A few weeks ago I was completely consumed for the better part of a day that I would have otherwise spent on more practical work.
Let's reflect. On a whim, I spent 6 hours writing programs that live in URL shorteners to create installable programs from Tweets.— Jeff Lindsay (@progrium) December 12, 2012
Yeah, what? Weird, right? It started from a Twitter conversation earlier that day with my friend Joel:
@jf reminds me of yet another app i need to build— Jeff Lindsay (@progrium) December 12, 2012
@progrium I just wrote and launched a "client side" "bash app" right there. Bam.— Joël Franusic (@jf) December 12, 2012
@jf app tweets. an app in a tweet.— Jeff Lindsay (@progrium) December 12, 2012
@progrium $ apptweet install id:279030460674347008— Joël Franusic (@jf) December 12, 2012
This wishful brainstorming inspired me to start building exactly that. But first, a digression.
The idea reminded me of an idea I got from Adam Smith back when I was working on Scriptlets. If you can execute code from a URL, you could “store” a program in a shortened URL. I decided to combine this with the curl-pipe-bash technique that’s been starting to get popular to bootstrap installs. If you’re unfamiliar, take this Gist of a Bash script:
Given the “view raw” URL for that Gist, you can curl it and pipe it into Bash to execute it right there in your shell. It would look like this:
$ curl -s https://gist.github.com/raw/4464431/gistfile1.txt | bash Hello world
Instead of having Gist store the program, how could we make it so the source would just live within the URL? Well in the case of curl-pipe-bash, we just need that source to be returned in the body of a URL. So I built a simple app to run on Heroku that takes the query string and outputs it in the body, a sort of echo service.
Letting you do this:
$ curl "http://queryecho.herokuapp.com?Hello+world" Hello world
Which you could conceal and shorten with a URL shortener, like Bitly. I prefer the j.mp domain Bitly has. And since they’re just redirecting you to the long URL, you’d use the
-L option in curl to make it follow redirects:
$ curl -L http://j.mp/RyUN03 Hello world
When you make a short URL from the bitly website, they conveniently make sure the query string is properly URL encoded. So if I just typed
queryecho.herokuapp.com/?echo "Hello world" into bitly, it would give me a short URL with a properly URL encoded version of that URL that would return
echo "Hello world". This URL we could then curl-pipe into Bash:
$ curl -Ls http://j.mp/VGgI3o | bash Hello world
See what’s going on there? We wrote a simple Hello world program in Bash that effectively lives in that short URL. And we can run it with the curl-pipe-bash technique.
Later in our conversation, Joel suggests an example “app tweet” that if executed in Bash given a URL argument, it would tell you where it redirects. So if you gave it a short URL, it would tell you the long URL.
@progrium $ echo "$1"; curl -IL --silent "$1" | grep Location | grep -o 'http.*' # this is a URL "unshortener"— Joël Franusic (@jf) December 12, 2012
Just so you know what it would look like, if you put that program in a shell script and ran it against a short URL that redirected to www.google.com, this is what you would see:
$ ./unshortener.sh http://j.mp/www-google-com http://j.mp/www-google-com http://www.google.com/
It prints the URL you gave it and then resolves the URL and prints the long URL. Pretty simple.
So I decided to put this program in a short URL. Here we have j.mp/TaHyRh which will resolve to:
Luckily I didn’t have to do all that URL encoding. I just pasted his code in after
queryecho.herokuapp.com/? and bitly took care of it. What’s funny is that this example program is made to run on short URLs, so when I told him about it, my example ran on the short URL that contained the program itself:
$ curl -Ls http://j.mp/TaHyRh | url=http://j.mp/TaHyRh bash http://j.mp/TaHyRh http://queryecho.herokuapp.com/?echo "$url"; curl -ILs "$url" | grep Location | grep -o 'http.*'
You may have noticed my version of the program uses
$url instead of
$1 because we have to use environment variables to provide input to curl-pipe-bash scripts. For reference, to run my URL script against the google.com short URL we made before, it would look like this:
$ curl -Ls http://j.mp/TaHyRh | url=http://j.mp/www-google-com bash http://j.mp/www-google-com http://www.google.com/
Okay, so we can now put Bash scripts in short URLs. What happened to installing apps in Tweets? Building an
apptweet program like Joel imagined would actually be pretty straightforward. But I wanted to build it in and install it with these weird programs-in-short-URLs.
The first obstacle was figuring out how to get it to modify your current environment. Normally curl-pipe-bash URLs install a downloaded program into your
PATH. But I didn’t want to install a bunch of files on your computer. Instead I just wanted to install a temporary Bash function that would disappear when you leave your shell session. In order to do this, I had to do a variant of the curl-pipe-bash technique using eval:
$ eval $(curl -Ls http://j.mp/setup-fetchtweet) $ fetchtweet 279072855206031360 @jf you asked for it... Jeff Lindsay (@progrium) December 13, 2012
As you can see by inspecting that URL, it just defines a Bash function that runs a Python script from a Gist. I cheated and used Gist for some reason. That Python script uses the Twitter embed endpoint (same one used for the embedded Tweets in this post) to get the contents of a Tweet without authentication.
The next thing I built installed and used fetchtweet to get a Tweet, parse it, put it in a Bash function named by the string after an
#exectweet hashtag (which happens to also start a comment in Bash). So here we have a Tweet with a program in it:
echo Hello world #exectweet helloworld— Jeff Lindsay (@progrium) December 12, 2012
To install it, we’d run this:
$ id=279087620145958912 eval $(curl -Ls http://j.mp/install-tweet) Installed helloworld from Tweet 279087620145958912 $ helloworld Hello world
We just installed a program from a Tweet and ran it! Then I wrapped this up into a command you could install. To install the installer. This time it would let you give it the URL to a Tweet:
$ eval $(curl -Ls http://j.mp/install-exectweet) Installed exectweet $ exectweet https://twitter.com/progrium/status/279087620145958912 Installed helloworld from Tweet 279087620145958912 $ helloworld Hello world
Where would I go from there? An app that calls itself into a loop, of course!
$ exectweet https://twitter.com/progrium/status/279123541054595074 && recursive-app Installed recursive-app from Tweet 279123541054595074 Installed recursive-app from Tweet 279123541054595074 Installed recursive-app from Tweet 279123541054595074 Installed recursive-app from Tweet 279123541054595074 ...
Obviously, this whole project was just a ridiculous, mind-bending exploration. I shared most of these examples on Twitter as I was making them. Here was my favorite response.
@progrium End of the world, brought to you by Jeff Lindsay, via the Internet collapsing in on itself and taking the world with it.— Matt Mechtley (@biphenyl) December 12, 2012
You may have noticed, it just happened to be 12/12/2012 that day.
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