Saturday, October 9, 2010

My config secrets

Warning: unix geeky post ahead. You have been warned.

There are a couple of config options I always set up on a fresh account. These settings tend to blow people's minds (slightly) when they see them. So I'll share them here now for posterity.

There are two things, or I should say, there are two bits of config in two different user config files each that I always use, and they're just insanely useful but no one else to my knowledge has ever discovered them. Get ready.

mysql client config

If you're like me, or are like my former self, you may have a bunch of mysql clients open to a bunch of different mysql servers and databases.

Every single one of these windows looks like:


If you're like me it's awfully hard to remember which client is connected to which server. I often would log out of a client only to log back in again because I didn't know where I was connected.

I'm about to solve this problem for you forever with a little config change.

It's little known that you can create a user config for the mysql client and the other mysql util clients. Create a file called .my.cnf in your user directory. The mysql client uses the same config parser as the server so you have to create a section called [mysql] in order for it to pick up the settings.

Add the following line:

prompt="\u@\h/\d> "

When you log in using the mysql client again, it will look something like this:


\u is user, \d is database, of course. You can find all of the options near the end of this page of the manual.

The second bit of config I put in the user mysql config is to set a pager. Sometimes if you execute a large query it will flood your terminal, exploding your buffer and maybe making your terminal unresponsive, frightening your children, etc.

The way you can fix this is to set a pager. You can set it to less but then it will page all of your queries, even the very short ones, and this quickly gets annoying. The secret is the -FX flags to less, which will tell it to exit and print everything to stdout if the buffer is less than one window high, which behaves beautifully. Add pager="less -FX" to your config.

Your complete ~/.my.cnf should look like:

prompt="\u@\h/\d> "
pager="less -FX"


There's this library that bash, mysql and a million other command line shells use called readline. The python shell can use it but it requires some other jiggering that I don't feel like looking up right now. Anyway what's convenient about readline is that you can configure it in one place and all of your different shell programs will obey the same config.

This config should be placed at ~/.inputrc .

First, add the line:

set completion-ignore-case on

This will enable enhanced auto-complete, so if you type cd docu and press tab it will autocomplete Documents even though it is in a different case. It's kind of silly that bash should be case-sensitive on a case-insensitive file system.

Next, the more interesting part:

"\C-b" backward-word
"\C-f" forward-word

These settings will make it so that control-B will move the cursor back a whole word and control-F will move it forward a whole word. By default these key combinations just move it forward or backword a single character, perhaps vestigial from an era where many keyboards didn't have arrow keys. Being able to move about by word is much more useful especially if you're working with a long command or sql statement. There's lots of other configuration you can give readline like deleting words, adding surrounding quotes, but this is all I usually do. You should already know that control-A and control-E will move you to the beginning and end of line in almost all readline-enabled shell programs.

So those are my config secrets. Insanely useful, yet seemingly no-one seems aware they are even possible. I hope they embiggen your unix computing experience.