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Command line quick tips: Using pipes to connect tools

One of the most powerful concepts of Linux is carried on from its predecessor, UNIX. Your Fedora system has a bunch of useful, single-purpose utilities available for all sorts of simple operations. Like building blocks, you can attach them in creative and complex ways. Pipes are key to this concept.

Before you hear about pipes, though, it’s helpful to know the basic concept of input and output. Many utilities in your Fedora system can operate against files. But they can often take input not stored on a disk. You can think of input flowing freely into a process such as a utility as its standard input (also sometimes called stdin).

Similarly, a tool or process can display information to the screen by default. This is often because its default output is connected to the terminal. You can think of the free-flowing output of a process as its standard output (or stdout — go figure!).

Examples of standard input and output

Often when you run a tool, it outputs to the terminal. Take for instance this simple sequence command using the seq tool:

$ seq 1 6
1
2
3
4
5
6

The output, which is simply to count integers up from 1 to 6, one number per line, comes to the screen. But you could also send it to a file using the > character. The shell interpreter uses this character to mean “redirect standard output to a file whose name follows.” So as you can guess, this command puts the output into a file called six.txt:

$ seq 1 6 > six.txt

Notice nothing comes to the screen. You’ve sent the ouptut into a file instead. If you run the command cat six.txt you can verify that.

You probably remember the simple use of the grep command from a previous article. You could ask grep to search for a pattern in a file by simply declaring the file name. But that’s simply a convenience feature in grep. Technically it’s built to take standard input, and search that.

The shell uses the < character similarly to mean “redirect standard input from a file whose name follows.” So you could just as well search for the number 4 in the file six.txt this way:

$ grep 4 < six.txt
4

Of course the output here is, by default, the content of any line with a match. So grep finds the digit 4 in the file and outputs that line to standard output.

Introducing pipes

Now imagine: what if you took the standard output of one tool, and instead of sending it to the terminal, you sent it into another tool’s standard input? This is the essence of the pipe.

Your shell uses the vertical bar character | to represent a pipe between two commands. You can find it on most keyboard above the backslash \ character. It’s used like this:

$ command1 | command2

For most simple utilities, you wouldn’t use an output filename option on command1, nor an input file option on command2. (You might use other options, though.) Instead of using files, you’re sending the output of command1 directly into command2. You can use as many pipes in a row as needed, creating complex pipelines of several commands in a row.

This (relatively useless) example combines the commands above:

$ seq 1 6 | grep 4
4

What happened here? The seq command outputs the integers 1 through 6, one line at a time. The grep command processes that output line by line, searching for a match on the digit 4, and outputs any matching line.

Here’s a slightly more useful example. Let’s say you want to find out if TCP port 22, the ssh port, is open on your system. You could find this out using the ss command* by looking through its copious output. Or you could figure out its filter language and use that. Or you could use pipes. For example, pipe it through grep looking for the ssh port label:

$ ss -tl | grep ssh
LISTEN 0 128 0.0.0.0:ssh 0.0.0.0:* LISTEN 0 128 [::]:ssh [::]:*

* Those readers familiar with the venerable netstat command may note it is mostly obsolete, as stated in its man page.

That’s a lot easier than reading through many lines of output. And of course, you can combine redirectors and pipes, for instance:

$ ss -tl | grep ssh > ssh-listening.txt

This is barely scratching the surface of pipes. Let your imagination run wild. Have fun piping!


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Use a drop-down terminal for fast commands in Fedora

A drop-down terminal lets you tap a key and quickly enter any command on your desktop. Often it creates a terminal in a smooth way, sometimes with effects. This article demonstrates how it helps to improve and speed up daily tasks, using drop-down terminals like Yakuake, Tilda, Guake and a GNOME extension.

Yakuake

Yakuake is a drop-down terminal emulator based on KDE Konsole techonology. It is distributed under the terms of the GNU GPL Version 2. It includes features such as:

  • Smoothly rolls down from the top of your screen
  • Tabbed interface
  • Configurable dimensions and animation speed
  • Skinnable
  • Sophisticated D-Bus interface

To install Yakuake, use the following command:

$ sudo dnf install -y yakuake

Startup and configuration

If you’re runnign KDE, open the System Settings and go to Startup and Shutdown. Add yakuake to the list of programs under Autostart, like this:

It’s easy to configure Yakuake while running the app. To begin, launch the program at the command line:

$ yakuake &

The following welcome dialog appears. You can set a new keyboard shortcut if the standard one conflicts with another keystroke you already use:

Now click the menu button, and the following help menu appears. Next, select Configure Yakuake… to access the configuration options.

You can customize the options for appearance, such as opacity; behavior, such as focusing terminals when the mouse pointer is moved over them; and window, such as size and animation. In the window options you’ll find one of the most useful options is you use two or more monitors: Open on screen: At mouse location.

Using Yakuake

The main shortcuts are:

  • F12 = Open/Retract Yakuake
  • Ctrl+F11 = Full Screen Mode
  • Ctrl+) = Split Top/Bottom
  • Ctrl+( = Split Left/Right
  • Ctrl+Shift+T = New Session
  • Shift+Right = Next Session
  • Shift+Left = Previous Session
  • Ctrl+Alt+S = Rename Session

Below is an example of Yakuake being used to split the session like a terminal multiplexer. Using this feature, you can run several shells in one session.

Tilda

Tilda is a drop-down terminal that compares with other popular terminal emulators such as GNOME Terminal, KDE’s Konsole, xterm, and many others.

It features a highly configurable interface. You can even change options such as the terminal size and animation speed. Tilda also lets you enable hotkeys you can bind to commands and operations.

To install Tilda, run this command:

$ sudo dnf install -y tilda

Startup and configuration

Most users prefer to have a drop-down terminal available behind the scenes when they login. To set this option, first go to the app launcher in your desktop, search for Tilda, and open it.

Next, open up the Tilda Config window. Select Start Tilda hidden, which means it will not display a terminal immediately when started.

Next, you’ll set your desktop to start Tilda automatically. If you’re using KDE, go to System Settings > Startup and Shutdown > Autostart and use Add a Program.

If you’re using GNOME, you can run this command in a terminal:

$ ln -s /usr/share/applications/tilda.desktop ~/.config/autostart/

When you run for the first time, a wizard shows up to set your preferences. If you need to change something, right click and go to Preferences in the menu.

You can also create multiple configuration files, and bind other keys to open new terminals at different places on the screen. To do that, run this command:

$ tilda -C

Every time you use the above command, Tilda creates a new config file located in the ~/.config/tilda/ folder called config_0, config_1, and so on. You can then map a key combination to open a new Tilda terminal with a specific set of options.

Using Tilda

The main shortcuts are:

  • F1 = Pull Down Terminal Tilda (Note: If you have more than one config file, the shortcuts are the same, with a diferent open/retract shortcut like F1, F2, F3, and so on)
  • F11 = Full Screen Mode
  • F12 = Toggle Transparency
  • Ctrl+Shift+T = Add Tab
  • Ctrl+Page Up = Go to Next Tab
  • Ctrl+Page Down = Go to Previous Tab

GNOME Extension

The Drop-down Terminal GNOME Extension lets you use this useful tool in your GNOME Shell. It is easy to install and configure, and gives you fast access to a terminal session.

Installation

Open a browser and go to the site for this GNOME extension. Enable the extension setting to On, as shown here:

Then select Install to install the extension on your system.

Once you do this, there’s no reason to set any autostart options. The extension will automatically run whenever you login to GNOME!

Configuration

After install, the Drop Down Terminal configuration window opens to set your preferences. For example, you can set the size of the terminal, animation, transparency, and scrollbar use.

If you need change some preferences in the future, run the gnome-shell-extension-prefs command and choose Drop Down Terminal.

Using the extension

The shortcuts are simple:

  • ` (usually the key above Tab) = Open/Retract Terminal
  • F12 (customize as you prefer) = Open/Retract Terminal

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4 tips for better tmux sessions

The tmux utility, a terminal multiplexer, lets you treat your terminal as a multi-paned window into your system. You can arrange the configuration, run different processes in each, and generally make better use of your screen. We introduced some readers to this powerful tool in this earlier article. Here are some tips that will help you get more out of tmux if you’re getting started.

This article assumes your current prefix key is Ctrl+b. If you’ve remapped that prefix, simply substitute your prefix in its place.

Set your terminal to automatically use tmux

One of the biggest benefits of tmux is being able to disconnect and reconnect to sesions at wilI. This makes remote login sessions more powerful. Have you ever lost a connection and wished you could get back the work you were doing on the remote system? With tmux this problem is solved.

However, you may sometimes find yourself doing work on a remote system, and realize you didn’t start a session. One way to avoid this is to have tmux start or attach every time you login to a system with in interactive shell.

Add this to your remote system’s ~/.bash_profile file:

if [ -z "$TMUX" ]; then tmux attach -t default || tmux new -s default fi

Then logout of the remote system, and log back in with SSH. You’ll find you’re in a tmux session named default. This session will be regenerated at next login if you exit it. But more importantly, if you detach from it as normal, your work is waiting for you next time you login — especially useful if your connection is interrupted.

Of course you can add this to your local system as well. Note that terminals inside most GUIs won’t use the default session automatically, because they aren’t login shells. While you can change that behavior, it may result in nesting that makes the session less usable, so proceed with caution.

Use zoom to focus on a single process

While the point of tmux is to offer multiple windows, panes, and processes in a single session, sometimes you need to focus. If you’re in a process and need more space, or to focus on a single task, the zoom command works well. It expands the current pane to take up the entire current window space.

Zoom can be useful in other situations too. For instance, imagine you’re using a terminal window in a graphical desktop. Panes can make it harder to copy and paste multiple lines from inside your tmux session. If you zoom the pane, you can do a clean copy/paste of multiple lines of data with ease.

To zoom into the current pane, hit Ctrl+b, z. When you’re finished with the zoom function, hit the same key combo to unzoom the pane.

Bind some useful commands

By default tmux has numerous commands available. But it’s helpful to have some of the more common operations bound to keys you can easily remember. Here are some examples you can add to your ~/.tmux.conf file to make sessions more enjoyable:

bind r source-file ~/.tmux.conf \; display "Reloaded config"

This command rereads the commands and bindings in your config file. Once you add this binding, exit any tmux sessions and then restart one. Now after you make any other future changes, simply run Ctrl+b, r and the changes will be part of your existing session.

bind V split-window -h bind H split-window

These commands make it easier to split the current window across a vertical axis (note that’s  Shift+V) or across a horizontal axis (Shift+H).

If you want to see how all keys are bound, use Ctrl+B, ? to see a list. You may see keys bound in copy-mode first, for when you’re working with copy and paste inside tmux. The prefix mode bindings are where you’ll see ones you’ve added above. Feel free to experiment with your own!

Use powerline for great justice

As reported in a previous Fedora Magazine article, the powerline utility is a fantastic addition to your shell. But it also has capabilities when used with tmux. Because tmux takes over the entire terminal space, the powerline window can provide more than just a better shell prompt.

Screenshot of tmux powerline in git folder

If you haven’t already, follow the instructions in the Magazine’s powerline article to install that utility. Then, install the addon using sudo:

sudo dnf install tmux-powerline

Now restart your session, and you’ll see a spiffy new status line at the bottom. Depending on the terminal width, the default status line now shows your current session ID, open windows, system information, date and time, and hostname. If you change directory into a git-controlled project, you’ll see the branch and color-coded status as well.

Of course, this status bar is highly configurable as well. Enjoy your new supercharged tmux session, and have fun experimenting with it.


Photo by Pamela Saunders on Unsplash.