Daniel Rodríguez
{ "tags" : [ "english" , "linux" , "opensource" , "technology" , "tmux" , "vim" , "xmacro" ] , "title" : "Tasks Automation with XMacro" }

So it's time to make a more technical post.

If you're looking for tmux macros and you use Xorg, you will need this tip.


Install xmacro, record some commonly made actions, edit the recorded file to polish times and actions, make a script to reproduce them again and voilà, macros for any window manager using Xorg, easy to use from vim or tmux.

The story

I've been playing with linux for many years now. Like any typical user, I started with user friendly distributions, first Mandriva, then Ubuntu, then Mandriva again, then OpenSUSE, CentOS, Fedora, Arch Linux and now Manjaro, which is built on top of Arch and has a ready to use Net Edition. Just what I was looking for (check it out here).

So, while you're in Linux and you get all excited about being able to be very exquisit with which applications you are going to use (in matter of performance and low consumption), you'll end up using the terminal a lot. That's what I did, first using alsamixer to control the sound, then nano to edit files, then vim, as well as music players like mocp, IRC clients like irssi, email clients like mutt, then you might begin using xterm instead of any other fancy gtk terms, also you might switch from Gnome to OpenBox, and later to DWM, which could end up being your favorite one, because nothing is going to be so fast and simple. Then maybe you're too lazy to set up a background image each time you're setting up a machine, or like me, you get so uncomfortable selecting an image that you prefer to have none, and finally you end just using conky to give it a fancy style, but keeping things minimal, etc etc... well, the point is that you start to use the terminal a lot. Fine.

My current desktop.

Now, every time you open your computer to start working with a project, you open several terminals, maybe using TMUX, in some of them you run several applications, like databases, web servers, or your editor; you load your vim sessions to open all your needed files and then you start working, you do this some days and you feel fine, but eventually you begin to think that maybe you could be doing that automatically, because it's tedious to be opening the same stuff again and again and again and again...

For many years, I've encountered persons that asked me if I knew a way of scripting tmux to open several terminals and load your programs, or if there was a way of making macros with tmux, but I was unable to answer properly, I said: well, yes, in principle you can start tmux's server and tell it to load several applications, but it's not an automatic process, I mean, you can't just record your actions to play them again, you have to make the script and change it as you want new things to happen. I never explored the possibilities of that approach, but it looks so cumbersome that everyone I know ended up just doing things by hand and that's it.

Until now, ladies and gentlemen I present you: xmacro.


For Arch Linux users, xmacro is available in the AUR:

Essentially, xmacro records your pressed keys and saves them to a file. To run it, see the line below:

xmacrorec2 > myrecording

Once you call it, first you'll have to pick a quit-key (<Esc> is fine), then whatever you do will be recorded: moving your mouse, clicking, pressing any key, etc. Do some stuff, then press the quit-key, and you'll be able to replicate that behavior with the following command:

xmacroplay "$DISPLAY" < myrecording

Let's check myrecording file to see what we've got. As you'll see below, it looks very much like the output of xbindkeys -mk (after you click some keys there):

MotionNotify 949 749
KeyStrPress Alt_L
Delay 147
KeyStrPress 2
KeyStrRelease 2
KeyStrRelease Alt_L
Delay 783
KeyStrPress Alt_L
Delay 110
KeyStrPress 1
KeyStrRelease 1
KeyStrRelease Alt_L
Delay 2351
MotionNotify 918 536
ButtonPress 1
Delay 100
ButtonRelease 1
Delay 2396
MotionNotify 628 378
ButtonPress 1
Delay 100
ButtonRelease 1
Delay 1593
KeyStrPress Control_L
Delay 79
KeyStrPress c

In the previous code, first you see MotionNotify, which indicates the position of the cursor, then you can see that I pressed Alt_L, waited 147 milliseconds, then pressed 2, then released 2, then released Alt_L (Alt_L+2 sends you to the second desktop in DWM). The rest of the file consists of the same type of actions. It's fairly easy to edit (just remember to keep it clean of empty lines, empty lines produce errors). If you want to reproduce that again, but going to the third desktop instead, yo could change KeyStrPress 2 and KeyStrRelease 2 for KeyStrPress 3 and KeyStrRelease 3 respectively.

Fair enough, now you know a way of recording and replaying macros in X, and it's also very easy to customize. Now let's make it more practical.

An use-case

Let's define an use-case:

I, as an user, want to be able to open a new tab in tmux, and to cd to the directory in which my current active file in vim is located.

To follow the process with me, you'll need to have changed the behavior of tmux to work like vim, so please add the following lines to your .tmux.conf:

# vim keys
set-window-option -g mode-keys vi
bind-key -t vi-copy 'v' begin-selection
bind-key -t vi-copy 'y' copy-selection
bind-key h select-pane -L
bind-key j select-pane -D
bind-key k select-pane -U
bind-key l select-pane -R

I'm also using the default <Ctrl+b> behavior of tmux, so make sure you DON'T have lines like the followings in your ~/.tmux.conf:

unbind C-b
set -g prefix C-a
bind C-a send-prefix

So, how would you answer the use-case we stated? you could, for example, expand your current path with vim, typing :!# %:p:h and then pressing tab:

:!# %:p:h
:!# /home/youruser/your/path/

Then, as the use-case states, we're in tmux, so we can select that text pressing <Ctrl+b>[, it will stop rendering the terminal, and it will let you move over or select the rendered text, but starting from the point your cursor was before pressing those keys. So, as we set it to work like vim, now we can press 0 to go to the beginning of the line, then press 4l to move to the beginning of the path, then press v to start the selection, then press $ to go to the end of the line and now press y to copy the text to tmux's buffer. Finally press <Ctrl+c> to get out of tmux's special behavior.

Now, we press <Ctrl+b>c to open a new tab, in which we write cd and we paste tmux's buffer with <Ctrl+]>. That way we complete the use-case.

Manually opening a new tab in tmux, and changing to the directory in which my current active file in vim is located.

As you see, it's a complex process, even if you have done it so many times you can do it without thinking, it requires lots of key presses and it's error-prone, because you can miss keys and end up doing something else.

So let's automate it!

Automating the use-case

First, let's make a directory at home to store our macros, let's call it ~/.xmacros.

An easy (but wrong) way of doing this automation is to call xmacrorec2 > ~/.xmacros/vim_tmux_cd_newtab.macro (you can change the file name if you want) from another window (or terminal), then to switch to the one where you have tmux and vim, then to do the process above, and end the recording pressing the quit-key. Now, each time you want to do it, you'll have to switch to another window/terminal and run xmacroplay on it. This is not the preferred way, right? what if we make it possible from vim directly? Let's try it.

Let's edit vim_tmux_cd_newtab.macro to remove the window switching, just remove some of the first lines, they look like this:

KeyStrPress Alt_L
KeyStrPress 1
KeyStrRelease 1
KeyStrRelease Alt_L

(That was how I switch desktops).

You can also eliminate all the lines with Delay. Make sure it is exactly what you want before going to the next steps. The one that I'm using is the following:

If you try calling xmacroplay from vim, make sure to call it as follows:

:exec "!xmacroplay \"$DISPLAY\" < ~/.xmacros/vim_tmux_cd_newtab.macro &"

(the key points are "$DISPLAY" and the last &).

That's a way to do it. You'll probably prefer to set it in a mapping, but as the command is in double quotes, imagine trying to call another of your macros, you'll need to write it manually instead of being able to press tab until you reach your preferred.

An alternative could be to make a bash script and add it to your $PATH, that way you'll be able to call it from vim and complete the paths with <Tab>, just like we completed %:p:h.

This bash script is very simple, here's my approach, I call it run_xmacro:

(cd ~/; xmacroplay "$DISPLAY" < $1 > /dev/null 2>&1 &)

To use this script, be sure you give it execution rights with: chmod +x, then you can make a mapping to call it, put this in your .vimrc or in the file where you put the mappings (I use ~/.vim/plugin/mappings.vim);

nmap <Tab>m :!run_xmacro ~/.xmacros/

(I use <Tab> a lot, so <Tab>m is the first thing that came to mind, change it to fit your needs.)

Ok, so we're done! Now just press <Tab>m, the command will appear in vim, then you'll be able to press tab again and loop over all your xmacros! Click on one and it will run flawlessly.

Automatically opening a new tab in tmux, and changing to the directory in which my current active file in vim is located.

Done, now it's time to get creative and build your own macros, automate your workflow to speed up your daily life!

If you need any help please ping me @sadasant. (Just request to follow, if I forget to accept, send me an email).

// I made the gifs with tty2gif

Update: I actually found a very nice way to do that example with less work, just add this to your vim configs:

nmap <Tab>bc  :call system('tmux new-window -F "#S" -c "'.expand('%:p:h').'"')<cr>

And you'll be able to open a new tab in tmux with <Tab>bc :)

More here.

by-nc-sa Daniel Rodríguez.