How to do the file navigation efficiently

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CREATED: <2014-06-15>

UPDATED: <2015-02-21 Sat>

The solutin is based on the ideas of top geeks. I only did the implementation.

Mendel Cooper provided the original design in Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide. Masafumi Oyamada (AKA mooz) added the missing piece by creating percol.

1 Problem

How to find full path of a file by fuzz search?

The path should be shared easily to other application like Emacs.

2 Installation

2.1 Step 1, Install percol

Download the package and extract it. Place the sub-directory named "percol/" into the directory "~/bin". Rename the program "percol" in sub-directory "bin" into "". Put the also into "~/bin".

2.2 Step 2, Insert below code into ~/.bashrc:

[ $(uname -s | grep -c CYGWIN) -eq 1 ] && OS_NAME="CYGWIN" || OS_NAME=`uname -s`
function pclip() {
    if [ $OS_NAME == CYGWIN ]; then
        putclip $@;
    elif [ $OS_NAME == Darwin ]; then
        pbcopy $@;
        if [ -x /usr/bin/xsel ]; then
            xsel -ib $@;
            if [ -x /usr/bin/xclip ]; then
                xclip -selection c $@;
                echo "Neither xsel or xclip is installed!"

# search the file and pop up dialog, then put the full path in clipboard
function baseff()
    local fullpath=$*
    local filename=${fullpath##*/} # remove "/" from the beginning
    filename=${filename##*./} # remove  ".../" from the beginning
    # Only the filename without path is needed
    # filename should be reasonable
    local cli=`find . -not -iwholename '*/vendor/*' -not -iwholename '*/bower_components/*' -not -iwholename '*/node_modules/*' -not -iwholename '*/target/*' -not -iwholename '*.svn*' -not -iwholename '*.git*' -not -iwholename '*.sass-cache*' -not -iwholename '*.hg*' -type f -path '*'${filename}'*' -print | ~/bin/`
    # convert relative path to full path
    echo $(cd $(dirname $cli); pwd)/$(basename $cli)

function ff()
    local cli=`baseff $*`
    #echo ${cli} | sed 's%^'${HOME}'%~%'
    #echo -n ${cli}  | sed 's%^'${HOME}'%~%' | pclip
    echo ${cli}
    echo -n ${cli} | pclip

function cf()
    local cli=`baseff $*`
    local p=`cygpath -w $cli`
    echo ${p}
    echo -n ${p} | pclip;

`cf` is similar to `ff`. It will output Windows path under cygwin.

3 Usage

Type "ff partials-of-file-path" in shell. A filter window popups. You can filter and scroll down/up to select one file. The full path will be copied into system clipboard automatically (under Linux, either xsel or xclip are required for clipboard access).

The paritials-of-file-path could contain wildcard character.

For example, for "/home/cb/projs/web-portal/app/styles/bootstrap/main.css", you can type either of below command:

ff .../grunt-docs/*bootstrap*css
ff web-port*ma*css
ff styles

Here is the screen shot when I type "ff el" in my ~/.emacs.d: use-ff-in-shell.png

You will notice that I input the string "inflect" to filter the result.

I can scroll up/down (press Ctrl-P or Ctrl-N) to select the exact file.

In Emacs community, people try to embed a file explorer into Emacs (Sr speedbar, for example). This solution may make embedded file explorer unnecessary.

4 Advanced usage

More examples follow.

4.1 Search the bash history.

Code to insert ~/.bashrc:

function h () {
    # reverse history, pick up one line, remove new line characters and put it into clipboard
    if [ -z "$1" ]; then
        history | sed '1!G;h;$!d' | ~/bin/ | sed -n 's/^ *[0-9][0-9]* *\(.*\)$/\1/p'| tr -d '\n' | pclip
        history | grep "$1" | sed '1!G;h;$!d' | ~/bin/ | sed -n 's/^ *[0-9][0-9]* *\(.*\)$/\1/p'| tr -d '\n' | pclip

Though grep is quick enough for me, it can be replaced by Silver Searcher.

Screenshot: use-h-in-shell.png

4.2 Select a file in git commit

Code to insert ~/.bashrc:

function glsf () {
    local str=`git --no-pager log --oneline --stat $* |  ~/bin/`
    if [[ $str =~ ^[[:space:]]*([a-z0-9A-Z_.\/-]*).*$ ]]; then
        echo -n ${BASH_REMATCH[1]} |pclip;
        echo ${BASH_REMATCH[1]}

Screenshot: use-glsf-in-shell.png

5 Summary

The key idea is that I have full freedom to get job done in any way. Emacs is nothing more than a tool to help me achieve more power and more freedom. For example, I find mooz's percol because I like his Emacs plugin js2-mode and I want to check his other works.

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