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msync Manual

A low bandwidth store and forward Mastodon client

Hello! Welcome to the manual for msync, a store and forward command line Mastodon API client. msync is a piece of software with some quirks, but also some (in my opinion) really cool and powerful functionality, so a manual can be a real help. You dont have to read this from top to bottom- feel free to skim the table of contents or ctrl-F for a word or phrase related to what you want to do. Or, feel free to get ahold of me on Mastodon at @BestGirlGrace@my.hypnovir.us.

The rest of this document will say "Mastodon", but Pleroma should work just as well. I do some cursory testing against Pleroma, but not quite as much as I do Mastodon. They implement much the same API, and msync tries its best not to rely on Mastodonisms.

How to start using msync

Installing

Once you've compiled, ordered, or downloaded msync (see README.md), you have a few options:

  • leave it where it is and use it in place, or copy it to a folder in your home directory and use it from there.
  • copy the compiled msync executable to somewhere in your $PATH.
  • if you're on a Debian-like system, run sudo dpkg -i msync-<version>-Linux.deb, which will install msync into /usr/bin.

Any of these options work, but please read the note about msync_accounts below. If you downloaded or purchased a prebuilt release, your executable will be called something like msync-v0.9.5-install-linux-x64-gcc. Download the release for your operating system and architecture, and see below for the difference between portable and install builds. Feel free to rename it to simply msync or whatever else you like. The rest of this manual will assume that your executable can be invoked simply by typing msync at the command line, and you can add a leading ./ or trailing .exe as appropriate.

A note about msync_accounts

msync stores its information (account settings, downloaded posts, queued posts, etc.) in a directory named msync_accounts. By default, msync creates and looks for this directory in the same directory as the executable. If you downloaded a release with install in the name, installed msync from the .deb package, or configured msync with -DMSYNC_USER_CONFIG=ON, then msync will create msync_accounts in the conventional place for your platform:

  • On Windows, this is something like C:\Users\username\AppData\Local.
  • On Linux and OSX, this is the XDG_CONFIG_HOME environment variable, if set, and ~/.config otherwise.

I recommend this "install" approach over the same-directory-as-executable approach.

You can see where your msync_accounts directory is by running msync location. You can see what flags your msync was compiled with, including MSYNC_USER_CONFIG, by running msync version.

Setting up your account

msync isn't very useful until you have an account. To do this, make sure you can access the internet and run:

msync new --account yourusername@instance.egg

This will register msync with your instance and give you a URL to visit in your browser. Go to that URL, log in if needed, click 'authorize', and copy the authorization code it gives you. msync will give you onscreen instructions as to what to do next. Notice that the --account (or -a, for short) switch always goes at the end. Putting it earlier won't work!

Once you see Done! You're ready to start using this account, you're ready to go. msync has just created an msync_accounts directory, either in the same directory as itself or in a system-specific location. You can find out which by running msync location. Keep this somewhere safe, because it now contains a password-equivalent access token! This msync_accounts directory contains everything msync knows: your account name, your settings, anything you've queued but haven't sent, and, once you synchronize with the server, it will contain local copies of your notifications and home timeline. To move, copy, or back up your msync installation to another computer, simply copy that msync_accounts folder.

A note on multiple accounts

If you want to add another account, msync can handle as many accounts as you're willing to throw at it. Run msync new --account anotherusername@some.instance and follow the on-screen instructions for each account you'd like to add. Most of msync's commands only operate on one account at a time, so you'll have to specify an account with the --account or -a switch if you have more than one. Only msync sync and the account-listing part of msync config showall will work without specifying an account.

When running with multiple accounts, you only have to specify the shortest unique prefix of an account to select it. For example, if you have two accounts, SomeCoolGirl@crime.egg and HeyAnotherPerson@illegal.egg, registered with msync, you only have to specify -a s or -a h to choose the account. Note that the search is also case-insensitive. So, to queue a post for the SomeCoolGirl account, use:

msync queue post new_post -a s

And to show all settings for the HeyAnotherPerson account, use:

msync config showall -a h

However, if your accounts were SomeCoolGirl@crime.egg and SomebodyOnce@Toldme.egg, you would have to specify:

msync queue post new_post -a somec

or

msync sync --max-requests 6 -a someb

In msync versions 0.9.9 and later, you can use msync config default --account accountname to set that account as the default. This uses the same prefix rule as every other command, so accountname can be reduced to any unambiguous prefix. If an account is set as the default, it will be used as the argument for all commands that would normally throw an error if no account is specified, such as queue and config. Note that sync will always interpret a missing account flag as "sync all accounts". Running msync config default with no account specified will ensure no accounts are marked as default.

Note that the -a flag must always go last, after all other flags and arguments.

Note also that msync sync doesn't have to take an --account flag. You can use msync sync with an account to sync only that account, or omit the account flag to sync all your accounts.

Tab completion, described below, can help by autocompleting account names.

To remove an account from msync, simply delete its folder from msync_accounts.

How to use msync

When I say msync is a store and forward client. What this means is that msync lets you queue stuff up while you're not connected to the internet, and then sync up later. msync will only connect to the internet when you run msync new or msync sync. Everything else simply manipulates settings or queues that are kept locally on your machine. msync is for everyone, but it's designed for:

  • Unreliable, slow, or not always-on internet connections.
  • Computers or connections that can't handle the Mastodon web frontend.
  • Systems that run "headless" or otherwise can't use a graphical Mastodon client.
  • Anyone who prefers to use a keyboard.
  • Use in automated scripts.

Tab completion

msync comes with tab completion for bash and zsh. To use it, simply source msync_completion.sh in your .bashrc, .zshrc, or equivalent. There's more advice in the file itself, at scripts/msync_completion.sh.

Man page

Running msync without any arguments or msync help will print msync's help information in man page format.

The home timeline and notifications

After your account is set up, running msync sync --verbose will connect to your instance and, if all is well, start downloading notifications and statuses. The --verbose is optional (and can be shortened to -v), but it will make msync tell you where to find the downloaded timeline and notifications. These will be stored at msync_accounts/[username@instance.url]/home.list and msync_accounts/[username@instance.url]/notifications.list, respectively. You can locate your msync_accounts folder at any time by running msync location. There's a lot of ways you can look at these files, but the important things to know the process are:

  • msync does not care about the contents of these files. It simply appends posts and notifications to them. You can delete these files, edit them, move them elsewhere, msync doesn't care.
  • When you first sync up, msync will get five chunks of statuses or notifications. On subsequent updates, msync will default to downloading until it's "caught up", and has downloaded everything since the last post it saw. To change this behavior, use the --max-requests <integer> option when calling msync sync.
  • Especially when using --max-requests, tell msync whether you want it to get the newest posts first or the oldest by using msync config sync (home|notifications) (newest|oldest|off)
  • If you plan on always syncing every message every time, instead of using --max-requests, I suggest using oldest instead of newest. When syncing oldest-first, msync can write the messages to disk as they come in, letting you see the files update immediately AND not having to store every message in memory until the end. In addition, due to limitations on the Mastodon API, newest-first will only ever download the most recent 400 or so posts. For this reason, oldest-first is the default for syncing both the home timeline and notifications.
  • Note that you can also not sync a timeline at all with msync config sync home off
  • If you don't care about a specific type of notification, you can stop msync from retrieving them when you sync with msync config exclude_boosts true, and same for favs, follows, mentions, and polls. msync treats anything starting with a t, T, y, or Y as truthy, and everything else as falsy. So exclude_favs true, exclude_favs YES, and exclude_favs Yeehaw are equivalent.
  • I'll write more about configuration later, but for now, you can see all your settings and registered accounts with msync config showall.

Reading the home timeline, notifications, and bookmarks

Your home timeline, notifications, and bookmarks are saved into files named home.list, notifications.list, and bookmarks.list in your msync_accounts folder under the appropriate user account. You can find where these files are located by running msync location or msync sync --verbose. msync doesn't provide a built-in way to look at these files. It's designed so that you can use whatever tool you prefer for reading text files. Here's a few ways that work for me to get you started.

vim

I usually use msync while ssh'd into a Linux server. When I do, my program of choice is vim. You can open up every home timeline and notification list msync has in separate tabs like this:

vim -p `msync location`/**/*.list

If you're using Bash, you may have to run shopt -s globstar first.

After starting vim, I suggest you run :bufdo set autoread to quiet the annoying errors that pop up when you let msync modify the files while vim is running. Doing this might wind up putting one buffer over the one you currently have open, so consider doing this in an empty :tabe and running :q afterwards. So, when I start vim with my msync data in it, I usually start with:

:tabe
:bufdo set autoread
:q

Alternatively, you can simply add this line to your .vimrc.

set autoread

gt and gT move you forward and backwards through the tabs, respectively. Run msync commands like this:

:!msync sync

Or, to generate a new post and open it in its own tab:

:!msync gen
:tabe new_post

This is especially useful when you want to copy reply ids, users, and content warnings from an existing post into a reply.

You can move through each list with the usual vim movement keys. Page up and page down work fine, for example. To move one post or notification at a time, I either type /-------- (eight is the minimum number of dashes to not match the same separator twice) or simply position my cursor on one of the separators and press *. Once you do this, you can use n to go to the next post, and N to go to the previous post.

If you accidentally edit a file, use :e! to read it again from disk. When you're done with your session, :qa! will close all the tabs. And, of course, you can use ctrl-Z and fg to background and foreground vim if you prefer.

Downloading attachments

msync cannot display attachments on its own, but it will provide you with the URLs your mastodon instance stores attachments at. You can use a tool such as wget, aria2, or, on Windows, Invoke-WebRequest.

If you'd also like to download images, you can run a little shell script like the following after syncing. I recommend aria2, available from your Linux distribution's package manager or as a Windows binary, because it supports parallel downloads and doesn't leave the query string (that annoying ?1582789450 thing) in the filenames like wget does.

grep "^attached: " msync_accounts/username@instance.egg/home.list | sed 's/attached: //' | sort | uniq | aria2c -c -d downloaded_images -i -

Or, if you prefer wget:

grep "^attached: " msync_accounts/username@instance.egg/home.list | sed 's/attached: //' | sort | uniq | wget -c --content-disposition -P downloaded_images -i -

The --content-disposition flag here ensures wget fixes up the filename in some cases, but still leaves the query strings in the file name.

On Windows, you can use a pure Powershell solution like this:

New-Item -Type Directory downloaded_images;  Get-Content .\home.list | Select-String -Pattern "^attached: " | ForEach-Object { $_ -replace "^attached: ", "" } | Where-Object { !(Test-Path -Path "downloaded_images/$((Split-Path -Leaf $_).Split('?')[0])" -PathType Leaf) } | Sort-Object -Unique | ForEach-Object { Invoke-WebRequest -UseBasicParsing -Uri $_ -OutFile "downloaded_images/$((Split-Path -Leaf $_).Split('?')[0])" }

Invoke-WebRequest is pretty slow, though, so you should try using BITS if you have it:

New-Item -Type Directory downloaded_images;  Get-Content .\home.list | Select-String -Pattern "^attached: " | ForEach-Object { $_ -replace "^attached: ", "" } | Where-Object { !(Test-Path -Path "downloaded_images/$((Split-Path -Leaf $_).Split('?')[0])" -PathType Leaf) } | Sort-Object -Unique | ForEach-Object { New-Object psobject -Property @{Source = $_;Destination = "downloaded_images/$((Split-Path -Leaf $_).Split('?')[0])" } } | Start-BitsTransfer -TransferType Download

Or you can replace the last step in either of these chains with wget or aria2c, if you're willing to install those on Windows.

All of these skip downloading files you've already downloaded, so feel free to always run them after syncing- perhaps by saving them into a shell script and running msync sync; ./get_images.sh or whatever.

Queueing

To do other useful stuff with msync, you'll have to use queues. The msync queue command allows you to queue up favorites, boosts, bookmarks, and posts to be sent when you're back online.

To queue up favorites, run msync queue fav <any number of status IDs>. You can get these status IDs from downloaded posts and notifications. They're always on a line that starts with status id: in home.list and notifications.list- don't put any other ID numbers into this! Boosts are the same: msync queue boost <any number of status ids>

Note that for boosted posts, you typically want to interact with the original id instead of the status id. Boosted posts get a new ID number in the database, but the Mastodon API generally wants to work with the original ID. If your msync doesn't have an original id field, you'll want to update to the newest release.

If you accidentally favorited or boosted a toot you'd rather not have, run msync queue remove fav <any number of status IDs>. This works for favorites and boosts that you haven't sent yet (which will be removed immediately) and for ones that have already been sent (which will be removed the next time you msync sync).

You can check the status of your queues and see what will be sent next time you sync up with msync queue print.

If you want to just clear that queue, possibly because there's a typo'd ID in there- you can run msync queue clear fav (or boost or post or context).

Posts are a little different. You still queue them up to be sent when you next sync up, but there's an extra step involved. msync queue post <any number of file paths> takes, well, a number of file paths. The contents of these will be interpreted as text files and sent as posts when you msync sync up next. A few notes on posts:

  • I usually use msync gen to create files that I then fill with my posts. Run msync without any options to see all the switches that msync gen takes- these allow you to set privacy, content warnings, replies, and file attachments and descriptions. When I want to make a post with msync, I do this most of the time:
    msync gen
    vim new_post
    msync queue post new_post
    msync sync
  • The scripts folder has a file called quickpost.sh that helps automate this process for simple posts. Run source quickpost.sh to enable it. After it's been sourced, typing qpost at the shell will create a temporary file, open it in your $EDITOR and automatically enqueue it.

  • qpost takes the same command line arguments as msync gen. qpost -b "hello there" will open a post prefilled with hello there in the body. qpost --cw food will open a post already content-warned with food.

  • You need not use msync gen to generate post files. msync will happily queue and send any text file you pass to msync queue post.

  • msync queue post will copy the files you specify into your msync_accounts folder, so don't feel obligated to keep them around after you queue them.

  • msync does not copy attachments when you queue them. Attachment paths are converted to absolute file paths and uploaded in place when you msync sync up next.

  • msync supports image descriptions. The first description goes to the first attachment and so on. Descriptions without an image will generate a warning.

  • The --body option to msync gen can be useful, especially for prefilling someone's handle in the body of a post, but be careful- your shell might do unwanted things with characters like ! and $.

  • If you're replying to someone else's post, make sure you:

    • use the same (or whatever necessary) visibility setting- msync will default to whatever your account's default visibility setting is.
    • include their @ handle in the body
    • include a content warning, if needed
    • all in all, my msync command line when generating a reply usually looks like this:
    msync gen --privacy unlisted --reply-to 12345678 --body "@whoever@crime.egg" --cw "contains content" 
    
  • If you'd like to queue up a thread of posts all at once, you can use msync's reply ID feature. It works like this:

    • If you'd like to reply to a post, assign it a reply ID. You can do this by passing the --reply-id <id> option to msync gen. The ID can be any string, but for this to work, you must reproduce it exactly, including any spaces. I like to use first, second, third, and so on.
    • If you'd like a post to be a reply, pass the --reply-to <id> option to msync gen. There are two valid values for reply_to:
      • The status ID of a post that's already been published.
      • The reply_id of a post queued in front of this one.
    • Basically, when you run msync sync, your queued posts are sent as normal. If a post has a reply_id, after it's published, any posts with a reply_to equal to that reply_id will have their reply_to set to the actual published ID of that post. This will persist even if the subsequent post fails to send for some reason.
    • If a post has an invalid reply_to, the remote server won't accept it. You can edit the queued version of the post in msync_accounts/<username@instance.url>/queuedposts and sync again.
    • Starting with msync v0.9.9.9, posts queued without a reply ID will be automatically assigned one based on the filename.
  • If you see a post on your timeline and want to see the rest of the thread, you can queue up a request for context next time you sync. Use msync queue context <id> to have msync fetch all the posts before and after that one in the thread. Next time you msync sync, it'll fetch the post in question, as well as all the posts above and below it in the thread. This doesn't get everything- it won't fetch replies to other posts in the thread, for example- but it's useful for seeing what a reply is to or digging up the rest of a thread. Threads fetched like this are stored in msync_accounts/<username@instance.url>/threads as <status id>.list, so they get picked up if you use a wildcard to open your timelines like this:

vim -p `msync location`/**/*.list
  • If you fetch context for a the same thread at a later date, msync will automatically overwite the existing file to ensure you have the most recent version of the thread.

msync doesn't like my filename!

The command line parser library msync uses has a few edge cases. It seems to have issues parsing filenames that begin with the same prefix as a command msync uses. If you're trying to generate a file that starts with post or attach a file named favicon.png, the parser might get mad at you. I suggest renaming the file or, in the case of msync gen, entering a different name on the command line and updating it to the correct one in the generated file.

A note on UTF-8, Unicode, and Emoji

msync tries its best not to touch the bytes that it sends to or from the server. This means that posts are sent to the server and written to the local timelines as close to as is as possible. Emojis and other non-ASCII characters should work fine, as long as you send and read UTF-8. Some terminal emulators have a hard time displaying UTF-8, and you may wind up having to change some setting or use a different font. I know that running [Console]::OutputEncoding = [Text.UTF8Encoding]::UTF8 can help on Powershell, especially when it comes to specifying command line arguments that include non-ASCII characters. Note that characters may show weird on the terminal, but go over the wire fine.

If you want to test whether your terminal renders UTF-8, running msync yeehaw will attempt to print a cowboy emoji (🤠). If it shows up as garbled characters, you'll have to adjust your terminal's encoding settings. If your version of msync creates a msync.log in the current directory, you can test your file viewer of choice as well. I know that Powershell makes you pass the -Encoding utf8 option to commands such as Get-Content.

msync tries its best to do everything in UTF-8, which means that it expects all files that it reads and writes to be UTF-8. It will convert Windows command line arguments to UTF-8 internally, but ensuring that post files (such as those generated by msync gen) are UTF-8 (ideally without BOM) is up to you.

Versions of Windows before Windows 10 lack the UTF-8 locale support needed for msync to handle correctly turning UTF-8 strings into Windows native file paths. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, but you might run into issues with non-ASCII characters in paths. To know if your system is vulnerable to this, build the tests (don't run CMake with -DCMAKE_BUILD_TESTS=OFF), from the build directory, run .\tests\tests '[locale]'. If it starts printing garbage and telling you stuff failed, it means that you'll likely have issues with non-ASCII characters in paths. Everything else should work fine regardless, though.

I'd like a proper man page for my system

Man pages can be generated by running make_man_page.sh in the scripts directory. By default, make_man_pages.sh assumes msync is in your $PATH. If it isn't, provide a path to msync as the first argument. This requires pandoc to be installed. Alternatively, you can download a premade man page from the releases page.