Using my command history to decide some aliases

February 11, 2020
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4 min read

Today I finally decided to set up some aliases to make my life easier in the terminal, however I was not so sure what would be most useful for me. There are a lot of resources out there with collections of aliases, but everyone's workflow is different - plus there are commands that I use just for the project I'm currently working on.

The shell I use is zshell, which has a stored history of all the commands I have ever typed in the .zsh_history file, there is a similar file for other shells. I decided to take a little dive into this history to see which commands I was using the most, then make some aliases based on that.

The history file

Opening the history file from here code ~/.zsh_history, the file looks something like this with thousands of lines for me:

: 1580312682:0;docker-compose up -d
: 1574942146:0;git rebase -i HEAD~2
: 1575637243:0;git push -u origin hotfix/edge_bugs
: 1575637313:0;git checkout master
: 1575637328:0;git checkout -b hotfix/autocomplete
: 1581072502:0;cd ../
: 1581072502:0;ls
: 1575637359:0;git cherry-pick 3538df76a00a16aa04190d075
...

Some very basic analysis

I decided to try to take all of those commands and count how many times I had used each one, then sort them by most used - just to get a basic look at what I was typing the most.

I made a quick nodejs script to do this. First reading the file, splitting each line into an array and removing the timestamp from the beginning. Then finally rewriting the file back into a text file in the same directory.

const path = require("path");
const fs = require("fs");

const historyFile = path.join(process.env["HOME"], ".zsh_history");

fs.readFile(historyFile, "utf8", (err, buffer) => {
  const commands = buffer.split("\n").map((line) => line.substring(15));

  const output = commands.join("\n");
  fs.writeFile("result.txt", output, () => {
    console.log("Success");
  });
});

From the directory, running node analyse.js this outputs a list of commands with no timestamps on them in a new text file in the same directory. Great.

Next I needed to group and count all the commands, with some slight refactoring of the code:

// count all instances of each command
const counts = {};
buffer.split("\n").forEach((line) => {
  const command = line.substring(15);
  counts[command] = counts[command] || 0;
  counts[command]++;
});

// convert into a sorted list of commands
const output = Object.entries(counts)
  .sort(([, countA], [, countB]) => countB - countA)
  .map(([command, count]) => `${count} | ${command}`)
  .join("\n");

This outputs the sorted list, which looks something like this:

118 | cd ../
114 | code .
114 | git push
93 | git pull
92 | yarn middleware
80 | yarn
79 | git add .
67 | yarn start --reset-cache
66 | docker-compose exec php-fpm bash
...
1 | git merge develop_SIT-608
1 | git merge develop_SIT-611
1 | git merge develop_SIT-615

The top of the list contains the most obvious commands I type all the time, but towards the bottom there are the things I use a lot but aren't unique (eg: git merge, git checkout, etc). This could be made more accurate by adding a fuzzy search but I thought it was fun just to scan over the list and get a general idea.

Creating the aliases

To add an alias you need to edit the config file for your shell. For zshell that's the .zshrc file, for bash it's the .bashrc file. From looking at my command usage I decided on just a few that were going to make my life easier:

# Misc helpers
alias pr="cd ~/projects"
alias yarnclean="rm -rf node_modules && yarn"

#[company] helpers
alias rdw="cd ~/projects/[company]-web"
alias rdc="cd ~/projects/[company]-cms"
alias sda="cd ~/projects/[company]-app"
alias ym="yarn middleware"
alias cp="docker-compose exec php-fpm clean-pimcore"

# Git helpers
alias gclean="git remote prune origin && git branch -vv | grep ': gone]' | awk '{print $1}' | xargs git branch -d"
alias gps="git push"
alias gpsu="gps -u origin HEAD"

alias gpl="git pull"
alias gplo="git pull origin" #branch-name
alias gplod="gplo develop"

alias gc="git checkout"
alias gb="gc -b"
alias gcd="gc develop"

What's best for me isn't necessarily best for everyone else. For example, I like to do my commits from the vscode git diff screen because it's more obvious to me what's happening in my commits from there. As such I don't really need any git add or git commit aliases to speed up my workflow, but somebody else would. This applies to all kinds of ways your workflow is personal to you.

Having used just these few for a day or so now I can really feel the difference.

Ryan Dunn

Ryan Dunn is a front-end developer with over ten years experience from Manchester U.K.
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