1. Ben Bass
  2. editfile


editfile /

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Normal Usage

  default operation is to edit the file

  -h    this help
  -a    append stdin to the file
  -l    output the file to stdout
  -f    output file path name to stdout
  -s <pattern>
        search for given pattern
  -t    time track mode
  -c <name>
        copy the given item to the new name
  -i    import [FILEPATH]
  -x    export to [FILEPATH.tar]
  -d    delete the file
 (Note these options are mutually exclusive)

The key thought behind editfile is that a user shouldn't have to specify two words ('edit', 'this file') when editing regularly used files, but rather just a simple declaration ('notes', 'todo', etc). Obviously there are limits to this approach with the flat(ish) namespace of commands in the path, but I have found it helpful.

Two things change it from a curiosity to something useful for me:

  • syncing across devices (via Dropbox)
  • not having to worry about where I am in the path -or where the target file - is means I use it all the time

As a concession to complexity, it provides a two-level deep hierarchy, where for each command, a category can also be given (though isn't necessary).


These assume 'notes', 'todo', 'track' and 'blog' are editfile commands:

# start editing the file associated with the 'notes' command
$ notes

# -a reads from stdin and appends to the file
$ echo "This will be appended to the end of the notes files" | notes -a

# -l dumps the file to standard output
$ notes -l > notes.backup

# editfile uses 'EDITOR' if defined, with gedit and vim as fallbacks
# edit the 'errands' file in the notes namespace with emacs
$ EDITOR=emacs notes errands

$ notes errands -l  # output content of the 'errands' category to stdout

$ blog editfile -f

# append content of 'todo' to 'notes/errands'
$ todo -l | notes errands -a

# can be given .rst or .md extension to override .txt default
$ blog first-post.md

# edit two different things at once, sort of bypassing editfile :-)
vim $(notes -f) (work planning -f)

# once file exists, extension is optional (priority: .rst, .md, .txt)
$ blog first-post  # will edit first-post.md

# Copy the top level notes to a new editfile command 'jottings'.
# Note if 'notes' has any sub categories, these are *not* copied in this
# operation.
$ notes -c jottings

# Copy a sub-category, can be used as (very) primitive versioning...
$ blog first_draft -c second_draft
$ notes 2016_plan -c 2016_review

# using -t enters a mode where the user is prompted with date and time
# and enters text interactively. This is stored in the target file as
# well as being entered in a readline history file. Ctrl-D to exit.
$ track -t
2012/05/09 11:03 >> Add a new widget class to the WidgetFactory
2012/05/09 11:03 >> ^D

# Deleting a note (this moves to a trash folder which will be displayed)
$ notes 2016_plan -d
Moved ~/Dropbox/editfile/notes/2016_plan.txt to trash: ~/Dropbox/editfile/trash/notes

# moving a note from one 'base' to another
$ notes super_secret_project -l | work super_secret_project -a
$ notes super_secret_project -d

# search through the given note for 'password'
$ notes secret_project -s password

File & folder layout

editfile contains a hardcoded Dropbox path, '~/Dropbox/editfile', which it assumes is a sensible place to put things. The script currently needs editing if this isn't appropriate.

When using a single level editfile command (e.g. 'notes' is a symlink to editfile and is run simply as 'notes'), the system will look for a file of this same name (with appropriate extension - see following) under ~/Dropbox/editfile/, and take the appropriate action (edit, list, append).

When a second label is given after the command, then the file acted upon is instead under ~/Dropbox/editfile/<commandname>/, with its file name being the second label.

Originally editfile always used '.txt' as the file extension appended to the appropriate command / label, but I've found that I want to use editfile for writing blog posts and code documentation, so ReStructured Text (.rst) and Markdown (.md) file extensions are also supported. When no file exists already, then .txt will be created unless an extension is specified. For existing files, if no extension is given then the first match in .rst, .md, .txt will be used. If more than one of these exists then it is up to the user to sort things out.


Command Referenced File
$ notes ~/Dropbox/editfile/notes.txt
$ notes testing ~/Dropbox/editfile/notes/testing.txt
$ blog firstthings.md ~/Dropbox/editfile/blog/firstthings.md
$ blog firstthings ~/Dropbox/editfile/blog/firstthings.md (if it already exists, else .txt)

Tab Completion

A tab-completion expander script is also provided as editfile-complete.sh, which needs sourcing in an appropriate place in the shells where it is to be used. This provides expansion of second level items under each editfile command. For example, notes <tab> above would result in a completion containing at least testing. This is a useful way of checking which sub-files exist for each editfile command.

If options (-a, -l, -f) are given, these should be provided after the category (if it exists).

'Track' mode

Using the -t option enters the 'time track' mode. In this mode, editfile enters a readline loop, where entered text is saved to the target file with a timestamp.

In this mode, shell commands can be given by preceding them with '!'. A single exclamation mark simply runs the command; double '!!command' inserts the result into the target file.

In addition, if a line is entered incorrectly then it can be replaced by prefixing the next entry with the '^' character, e.g.

2013/03/18 20:11 >> this is a
2013/03/18 20:11 >> ^this is a test

will result in just a single line 'this is a test' being stored. Note that this functionality needs to edit the current file, so for safety a backup file is used to perform this operation, which will have the same name as the file being edited with a suffix of '~' - the same format emacs uses.

Storing assets

editfile is about reducing the friction in being able to write. No need to think about where the document ends up, no need to go through a long startup procedure when making a new document. And more. So in writing more, I found my next use-case is being able to store non-text data alongside the text.

Ideally I'd like to be able to include a highly efficient DSL which creates SVG diagrams in all my documents, but I've not yet found anything ideal; blockdiag comes close, but I want something which is already right in it's default styling, and blockdiag isn't that, for me.

Anyway, sometimes a diagram isn't enough anyway, and I need a photo, or a piece of music. Or some other binary file.

Importing a file

$ blog a-wonderful-blog-post -i ~/photo1.jpg
$ blog a-wonderful-blog-post -i ~/photo2.jpg

Exporting bundles

$ blog a-wonderful-blog-post -x ~/blog-post.tar

Exporting content


Creating blank documents

editfile can be used for more than just creating text documents. If given a fully-qualified basename + extension, it can be used as a document launcher. For example, with a editfile category of 'work', the command 'work super-secret-project.odt' would start libreoffice running. The currently supported document formats are as follows:

Extension Program
.mm freemind
.dia dia
.doc, .odt, .docx soffice --writer
.xls, .ods, .xlsx soffice --calc

(Note soffice may refer to libreoffice, openoffice, or even the original staroffice - like sensible forks, they can all use the same command name)

Direct use of 'editfile'

The normal use of editfile is via the commands symlinked to it, however by running editfile directly as a command, these symlinks can be managed. There are three options:

-l list editfile command names (this looks across the entire PATH for things linking to editfile)
-n <name> create a new symlink to editfile. The symlink will be placed in the same directory as the editfile script, so will be in the PATH
-d <name> delete an existing editfile symlink. This could be anywhere on the path, but it is checked that it really is a symlink to the editfile executable.
-s <pattern> search editfile files for the given pattern, displaying the results

Default installation

Other than its dependency on a basic POSIX system running Bash, editfile assumes two other things:

  • a writable dropbox folder lives in ~/Dropbox (~/Dropbox/editfile/ is used)
  • editfile and appropriately named symlinks to it live in ~/bin or elsewhere in the PATH (somewhere writable is useful for editfile -n etc)

Example installation

Copy editfile to ~/bin, ensure it is executable. Create symlinks as appropriate to it in the same place, either directly or via the editfile -n command:

$ editfile -n notes
$ editfile -n today
$ editfile -n blog
$ editfile -n todo


$ pwd
$ ln -s editfile notes
$ ln -s editfile today
$ ln -s editfile blog
$ ln -s editfile todo

Ben Bass 2012-2017 Ben Bass