficiently in vi and emacs command editing modes by using predefined keyboard shortcuts (both articles come with cheat sheets of predefined shortcuts).

First, lets review some basic keyboard shortcuts for navigating around previously typed commands.

As you remember, bash offers two modes for command editing - emacs mode and vi mode. In each of these editing modes the shortcuts for retrieving history are different.

Suppose you had executed the following commands:

$ echo foo bar baz
$ iptables -L -n -v -t nat
$ ... lots and lots more commands
$ echo foo foo foo
$ perl -wle 'print q/hello world/'
$ awk -F: '{print$1}' /etc/passwd

and you wanted to execute the last command (awk -F ...).

You could certainly hit the up arrow and live happily along, but do you really want to move your hand that far away?

If you are in emacs mode just try CTRL-p which fetches the previous command from history list (CTRL-n for the next command).

In vi mode try CTRL-[ (or ESC) (to switch to command mode) and 'h' ('j' for the next command).

There is another, equally quick, way to do that by using bash's history expansion mechanism - event designators. Typing '!!' will execute the previous command (more about event designators later).

Now, suppose that you wanted to execute 'iptables -L -n -v -t nat' command again without retyping it.

A naive user would, again, just keep hitting up-arrow key until he/she finds the command. But that's not the way hackers work. Hackers love to work quickly and efficiently. Forget about arrow keys and page-up, page-down, home and end keys. They are completely useless and, as I said, they are too far off from the main part of the keyboard anyway.

In emacs mode try CTRL-r and type a few first letters of 'iptables', like 'ipt'. That will display the last iptables command you executed. In case you had more than one iptables commands executed in between, hitting CTRL-r again will display older entries. In case you miss the right command and move too deep into history list, you can reverse the search direction by hitting CTRL-s (don't forget that by default CTRL-s stops the output to the terminal and you'll get an effect of "frozen" terminal (hit CTRL-q to "unfreeze"), see stty command to change this behavior).

In vi mode the same CTRL-r and CTRL-s still work but there is another way more specific to vi mode.
Switch to command mode by hitting CTRL-[ or ESC and hit '/', then type a first few characters of 'iptables' command, like 'ipt' and hit return. Bash will display the most recent match found in history. To navigate around use 'n' or just plain '/' to repeat the search in the same direction, and 'N' or '?' to repeat the search in opposite direction!

With event designators you may execute only the most recently executed command matching (or starting with) 'string'.

Try '!iptables' history expansion command which refers to the most recent command starting with 'iptables'.

Another way is to use bash's built in 'history' command then grep for a string of interest and finally use an event designator in form '!N', where N is an integer which refers to N-th command in command history list.

For example,

$ history | grep 'ipt'
  2    iptables -L -n -v -t nat
$ !2     # will execute the iptables command

I remembered another way to execute N-th command in history list in vi editing mode. Type 'N' (command number) and then 'G', in this example '2G'

Listing and Erasing Command History

Bash provides a built-in command 'history' for viewing and erasing command history.

Suppose that we are still working with the same example:

$ echo foo bar baz
$ iptables -L -n -v -t nat
$ ... lots and lots more commands
$ echo foo foo foo
$ perl -wle 'print q/hello world/'
$ awk -F: '{print$1}' /etc/passwd

Typing 'history' will display all the commands in bash history alongside with line numbers:

  1    echo foo bar baz
  2    iptables -L -n -v -t nat
  ...  lots and lots more commands
  568  echo foo foo foo
  569  perl -wle 'print q/hello world/'
  570  awk -F: '{print$1}' /etc/passwd

Typing 'history N', where N is an integer, will display the last N commands in the history.
For example, 'history 3' will display:

  568  echo foo foo foo
  569  perl -wle 'print q/hello world/'
  570  awk -F: '{print$1}' /etc/passwd

history -c will clear the history list and history -d N will delete a history entry N.

By default, the history list is kept in user's home directory in a file '.bash_history'.

History Expansion

History expansion is done via so-called event designators and word designators. Event designators can be used to recall previously executed commands (events) and word designators can be used to extract command line arguments from the events. Optionally, various modifiers can be applied to the extracted arguments.

Event designators are special commands that begin with a '!' (there is also one that begins with a '^'), they may follow a word designator and one or more modifiers. Event designators, word designators and modifiers are separated by a colon ':'.

Event Designators

Lets look at a couple of examples to see how the event designators work.

Event designator '!!' can be used to refer to the previous command, for example,

$ echo foo bar baz
foo bar baz
$ !!
foo bar baz

Here the '!!' executed the previous 'echo foo bar baz' command.

Event designator '!N' can be used to refer to the N-th command.
Suppose you listed the history and got the following output:

  1    echo foo foo foo
  2    iptables -L -n -v -t nat
  ...  lots and lots more commands
  568  echo bar bar bar
  569  perl -wle 'print q/hello world/'
  570  awk -F: '{print$1}' /etc/passwd

Then the event designator '!569' will execute 'perl ...' command, and '!1' will execute 'echo foo foo foo' command!

Event designator '!-N' refers to current command line minus N. For example,

$ echo foo bar baz
foo bar baz
$ echo a b c d e
a b c d e
$ !-2
foo bar baz

Here the event designator '!-2' executed a one before the previous command, or current command line minus 2.

Event designator '!string' refers to the most recent command starting with 'string'. For example,

$ awk --help
$ perl --help

Then the event designator '!p' or '!perl' or '!per' will execute the 'perl --help' command. Similarly, '!a' will execute the awk command.

An event designator '!?string?' refers to a command line containing (not necessarily starting with) 'string'.

Perhaps the most interesting event designator is the one in form '^string1^string2^' which takes the last command, replaces string1 with string2 and executes it. For example,

$ ehco foo bar baz
bash: ehco: command not found
$ ^ehco^echo^
foo bar baz

Here the '^ehco^echo^' designator replaced the incorrectly typed 'ehco' command with the correct 'echo' command and executed it.

Word Designators and Modifiers

Word designators follow event designators separated by a colon. They are used to refer to some or all of the parameters on the command referenced by event designator.

For example,

$ echo a b c d e
a b c d e
$ echo !!:2

This is the simplest form of a word designator. ':2' refers to the 2nd argument of the command (3rd word). In general ':N' refers to Nth argument of the command ((N+1)-th word).

Word designators also accept ranges, for example,

$ echo a b c d e
a b c d e
$ echo !!:3-4
c d

There are various shortcuts, such as, ':$' to refer to the last argument, ':^' to refer to the first argument, ':*' to refer to all the arguments (synonym to ':1-$'), and others. See the cheat sheet for a complete list.

Modifiers can be used to modify the behavior of a word designators. For example:

$ tar -xvzf software-1.0.tgz
$ cd !!:$:r

Here the 'r' modifier was applied to a word designator which picked the last argument from the previous command line. The 'r' modifier removed the trailing suffix '.tgz'.

The 'h' modifier removes the trailing pathname component, leaving the head:

$ echo /usr/local/apache
$ echo !!:$:h

The 'e' modifier removes all but the trailing suffix:

$ ls -la /usr/src/software-4.2.messy-Extension
$ echo /usr/src/*!!:$:e
/usr/src/*.messy-Extension    # ls could have been used instead of echo

Another interesting modifier is the substitute ':s/old/new/' modifier which substitutes new for old. It can be used in conjunction with 'g' modifier to do global substitution. For example,

$ ls /urs/local/software-4.2 /urs/local/software-4.3
/usr/bin/ls: /urs/local/software-4.2: No such file or directory
/usr/bin/ls: /urs/local/software-4.3: No such file or directory
$ !!:gs/urs/usr/

This example replaces all occurances of 'urs' to 'usr' and makes the command correct.

There are a few other modifiers, such as 'p' modifier which prints the resulting command after history expansion but does not execute it. See the cheat sheet for all of the modifiers.

Modifying History Behavior

Bash allows you to modify which commands get stored in the history list, the file where they get stored, the number of commands that get stored, and a few other options.

These options are controlled by setting HISTFILE, HISTFILESIZE, HISTIGNORE and HISTSIZE environment variables.

HISTFILE, as the name suggests, controls where the history file gets saved.
For example,

$ export HISTFILE=/home/pkrumins/todays_history

will save the commands to a file /home/pkrumins/todays_history

Set it to /dev/null or unset it to avoid getting your history list saved.

HISTFILESIZE controls how many history commands to keep in HISTFILE.
For example,

$ export HISTFILESIZE=1000

will keep the last 1000 history commands.

HISTSIZE controls how many history commands to keep in the history list of current session.
For example,

$ export HISTSIZE=42

will keep 42 last commands in the history of current session.

If this number is less than HISTFILESIZE, only that many commands will get written to HISTFILE.

HISTIGNORE controls the items which get ignored and do not get saved. This variable takes a list of colon separated patterns. Pattern '&' (ampersand) is special in a sense that it matches the previous history command.

There is a trick to make history ignore the commands which begin with a space. The pattern for that is "[ ]*"

For example,

$ export HISTIGNORE="&:[ ]*:exit"

will make bash ignore duplicate commands, commands that begin with a space, and the 'exit' command.

There are several other options of interest controlled by the built-in 'shopt' command.

The options may be set by specifying '-s' parameter to the 'shopt' command, and may be unset by specifying '-u' parameter.

Option 'histappend' controls how the history list gets written to HISTFILE, setting the option will append history list of current session to HISTFILE, unsetting it (default) will make HISTFILE get overwritten each time.

For example, to set this option, type:

$ shopt -s histappend

And to unset it, type:

$ shopt -u histappend

Option 'histreedit' allows users to re-edit a failed history substitution.

For example, suppose you had typed:

$ echo foo bar baz

and wanted to substitute 'baz' for 'test' with the ^baz^test^ event designator , but you made a mistake and typed ^boo^test^. This would lead to a substitution failure because the previous command does not contain string 'boo'.

If you had this option turned on, bash would put the erroneous ^baz^test^ event designator back on the command line as if you had typed it again.

Finally, option 'histverify' allows users to verify a substituted history expansion.

Based on the previous example, suppose you wanted to execute that 'echo' command again by using the '!!' event designator. If you had this option on, bash would not execute the 'echo' command immediately but would first put it on command line so that you could see if it had made the correct substitution.

Tuning the Command Prompt

Here is how my command prompt looks:

Wed Jan 30@07:07:03

The first line displays the date and time the command prompt was displayed so I could keep track of commands back in time.
The second line displays username, hostname, global history number and current command number.

The global history number allows me to quickly use event designators.

My PS1, primary prompt display variable looks like this:

PS1='\d@\t\n\u@\h:\!:\#:\w$ '

Bash History Cheat Sheet

Here is a summary cheat sheet for working effectively with bash history.

This cheat sheet includes:

  • History editing keyboard shortcuts (emacs and vi mode),
  • History expansion summary - event designators, word designators and modifiers,
  • Shell variables and `shopt' options to modify history behavior,
  • Examples

Download Bash History Summary Sheet

PDF format (.pdf):
Download link: bash history cheat sheet (.pdf)
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ASCII .txt format:
Download link: bash history cheat sheet (.txt)
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LaTeX format (.tex):
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This cheat sheet is released under GNU Free Document License.

Are there any tips you want to add?

bash readline vi editing mode default keyboard shortcut cheat sheet Bash provides two modes for command line editing - emacs and vi. Emacs editing mode is the default and I already wrote an article and created a cheat sheet for this mode.

This time I am going to introduce you to bash's vi editing mode and give out a detailed cheat sheet with the default keyboard mappings for this mode.

The difference between the two modes is what command each key combination (or key) gets bound to. You may inspect your current keyboard mappings with bash's built in bind command:

$ bind -P

abort can be found on "\C-g", "\C-x\C-g", "\M-\C-g".
accept-line can be found on "\C-j", "\C-m".
alias-expand-line is not bound to any keys

To get into the vi editing mode type

$ set -o vi

in your bash shell (to switch back to emacs editing mode, type set -o emacs).

If you are used to a vi text editor you will feel yourself at home.

The editing happens in two modes - command mode and insert mode. In insert mode everything you type gets output to the terminal, but in the command mode the keys are used for various commands.

Here are a few examples with screenshots to illustrate the vi editing mode.

Let '[i]' be the position of cursor in insert mode in all the examples and '[c]' be the position of cursor in command mode.


Once you have changed the readline editing mode to vi (by typing set -o vi), you will be working in insert mode.

The example will be performed on this command:

$ echo arg1 arg2 arg3 arg4[i]

Example 1:

Suppose you have typed a command with a few arguments and want to insert another argument before an argument which is three words backward.

$ echo arg1 (want to insert arg5 here) arg2 arg3 arg4[i]

Hit 'ESC' to switch to command mode and press '3' followed by 'B':

$ echo arg1 [c]arg2 arg3 arg4

Alternatively you could have hit 'B' three times: 'BBB'.

Now, enter insert mode by hitting 'i' and type 'arg5 '

$ echo arg1 arg5 [i]arg2 arg3 arg4

Example 2:

Suppose you wanted to change arg2 to arg5:

$ echo arg1 [c]arg2 arg3 arg4

To do this, you can type 'cw' which means 'change word' and just type out 'arg5':

$ echo arg1 arg5[c] arg3 arg4

Or even quicker, you can type 'f2r5', where 'f2' moves the cursor right to next occurrence of character '2' and 'r5' replaces the character under the cursor with character '5'.

Example 3:

Suppose you typed a longer command and you noticed that you had made several mistakes, and wanted to do the correction in the vi editor itself. You can type 'v' to edit the command in the editor and not on the command line!

Example 4:

Suppose you typed a long command and remembered that you had to execute another one before it. No need to erase the current command! You can switch to command mode by hitting ESC and then type '#' which will send the current command as a comment in the command history. After you type the command you had forgotten, you may go two commands back in history by typing 'kk' (or '2k'), erase the '#' character which was appended as a comment and execute the command, this makes the whole command look like 'ESC 2k0x ENTER'.

These are really basic examples, and it doesn't get much more complex than this. You should check out the cheat sheet for other tips and examples, and try them out!

To create the cheat sheet, I downloaded bash-2.05b source code and scanned through lib/readline/vi_keymap.c source code file and lib/readline/vi_mode.c to find all the default key bindings.

It turned out that the commands documented in vi_keymap.c were all documented in man 3 readline and I didn't find anything new.

After that I checked bashline.c source file function initialize_readline to find how the default keyboard shortcuts were changed. I found that 'CTRL-e' (which switched from vi mode to emacs) got undefined, 'v' got defined which opens the existing command in the editor, and '@' which replaces a macro key (char) with the corresponding string.

The cheat sheet includes:

  • Commands for entering input mode,
  • Basic movement commands,
  • Character finding commands,
  • Character finding commands,
  • Deletion commands,
  • Undo, redo and copy/paste commands,
  • Commands for history manipulation,
  • Completion commands,
  • A few misc. commands, and
  • Tips and examples

Download Vi Editing Mode Cheat Sheet

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Download link: bash vi editing mode cheat sheet (.pdf)
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ASCII .txt format:
Download link: bash vi editing mode cheat sheet (.txt)
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LaTeX format (.tex):
Download link: bash vi editing mode cheat sheet (latex .tex)
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This cheat sheet is released under GNU Free Document License.

I was doing a WordPress installation the other day when I noticed how insecure the default generated password was.

On line 38 in wp-admin/includes/upgrade.php (wordpress version 2.3.1) I found that a 6 character password is generated this way:

$random_password = substr(md5(uniqid(microtime())), 0, 6);

The md5 function returns a 32 character hexadecimal number and substr chops off first six characters. Doing elementary combinatorics we can find that the number of possible passwords is 166 (16 to the power 6) or 16,777,216, or roughly just 16.7 million passwords!

I am more than sure that most people doing WP installations never change the default password. If you're on a good connection and can do just 100 password checks per second, then you can crack a WordPress installation in worst case time of 16,777,216/100 seconds, which is 46.6 hours! Most likely you'd crack the password in half of that time, so you can crack any WordPress installation that has a default password in about 24 hours!