Writing a Parser Is Boring?

When interacting with different services or program there often comes the point where some sort of file has to be parsed into a data structure, which can be processed later. For standard file formats like XML or JSON parsers are available for almost any language out there. (BTW I love the graphical representation of the JSON syntax on their website.)

There are however situations in which one has to deal with a proprietary file format or with vendor-specific extensions to a standardized format. At this point a parser has to be written. It seems a boring task, however there are several important aspects of programming which can be learned here.

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Dancing the DHCP Samba

After a hardware failure of a Linux computer I took the chance to set up a Debian installation from scratch. So I saved the data that was important to a server, burned the Debian DVD and installed it on the computer.

When it came to networking it got a little more complicated: as the server is using the corporate network, it had to send a specific host name to obtain the IP configuration via DHCP. So that was what I did: I entered the host name and let dhcpclient do its magic. It took some time, but finally it was set up. All DNS entries for this host name and its corresponding IP were correct.

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Solarized – A Balanced Color Scheme for Text Editors

Colors schemes for text editors is just like the favorite editor itself a controversially discussed and often very personal matter. Speaking about colors often the personal taste is the main reason for a custom color scheme or why a special scheme was chosen. However the relation between different colors has been studied by artists for a very long time. Color theory with things like the triad, tetrad or complementary colors which was all related to the color circle has been the foundation designers worked on a daily basis.

Now these principles have been applied to color schemes in text editors. The arrangement of colors is called Solarized and can be found on the project’s homepage. Besides the color scheme itself, which is available for a wide range of editors, starting from VIM, Emacs to Netbeans, Xcode, SubEthaEdit or textmate, the author Ethan Schoonover also explains the principles of why the colors were chosen that way. The scheme is available in two variants: one for a light background and one for a black background.

What I like about this scheme is how the a good contrast between foreground and background is given without overdoing it. You can create the largest contrast by using a white text color on a black background. This however would tire your eyes very quickly, as the contrast is too high. Solarized in the dark background variant is using a dark grey as a background color and a very light grey as the text color. What I also like is that if syntax highlighting is activated comment blocks are shaded in a darker version of the text color to make your code more prominent which is great in heavily commented files.

So if you are looking for a new color scheme for your favorite editor or IDE, check out Solarized.

Backing up a Server to Amazon S3


When deploying a server on the internet you always have to deal with security issues. You harden your server by setting up encrypted connections, configuring a tight firewall and putting critical services in a chroot jail. However what happens if an intruder hacks into your server and deletes your content? Or if you make a mistake and erase some data? The last line of defense is having a good backup strategy.

The question arises what do backup and where to back it up. For me something like to holy grail would be having a fast, reliable, file-system-based backup solution like the snapshot feature in ZFS. It should then be possible to sync these snapshots in a bandwidth-efficient manner to a remote location.

Using Duplicity for Backup

There are a lot of different solutions around, however they differ in security, price and reliability. Duplicity is one of them. It is relatively easy to set up if you have a simple backup problem, such as backing up the web server and its corresponding database. The neat thing about Duplicity is that it can make encrypted, incremental backups using standard file formats. For the incremental part of this operation it relies on rdiff to do the heavy lifting and it is using GPG to encrypt the backup with a public/private key pair. One of the other benefits is that Duplicity offers out of the box Amazon S3 support. This means that you are able to store your backups up in the cloud in a save manner. By performing incremental backups only, the costs for traffic and storage are minimized. In my case which is performing a daily backup of the configuration and the blog of the server I never paid anything because there is a minimum billing amount per month.

Using a file server in the cloud as the backup destination has its benefits especially in the restore case. Then you can rely on Amazon’s bandwidth to perform a fast restore instead of using your home cable or DSL connection.

What is happening during a backup?

In the beginning, when there are no previous backups to be used for incremental backups, Duplicity is performing a full backup. For its backup files it uses standard tar file format which then gets encrypted using GPG and your public key. It is then uploaded to a remote server.

The next backup is an incremental backup. This means that duplicity now first checks if its local cache of previous diffs is up to date with the remote repository. If that is not the case it downloads all the previous diffs because it needs them to generate the new diff of the most recent changes. It then calculates the diff, encrypts it and uploads it together with a hash of the diff to the remote server.

Backup a Database

When using a web application often there are not only files, but also databases to be backed up to be able to fully restore your web page from the backup. In my case I am using a MySQL server. The way I am doing it is first performing a mysqldump and then backing this file up. I have written a small helper script in perl that is kicked off by a cron job.

I use for quite a while now and it is working very nicely. As a starting point I published the backup wrapper script on github.

DTerm – A Terminal at Your Fingertips for Mac OS X

Sometimes it would be great if one could just enter a command in the terminal which is related to the directory of the file you are working on: send it to a server via scp, build a tar.gz archive, compile it or open another file. These are all operations which have also a graphical “nice” way of executing it, but leaving your hands on the keyboard can be so much faster.

The tool, which provides a system-wide access to the terminal is DTerm. It has been around for some time, as it has been released in 2008, but it was mentioned recently in the very nice mobileMac podcast (german) I like a lot. The application is free.

So what is it all about? With DTerm you define a hotkey (standard is Command-Shift-Return), which will overlay a window with a text field which accepts terminal commands. They will be executed in the same directory as your frontmost application. DTerm is useful if you for example would like to open another document in the same folder: just press DTerm’s hotkey, enter open then the beginning of the file and press the tabulator key to show a completion list of all the files in the directory. Choose the file and press enter and it is opened with its associated application. Another useful shortcut is open . which opens the current directory in the Finder. If you are familiar with a terminal on a *NIX based system now is the time to use all of your terminal hacks everywhere in your workflow without touching the Terminal application.



DTerm homepage

New Highlighting Support in PasteBinIt

There is a new beta of PasteBinIt available with a nice feature: highlighting support. This means that you can click in the line number gutter of the code view to set a marker that will show up in the pastebin as a yellow marked line

In addition some UI tweaks have been made such as listing the 5 most recent syntax highlightings at the top of the menu.

Get the update here or use the integrated updater if you have already downloaded version 0.2-2.

Getting started

Having my server up and running, WordPress installed in a way I like it, I am getting started with my new web page.

Until now nothing interesting can be found here, however after finding and adapting the right theme for me I will be blogging about technical stuff and my programming projects here.

Hope you will enjoy it.