Archive for September, 2010

Java gotcha: Splitting a string

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

CSV, or comma separated value, files are the workhorse of flat file processing. They’re human readable, you can edit them in any spreadsheet editor worth its salt, they’re portable, and they’re easy to parse and read into your programs.  Unfortunately, text you might want to store in the columns might also have commas in it, which complicates the parsing significantly – instead of splitting on all of the commas, you have to know whether the comma is in a quoted string, in which case it doesn’t signify the end of a field … it gets messy, and you’re probably going to get it wrong if you roll your own.  For a quick and dirty script, sometimes it’s better to delimit the columns with a different character, one that comes up much less often in text.  One good choice is the pipe character, |.

Foolishly I processed lines of text like the following in Scala:


def parseLine(indexRow:String) = {
 Console.println("Row: " + indexRow)

 val entries = indexRow.split(FIELD_DELIMITER)
 // extract the file name, average color, thumbnail


Unfortunately, this code is subtly broken.  The problem is that the String split method does not accept a plain string on which to split – rather, it treats the string as a regular expression.  Since the pipe character has special meaning in regular expressions (namely “OR”), this has the effect of splitting the string on every character, rather than just at the pipe delimiters.

To get around this, you need to tell the regular expression engine that you want to treat the pipe as a literal, which you do by backslash escaping the pipe.  Unfortunately “\|” is not a valid string in Java, because it will attempt to interpret it as a control character (like the newline \n).  Instead, you need to backslash escape the backslash, leaving “\\|”

Be careful when you’re using String.split in Java/Scala.  You have to be aware that it’s treating your string as a regular expression.  Read this StackOverflow discussion for a better understanding of the pros and cons of Java using regular expressions in many of its core String libraries.

How to use Java .properties files in Mule

September 18, 2010 2 comments

Externalizing ports and IP addresses (or anything else for that matter) in Mule

Mule is a great piece of open source software known as an Enterprise Service Bus. It is designed to make it easy to integrate various systems which were not explicitly built to work with each other. For instance, it handles all the details of various transport mechanisms (e-mail, HTTP, TCP, UDP, files) that your data might be shuttled around in, as well as the transformers that convert data from one format to another (e.g., the bytes of a TCP packet, into a String, into an XML document, into a Java object representing that XML).

Mule services are configured via XML, in particular the Spring framework. This post is designed to inform the reader as to how to incorporate Java .properties files into the XML.

.properties files, for those who are unfamiliar, is a simple Key=Value storage mechanism in widespread use in Java development. From the wikipedia explanation, here are a few lines of a .properties file:

website =
language = English
# The backslash below tells the application to continue reading
# the value onto the next line.
message = Welcome to \

The documentation for Mule / Spring advises that you break up configuration files into multiple files and then reassemble them as needed. In Mule’s case, this allows you to run one instance of mule per small function, allowing you to restart just the piece that needs to when a change is made, rather than bringing down all the pieces. Furthermore it makes it easy to reason about each modular piece when broken down in this way.

Unfortunately, splitting the files up like this can easily cause a lot of duplication, especially of IP addresses and ports. If you are sending objects to the same IP address and port from multiple configuration files, you might end up with multiple instances of lines of configuration like

tcp:inbound-endpoint address="tcp://"

Fortunately, by storing the IP addresses and ports in .properties file, you can eliminate code duplication and allow the variables to be changed in a single place and have the change reflected in all files referencing these variables. Additionally, if you name the variables properly, the impenetrable IP addresses instead become self documenting strings:

tcp:inbound-endpoint address="${email.server.address}"

This ${x} syntax should be familiar to anyone who has used Ant in the past. This basically says, find the property with the key email.server.address and textually substitute its value here. This assumes that you have a .properties file with the line


For the purposes of this post, assume that the line is defined in a file called

Unfortunately, the way to do this is not clearly defined in any document I’ve seen, which is why I want to explain how to do it here.

Existing information

The first result in google for “mule java properties” is Mule: Configuring Properties, which is 5 years old and refers to Mule 1.5 (I figured this out the hard way). There is more up to date information by searching for “configuring properties”, particularly Configuring Properties – Mule 2.x User Guide.

Here is the relevant information:

To load properties from a file, you can use the standard Spring element

 <context:property-placeholder location=""/>

(In other words you need to add those schema declarations at the top of your file, after the description field, before creating a context:property-placeholder element to tell Mule all the .properties files you want pulled in to your file).

Would that it were so easy.

If you change this example to the name of your .properties file, you will probably get a FileNotFoundException, even if you give the complete path to the .properties file.

A Fatal error: class path resource [C:/Mule/mule-standalone-2.2.1/conf/] cannot be opened because it does not exist

This message is extremely unhelpful because the file does exist at that exact location. After some digging, I found two workarounds, one of which is hinted at by the error message, another is not.


By default, the .properties file is searched for in the classpath that the Mule environment runs in. Thus you need to ensure that the folder in which your file is located in is also on that classpath.

The wrapper.conf file in $MULE_HOME/conf is where the classpath is defined:*.jar

If you place your .properties files in any of those folders, it will be picked up. That’s probably not the ideal place for your files, however. If you wish to add an additional folder, you merely add another entry. For instance, if I store the .properties files in /Dev/Mule/Configs/Properties, I would add the line

Note that you must add the consecutive numbers to each classpath you add, or Mule will not pick up on the change correctly.

You can make it explicit to the readers of your configuration file that you are including a .properties file that’s located on the classpath with the classpath prefix:

<context:property-placeholder location="">

Absolute locations

If you wish to specify the absolute path to a resource rather than relying on classpath resolution, you must prefix the path with file///. So our previous example becomes

<context:property-placeholder location="file///Dev/Mule/Configs/Properties/">

(You also need 3 slashes even if you’re on Windows)


It’s a very good idea to externalize ports and IP addresses from the XML configuration files that Mule needs to run. This allows you to make changes to the ports and IP addresses in one place rather than in all the files that reference them. It also allows you to associate a more meaningful name to the addresses than an IP address; it is self-documenting in that regard. Unfortunately the process for importing .properties files into your Mule configuration files is not well documented, which is what I am attempting to remedy here.

Categories: Java, mule Tags: , , , , ,

Android – disappearing emulator ? Restart adb server

September 13, 2010 12 comments
While developing for the Android platform has gotten a lot better in the past year, there are still some rough edges.  In particular, emulators sometimes disappear from the list of attached devices (accessed via adb devices from the terminal, or within the Devices tab when in DDMS view in the Eclipse plugin).  When this happens, you cannot interact with it via the terminal or Eclipse.  That’s a pretty big problem.

A screen shot illustrating a running emulator that does not appear in the list of attached devices

An emulator within the devices window

To solve this, you should take the following steps:

# Device is running but not showing up
[497][nicholasdunn: /Users/nicholasdunn]$ adb devices
List of devices attached

# Kill and restart
[498][nicholasdunn: /Users/nicholasdunn]$ adb kill-server
[499][nicholasdunn: /Users/nicholasdunn]$ adb start-server
* daemon not running. starting it now *
* daemon started successfully *

# Device appears, but is listed as offline
[500][nicholasdunn: /Users/nicholasdunn]$ adb devices
List of devices attached
emulator-5554    offline

# One more invocation of adb devices should get it recognized
[501][nicholasdunn: /Users/nicholasdunn]$ adb devices
List of devices attached
emulator-5554    device

If this happens to you frequently (it does to me), you can create an alias within your .bash_profile file (~/.bash_profile):

alias adb-restart='adb kill-server; adb start-server; adb devices; adb devices'

Reload your .bash_profile file:

source ~/.bash_profile

You can then invoke it from the terminal by typing adb-restart.  Sometimes one invocation of adb devices is enough to have the emulator show up as a device; others requires two.  Not sure why that is.  To be safe I’m including two in the script.

git – how to easily remove ‘deleted’ files

September 7, 2010 3 comments

git is a distributed version control system. There are lots of tutorials online to teach you the basics of this great system; that’s not the intent of this post. Rather, I want to share a neat trick I found on another site.

When you move files that have been checked into git without using the git mv command, as often happens when using an IDE and renaming a file, you are left with untracked files, and deleted files.

Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example$ mkdir src
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example$ touch src/
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example$ git add src/
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example$ git ci -m "Initial commit"
[master (root-commit) 97eb204] Initial commit
 0 files changed, 0 insertions(+), 0 deletions(-)
 create mode 100644 src/
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git status
# On branch master
nothing to commit (working directory clean)
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ ls
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ mv src/ src/
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git status
# On branch master
# Changed but not updated:
#   (use "git add/rm <file>..." to update what will be committed)
#   (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)
#   deleted:    src/
# Untracked files:
#   (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
#   src/
no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")

As soon as you delete the src/ and add the src/ file, git is smart enough to realize that you really have just renamed or moved the file:

Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git rm src/
rm 'src/'
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git add src/
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git status
# On branch master
# Changes to be committed:
#   (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
#   renamed:    src/ -> src/

While this pattern is not too onerous when you move just a few files around, when you are in the midst of refactoring you could have multiple files moved into different directories, leading to a raft of these deleted files that need to be manually removed from git. Because they are no longer at the old location in the file system, we cannot use tab completion to help remove the old files; you must type out the full path to the file to be deleted. This can be a big pain.

For instance, imagine I have the following tree structure:

Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ tree src/
`-- org
    `-- example
        `-- nick

And we change the package name from an external, non-git process/program:

Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ mv src/org/example/nick src/org/example/blog
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git add src/org/example/blog/
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git st
# On branch master
# Changes to be committed:
#   (use "git reset HEAD <file>..." to unstage)
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
#   new file:   src/org/example/blog/
# Changed but not updated:
#   (use "git add/rm <file>..." to update what will be committed)
#   (use "git checkout -- <file>..." to discard changes in working directory)
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/
#   deleted:    src/org/example/nick/

It is a bit of a pain to remove all of the deleted files individually.

Fortunately, there is a shortcut.

Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git ls-files --deleted
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git rm `git ls-files --deleted`
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'
rm 'src/org/example/nick/'

If this is a common enough use case, we can add aliases in the global ~/.gitconfig file to support this.

    br = branch
    ci = commit
    co = checkout
    st = status
    # list files
    ls = ls-files
    # list deleted files
    lsd = ls-files --deleted
    # remove deleted files
    rmd = !git rm `git ls-files --deleted`

See the great wiki page on Aliases for information. The exclamation mark is used to indicate that the command invoked is a non-git one; you can execute arbitrary shell commands this way. For instance:

    # A stupid thing to do, but illustrates that arbitrary unix commands can be executed in this manner
    cal = !cal
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/git_example master$ git cal
   September 2010
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
          1  2  3  4
 5  6  7  8  9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30

All credit to the git cheat sheet site that initially brought the ls-files –deleted trick to my attention. Hopefully the alias I have provided will be useful to some people.

Categories: git Tags: , ,

Unix tip #3: Introduction to Find, Grep, Sed

September 7, 2010 6 comments
I’ve written a few times before about Unix command line tools and how learning them can make you a more efficient programmer.  Today I’m going to introduce a few essential tools in the Unix toolkit.  While programming, one often notes future improvements or tasks with the use of a TODO comment.  For instance, if you have a dummy implementation of a method, you might comment that you need to fill in the actual implementation later:

 public int randomValue() {
 // TODO: hook up the actual random number generator
 return 0;

The problem is that these TODOs more often than not get ignored, especially if you have to search through the code yourself to try to find all of the remaining tasks.  Fortunately, certain Programs (NetBeans and TextMate for two examples) can find instances of keywords indicating a task, extract the comments, and present them to you in a nice table view.

I’m going to step through the use of a few Unix tools that can be tied together to extract the data and create a similar view.  In particular I will illustrate the use of find, grep, sed,  and pipes.

The general steps I’ll be presenting are:

Step Tools used
1. Find all Java files find
2. Find each TODO item grep
3. Extract filename, line number, task sed
4. Format results of step 3 as an HTML table find/grep/sed/shell script


Finding instances of text with grep

In order to extract all of the TODO items from within our java files, we need a way of searching for matching text. grep is the tool to do that. Grep takes as input a list of files to search and a pattern to try to match against; it will then emit a set of lines matching the pattern.

For instance, to search for TODO or any version of that string (todo, ToDO), in all the .java files in the current directory, you would execute the following:

grep -i TODO *.java    // TODO: Document     // TODO: throw exception if precondition is violated

Note that the line numbers are omitted. If we want them, we use the -n command

grep -i -n TODO *.java    // TODO: Document     // TODO: throw exception if precondition is violated

If all we want to do is get a rough estimate as to how many documented TODOs we have, we can pipe the result of this argument into the wc utility, which counts bytes, characters, or lines. We want the number of lines.

grep -i -n TODO *.java | wc -l

This works fine with a single directory of files, but it will not handle nested directories. For instance, if my directory structure looks like the following:


0 directories, 2 files

All of these files will be searched when grep is run. But if I introduce new files in subdirectories:

mkdir Subdir
echo "//TODO: Create this file" > Subdir/

|-- Subdir
|   `--

1 directory, 3 files

The new will not be searched. In order make grep search through all of the subdirectories (i.e., recursively), you can combine grep with another extremely useful Unix utility, find. Before moving on to find, I want to stress that grep is extremely useful and vital to anyone using a Unix based machine. See grep tutorials for many good examples of how to use grep.

Finding files with find

The find command is extremely useful. The man page describes find as

find – search for files in a directory hierarchy

There are a lot of arguments you can use, but to get started, the basic syntax is

find [<starting location>] -name <name pattern>

If the starting location is not provided, it is assumed to be in the current directory (. in Unix terms). In all the examples that follow I will explicitly list the starting directory.

For instance, if we want to find all the files that end with the extension “.java” in the current working directory, we could run the following:

find . -name "*.java"

Note that we must enclose the pattern in quotes in this example in order to prevent the shell from trying to expand the * wildcard. If we don’t, the shell will convert the asterisk into a space delimited set of all the files/directories in the current folder, which will lead to an error

 find . -name *.java # expands to find . -name
find: unknown option

Just as we can use the wc command to count the number of times a phrase appears in a file, we can use it to count the number of files matching a given pattern. That is because find outputs each matching file path to a separate line. Thus if we wanted to count the number of java files in all folders rooted in the current folder, we could do

find . -name "*.java" | wc -l

While I have only presented the -name flag, there are numerous other flags as well, such as whether the candidate file is a file or directory (-type f or -type d respectively), whether the match is smaller, the same, or bigger than a given size (-size +100M == bigger than 100 megabytes), or when the file was last modified (find -newer ordinary_file would only accept files that have a modification time newer than that of ordinary_file). A A great article for gaining more expertise is Mommy I found it! – 15 practical unix find commands.

Combining find with other commands

find becomes even more powerful when combined with the -exec option, which allows you to execute arbitrary commands for each file that matches the pattern. The syntax for doing that looks like

find [<starting location>] -name <name pattern> -exec <commands> {} \;

where the file path will be substituted for the {} characters. For instance, if we want to count the number of lines in each Java file, we could run

find . -name "*.java" -exec wc -l {} \;
      23 ./
       1 ./Subdir/
      88 ./

This has precisely the same effect as if we explicitly executed the wc -l command ourselves:

wc -l ./ wc -l ./Subdir/ wc -l ./

As another example, we could backup all of the Java files in the directory by copying them and appending the suffix .bk to each

find . -name "*.java" -exec cp {} {}.bk \;
Nick@Macintosh-3 ~/Desktop/Programming/Java/example$ ls    Subdir        

To undo this, we could remove all of the files ending in .bk:

find . -name “*.bk” -exec rm {} \;

Combining find and grep

Since I started the article talking about grep, it’s only natural that you can combine grep with find, and it often pays to do so.

For instance, by combining the earlier grep command to find all TODO items with the find command to find all java files, we suddenly have a command which will traverse an arbitrarily nested directory structure and search all the files we are interested in.

find . -name "*.java" -exec grep -i -n TODO {}  \;
1://todo: Create this file
20:    // todo: Document
29:     // todo: throw exception if precondition is violated

Note that we no longer have the filename prepended to the output; if we want it back we can add the -H flag.

find . -name "*.java" -exec grep -Hin TODO {} \;
./Subdir/ Create this file
./    // todo: Document
./     // todo: throw exception if precondition is violated

In this last snippet I have combined the individual -H, -i and -n flags together into the shorter -Hin; this works identically as listing them separately. (Not all Unix commands work this way; check the man page if you’re unsure).

An alternate exec terminator: Performance considerations

I said earlier that the basic syntax for combining find with other commands is

find [<starting location>] -name <name pattern> -exec <commands> {} \;

The ; terminates the exec clause, but because it can be interpreted as text, it has to be backslash escaped. While researching this article I found a Unix/Linux “find” Command Tutorial that introduced me to an alternative syntax for terminating the -exec clause of the find command. By replacing the semicolon with a + sign, files are grouped together in batches and sent to the given command rather than executed one at a time. Let me illustrate:

# Executes the 'echo' command on each file individually
find . -exec echo {} \;

# Executes the 'echo' command on bundled groups of files
find . -exec echo {} +
. ./ ./Subdir ./Subdir/ ./table.html ./ ./test.a

This technique of grouping the files together can have a profound performance boost when used with commands that can handle space terminated arguments. For instance:

time find /Applications/ -name "*.java" -exec grep -i TODO {} \;
real    1m36.458s
user    0m3.912s
sys 0m10.933s

time find /Applications/ -name "*.java" -exec grep -i TODO {} +
real    0m39.060s
user    0m3.660s
sys 0m6.571s

# An alternate way of executing grep on batches of files at once #
time find /Applications/ -name "*.java" -print0 | xargs -0 grep -i "TODO"
real    0m50.486s
user    0m4.230s
sys 0m7.924s

By replacing the semicolon with the plus sign, I gained almost a 2.5x speed increase. Again, this will only work with commands that correctly handle whitespace separated arguments; the previous example with copy would fail miserably, because cp expects a single src/destination pair

# Will not work!
find . -name "*.java" -exec cp {} {}.bk +

Converting results of find/grep into table form – Intro to sed, cut, and basename

In the last section, I showed how to combine find and grep. The output of the command will look something like this:

find . -name "*.java" -exec grep -Hin TODO {} +
./Subdir/ Create this file
./    // todo: Document
./     // todo: throw exception if precondition is violated

The output has the path to the file, followed by a semicolon, followed by the matching line in the input file that had the TODO in it. Let’s mimic the output of the TODO list in TextMate, which simply displayed a two column table with File name and line number followed by the extracted comment. While we could use any programming language to do this text manipulation (Python springs to mind), I’m going to use a combination of sed and shell scripts to illustrate a few more powerful command line tools.

Recall that the output of our script so far looks like the following:

./ // todo: Document

In other words each line is in the form

relative/path/to/File:lineNumber:todo text

The colons delimiting the text allow us to split the constituent parts very easily. The command to do that is cut. With cut you specify the delimiter on which to split the text, and then which numbered fields you want (where fields are numbered 1 .. n)

As an example, here is code to extract the path (the first column of text):

find . -name "*.java" -exec grep -Hin TODO {} + | cut -d ":" -f 1

This gives us the path, one per line. If we want to convert the relative path into just the name of the file, like the TextMate example does, we want to strip out all of the leading directories, leaving just the file name. While we could code up a regular expression to perform the substitution, I prefer to avoid doing more work than I need to. Instead I’ll use the basename command, which does that for us.

find . -name "*.java" -exec grep -Hin TODO {} + | basename `cut -d ":" -f 1`

The line number, the second column of text, is just as easy to extract.

find . -name “*.java” -exec grep -Hin TODO {} + | cut -d “:” -f 2 1 20 29

The fact that the line of text extracted by grep could contain the colon character (and often will; I always write my TODOs as TODO: do x) means we have to be a bit smarter about how we use cut. If we assume that the text is just in the third column, we will lose the text if there are colons.

# Only taking the third column
echo "./    // todo: Document" | cut -d ":" -f 3    // todo
# Taking all columns after and including the third column
echo "./    // todo: Document" | cut -d ":" -f 3-
    // todo: Document

While this works, it’s not the neatest output. In particular we want to get rid of the leading white space; otherwise it will mess up the formatting in the HTML table. Performing text substitution is the job of the sed tool. sed stands for stream editor and it is capable of doing extremely heavy duty find and replace tasks. I don’t pretend to be an expert with sed and this article won’t make you one either, but hopefully I can at least illustrate its usefulness. For a more in depth tutorial, see Sed – An Introduction and Tutorial.

A common use case for sed, as I mentioned, is to replace text. The general pattern is

sed ‘s/regexpToReplace/textToReplaceItWith/[g]’

The s can be read as “substitute”, and the optional g stands for global. If you omit it, it will only replace the first instance of the regular expression match that it finds. The g makes it search for all matches in the text.

Thus to remove leading white space, we can use the expression sed ‘s/^[ <tab>]*//g’

where the ^ character indicates that it must match the start of the line, and the text within brackets are the characters that will be matched by the regular expression. The * means to match zero or more instances. In other words, this line says “match the start of the string and all spaces and tabs you can until reaching other text, and replace it with nothing”.

The above command is not strictly correct. We need to indicate to sed that we want to replace the tab character. Unlike many Unix utilities, sed does not allow you to use the character sequence \t to indicate the tab character. Instead you need a literal tab at that place in the command. The problem with doing this is that your shell might swallow the tab before it gets to the sed command. In bash, the default shell environment on the Mac, the tab key is interpreted as a command to auto complete what is being typed. If you press the tab key twice, the shell will print out all the possible autocompletions.

For instance,

lp           lpc          lpmove       lppasswd     lpr
lpadmin      lpinfo       lpoptions    lpq          lprm         lpstat

Here I started typing lp, hit tab twice, and the shell produced a list of all the commands it knew about (technically, that are on the PATH environment variable). So we need a way to smuggle the tab key into the sed command, without triggering the shell’s autocompletion. The way to do this is with the “verbatim” command sequence, which instructs the shell not to interpret certain commands and instead to pass them treat them verbatim, as text.

To enter this temporary verbatim mode, you press Ctrl V (sometimes indicated as ^V online) followed by the key combination you want treated as text. Thus the real sed command to remove leading white space is sed ‘s/^[ ]*//’

$ sed 's/^[    ]*//'
           tabs and spaces
tabs and spaces

The above snippet illustrates that sed reads from standard input by default and thus can be used interactively to test the replacements you have specified. Again, in the above text it looks like I have a string of spaces, but it’s really <space><ctrl v><tab> within the brackets. From here on out I will put a \t to indicate a tab but you should realize that you need to do the ctrl v tab sequence I just described instead.

(Aside: I have read online that some versions of sed actually do support the \t character sequence to indicate tabs, but the default sed shipping with Mac OSX does not.)

sed – combine multiple commands into one

If you have series of text replacements you want to do using sed, you can either pipe the chain of transformations you want to do from one sed invocation to another, or you can use the -e flag to chain them together.

echo "hello world" | sed 's/hello/goodbye/' | sed 's/world/frank/'
goodbye frank
echo "hello world" | sed -e 's/hello/goodbye/' -e 's/world/frank/'goodbye frank

Note that you need the -e immediately after the first sed pattern as well; I naively tried to do

echo "hello world" | sed 's/hello/goodbye/' -e 's/world/frank/'sed: -e: No such file or directory
sed: s/world/frank/: No such file or directory

Integrating sed with find and grep

Combining all of the above sed goodness with the previous code we have

find . -name "*.java" -exec grep -Hin TODO {} + | cut -d ":" -f 3- | sed 's/^[ \t]*//'
//todo: Create this file
// todo: Document
// todo: throw exception if precondition is violated

I don’t want the todo text in the comments, as it would be redundant. As such I will remove the double slashes followed by any white space followed by todo, followed by an optional colon, followed by any space.

find . -name "*.java" -exec grep -Hin TODO {} + | cut -d ":" -f 3- | sed -e 's/^[ \t]*//' -e 's/[\/*]*[ \t]*//' -e 's/TODO/todo/' -e 's/todo[:]*[ \t]*//'
 Create this file
 throw exception if precondition is violated

This can be read as

s/^[ \t]*//         remove leading whitespace
s/[\/*]*            remove any number of forward slashes (/) or stars (*), which indicate the start of a comment
[ \t]*              remove whitespace
s/TODO/todo         convert uppercase TODO string into lower case
todo                remove the literal string 'todo'
[:]*                remove any colons that exist
[ \t]*              remove whitespace

We now have all the pieces we need to create our script.

Putting it all together

I’m going to show the script in its entirety without a huge amount of explanation. This post is more about the use of find/grep/sed than it is about shell scripting. I don’t claim to be an expert at writing shell scripts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a better way to do some of the following. It is not perfect; as the comments indicate, it wouldn’t handle text like ToDo correctly in the sed command. More importantly, there are some false positives in the lines it returns: things like toDouble match, because it contains the string ‘todo’. I’ll leave such improvements to the reader; if you do have any suggestions for the script, please add them to the comments below.


# From
if [ $# -gt $EXPECTED_ARGS ]
  echo "Usage: ./extract [starting_directory]" >&2
  exit $E_BADARGS

# By default, start in the current working directory, but if they provide
# an argument, use that instead.
if [ $# -eq $EXPECTED_ARGS ]

# Start creating the HTML document
echo "<html><head></head><body>"
echo "<table border=1>"
echo "<tr><td>Location</td><td>Comment</td></tr>"

# The output of the find command will look like
# ./    // todo: Document

find $startingDir -name "*.java" -exec grep -Hin todo {} + |
# Allows the script to read in piped in arguments
while read data; do

    # The location of the file is the first argument
    fileLoc=`echo "$data" | cut -d ":" -f 1`
    fileName=`basename $fileLoc`

    # the line number is the second
    lineNumber=`echo "$data" | cut -d ":" -f 2`

    # all arguments after the second colon are the comment.  Eliminate the TODO
    # text with a simple find and replace.
    # Note: only handles todo and TODO, would need some more logic to handle other cases
    comment=`echo "$data" | cut -d ":" -f 3- | sed -e 's/^[     ]*//' -e 's/[\/*]*[     ]*//' -e 's/TODO/todo/' -e 's/todo[:]*[     ]*//'`
    echo "<tr>"
    echo "  <td><a href="$fileLoc">$fileName ($lineNumber)</a></td>"
    echo "  <td>$comment</td>"
    echo "</tr>"

# Finish off the HTML document
echo "</table>"
echo "</body></html>"

exit 0

If you save this script as a .sh file, you will need to make it executable before you can run it. From the terminal:

chmod +x
# Extract all the TODO comments in the Applications folder, and save it as an html table
# Redirect the printed HTML to an HTML document
./ /Applications > table.html

The source code for the script is available on github. Running the script in my /Applications directory leads to the following HTML table:

Location Comment
Aquamacs (629) return ((ObjectReference)val).toString(); //
Aquamacs (633) return val.toString(); // not correct in all cases
Cycling (11) support joint operations on more than one channel.
Cycling (27) what about objects with more than one input?
Cycling (36) improve feedback math — fixed point, like jit.wake?
Cycling (277) theta shift?
Cycling (349) double closest[] = new double[] {a[0].toDouble(), a[1].toDouble(), a[2].toDouble()};
Cycling (351) double farthest[] = new double[] {a[0].toDouble(), a[1].toDouble(), a[2].toDouble()};
Cycling (5) describe the class
Cycling (22) implement with a Vector to improve performance
Cycling (8) abort a thread if an incoming message arrives before completion
Cycling (8) have the search happen in a separate thread
Cycling (9) possible to separate the errors that results from not
Cycling (191) implement automatic replacement of shader name in prototype file (738) make this more efficient and just update a sub-part (1165) P3D overrides box to turn on triangle culling, but that’s a waste (1180) P3D overrides sphere to turn on triangle culling, but that’s a waste (1508) Should instead override textPlacedImpl() because createGlyphVector (2207) this expects a fourth arg that will be set to 1 (2847) not optimized properly, creates multiple temporary buffers (2858) is this possible without intbuffer? (2870) remove the implementation above and use setImpl instead, (2978) – extremely slow and not optimized. (738) make this more efficient and just update a sub-part (1165) P3D overrides box to turn on triangle culling, but that’s a waste (1180) P3D overrides sphere to turn on triangle culling, but that’s a waste (1508) Should instead override textPlacedImpl() because createGlyphVector (2207) this expects a fourth arg that will be set to 1 (2847) not optimized properly, creates multiple temporary buffers (2858) is this possible without intbuffer? (2870) remove the implementation above and use setImpl instead, (2978) – extremely slow and not optimized.

The complete result can be found as another github gist.

Quick note: You have to be careful about what you echo in the shell. In an early version, I forgot to surround the text ($data) with quotes. This led to a problem when there were asterisks in the text, since the shell expanded the star into a list of all the files in the directory (aka file globbing). This is a relatively harmless problem; had the line had something like rm * instead, it would have been devastating. So make sure you surround your output text in quotes!

$ echo *
ApplicationTODO.html BlogPost.mkdown Find text.mkdown Test.html appTable.html tab tab.txt table body.html table.awk table.html table1.html
$ echo "*"


I have introduced the find command and how it can be used to locate files or directories on disk with certain properties (name, last modified date, etc). I then showed how grep can be used to search the contents of a file or stream of content for matching regular expressions. Next I showed you how to combine find with arbitrary Unix commands, including grep with the -exec option. Finally I tied all these concepts together by creating a simple script which searches through all of the java files in a directory for those lines that have TODO in them, and creates an HTML table summarizing the location of each of these tasks, alongside the TODO item text.

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