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Author image Thomas Sibley 🚲
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App::RecordStream::Manual::Story - A humorous introduction to recs


This was a humorous article written to give an introduction to the RecordStream tools, please read with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

And So It Begins

Every ninja knows the value of tools. How could one accomplish anything without a mouse quenched in the blood of a live and willing dragon or a monitor whose CRT is hewn from a single enormous diamond, formed in the fire of Hades? Indeed, most ninja scholars agree unanimously that the hundred-handed conference room reservation prana cannot be done with out a keyboard each key of which is greased with the blood of a different enemy of your ancestors'.

Given that you have already collected the 12 ancient swords of the sun and the IBM Model M keyboard, you must now choose wisely which to use in each of your challenges. When one wrestles Leviathan one does not do it with chopsticks.

Similarly, when a ninja faces a complex dataset they do not come at it with grep (well, many times you start with grep). The true ninja runs atop the cubicle dividers, slaughtering all until the dataset is rendered meaningless. code ninjas use recs.

On the first day, we analyzed an access log

Say you have only seconds to report URL statistics from an apache access log before the ancient sea wyrm of Atlantis raises from the Puget Sound and destroys Seattle entirely. Then you might type something like this:

  recs-frommultire --re 'latency=TIME: (\d*)' --re 'method,url="([^" ]*) ([^" ?]*)' access.log \
    | recs-xform '$r->{url} =~ s/(get\.cgi)\/.*/$1/;' \
    | recs-collate -k url --perfect -a 'avg,latency' -a count \
    | recs-sort -k 'avg_latency=-n' \
    | head -n 5 \
    | recs-totable 

Scared yet? A proper tool should always inspire fear in the weak. With appropriate mastery, you too can learn to banish ancient horrors using recs. But one does not learn recs-jitsu all at once; one must learn it kata by kata.

First one must understand the principles and overall form of this arcane art. Recs, or RecordStream is a collection of scripts that facilitates the parsing of files into JSON records and the transformation of those records. Many common UNIX programs like grep, sort, and uniq have recs analogs and several recs scripts allow transformations unheard of using typical UNIX tools. In general the tools fall into three categories: those that produce JSON records, those that operate on JSON records, and those that convert JSON records into output. A typical use of recs will consist of one of the first type, one, or more of the second type, and one of the third type. To begin using recs, you'll have to decide on how to get your data into JSON. There are several scripts available to do this, one of the most powerful of which is recs-frommultire. It allows you to write multiple regular expressions to capture fields.

recs-frommultire - parsing data into JSON

To understand how our invocation of recs-frommultire was written, you'll want to see our access log. Here are four sample lines: - - [10/Sep/2007:01:01:55 -0700] "GET /view_image.cgi?uid=bernard&badge=1 HTTP/1.1" 200 3528 TIME: 0 - - [10/Sep/2007:01:02:28 -0700] "GET /x.gif HTTP/1.1" 304 - TIME: 0 - - [10/Sep/2007:01:02:32 -0700] "GET /dbfiles/get.cgi/data.xml HTTP/1.1" 200 7338 TIME: 1 - - [10/Sep/2007:01:02:41 -0700] "GET /helpdesk.html HTTP/1.1" 200 40 TIME: 1

For reference the invocation was:

  recs-frommultire --re 'latency=TIME: (\d*)' --re 'method,url="([^" ]*) ([^" ?]*)' access.log

The first option specifies one field, named "latency" which is the only capture group of the first regular expression. The second option specifies two fields, named "method" and "url" which are the two capture groups of the second regular expression. The final argument is the file to parse. Each regular expression is run against each line. When a field would be duplicated, all matches so far are flushed as a record.

The output from recs-frommultire looks like:


recs-xform - arbitrary manipulation of records

JSON is mostly human readable and as you can see each record has three fields, "url", "method", and "latency". Unfortunately "url" isn't quite as we want it. As it stands the key for get.cgi requests is included in the URL but that will mess up our statistics so we'd like to get rid of it which brings us to our next stage in the pipeline:

  recs-xform '$r->{url} =~ s/(get\.cgi)\/.*/$1/;'

recs-xform is both simple and powerful: it executes arbitrary, inline perl on each record. The record is represented as a App::RecordStream::Record object in the scalar $r, but all the fields can be accessed as if it were no more than a hashref. In this case we are using a substitution command to strip the key off of get.cgi requests. At this point our data is ready to be aggregated and made into statistics.

recs-collate - Generate aggregate statistics

recs-collate -k url --perfect -a avg,latency -a count

recs-collate is the crown jewel of recs analysis. It groups records from input together, computes aggregate information about them, and dumps this aggregate information as output records. "-k url" requests that records be grouped by their "url" field. "--perfect" indicates that they should be grouped together even if they are not adjacent in input (adjacent only is the default). "-a avg,latency" requests that the average aggregator be used on the latency field. "-a count" requests that the count aggregator be used.

Aggregators are one of the most powerful features of recs. As of writing there are 21 distinct aggregators ready for use. Some of the most powerful are:

  average: averages provided field
  count: counts (non-unique) records
  distinctcount: count unique values from provided field
  maximum: maximum value for a field
  percentile: value of pXX for field
  sum: sums provided field

You can find out what all of them are with `recs-collate --list-aggregators`.

Here are a few sample records from after the collate step:


recs-sort - ordering records in a stream

Now that the collation has been done the records have the numbers we desire, but they are neither in a useful order, nor a pretty format.

The first we rectify with recs-sort:

recs-sort -k 'avg_latency=-n'

We have specified that the records are to be sorted by their avg_latency field and they are to be sorted numerically, descending (negative n)

recs-totable - pretty output of data

Finally, we convert JSON back to something slightly more human readable:

head -n 5 | recs-totable

Since JSON records are one to a line, we can use good ol' UNIX head to take the 5 top offenders. And we use recs-totable to convert those top ten to a nicely formatted text table:

  avg_latency         ct     url
  -----------------   ----   -----------------------
  21.0909090909091    11     /dbfiles/list.cgi
  1.36368901114811    6907   /view_image.cgi
  1.02898550724638    345    /helpdesk.html
  1                   1      /dbfiles/
  0.727272727272727   11     /linkGenerator/Host.cgi

And so it ends

When faced with awesome prowess like this, what can a 346-foot, 26000-ton sea monster from beyond the stars do but slink back to its cave and bide its time beneath downtown Seattle?

Should you find yourself locked in mortal combat with a unspeakable horror of your own you can always turn to --help. All recs scripts come equipped with detailed usage instructions triggered by the --help option. You can also turn to `man recs` (if the man file is installed correctly)