Easily handle a sub-process with two-way pipes.
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Build Status Magritte

Magritte is a simple but powerful wrapper to Open3 pipes that makes it easy to handle two-way piping of data into and out of a sub-process. Various input IO wrappers are supported and output can either be to an IO or to a block. A simple line buffer class is also provided, to turn block writes to the output block into line-by-line output to make interacting with the sub-process easier.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

What it Does

You have a sub-command that you want to put data into and from which you want to retrieve the output, much like a Unix command line pipe. This is a non-trivial operation involving non-blocking reads and writes, the checking of the state of the input and output IOs, etc. Magritte abstracts all of that behind an easy to use, fluent interface.


Simplest Use Case

For purposes of showing a simple example, let's say you wanted to use the command line tool grep to filter some input data. Yes, you can do this natively in Ruby, but it's a trivial and easy to understand example. The normal use case would be wrapping an existing custom command line tool with Ruby.

But, back to grep. To store the output into a StringIO you could do the following:

buffer = StringIO.new
  .filtering_with('grep "relistan"')

This example will take the contents of some.txt and stream it through grep "relistan", storing the results in buffer.

String as Input

data   = "foo\nfoo\nrelistan\n"
buffer = StringIO.new

  .filtering_with('grep "relistan"')

This works as above, however the input has been taken from the data string rather than a file.

IO Stream as Input

buffer = StringIO.new
socket = Socket.new(xxx)

  .filtering_with('grep "relistan"')

Output to a Block

Rather than outputting the results to a stream, you can provide a block to out_to which will be invoked on each read of output data from the sub-process. This allows you to process the data in a stream-like manner without having to buffer all of the output and then process it

NOTE: Like a call to IO.write, the block must return the number of bytes processed. This is fed back to the buffering process to make sure that the next iteration of data will include any missed bytes when sent to your output block.

  .out_to { |data| $stdout.write data; data.size }
  .filtering_with('grep "relistan"')

Each block of data that was read from the stdout of the sub-process grep is passed to the out_to block. Note that this is a block of data of uncertain size, and will not end on nice line boundaries.

Line Buffering

When passing data into your block, it's often much easier to work on it if you can access it line-by-line rather than as a stream of data. Magritte supports this with a provided LineBuffer class that is wrapped into the API. You simply call line_by_line and your out_to block will be invoked on each line, one at a time. Note that when using the LineBuffer you do not need to specify the number of bytes written by your out_to block as the LineBuffer handles this for you.

  .out_to { |data| puts data }
  .filtering_with('grep "relistan"')

Note that line buffering does not apply to stream outputs, only to output blocks as there is generally no reason to do this with a stream.

Line Buffer with Arbitrary Record Separators

The default line ending character for the LineBuffer is the Unix linefeed '\n' character. You can, however, use any record separator you like. It is done like this (e.g. for Windows line endings):

  .out_to { |data| puts data }
  .filtering_with('grep "relistan"')

Exit Status

Magritte will raise an Errno::EPIPE in the event of a non-zero status code in the sub-process.


To simplify implementation, Magritte uses Open3.popen2e which combines stderr and stdout on the output stream. This means that in the event of an error in the sub-process, any output will be contained in the same output stream as the rest of the data. I've found that ordinarily this is what you want, but it might not work for all situations. If there is enough interest, I may implement a more complicated alternative later.

In line-by-line mode with an output block provded to .out_to, the output must provide a terminating record separator or the last line will not be passed to the block.


This software was written by Karl Matthias. The name was suggested by Gavin Heavyside. Magritte was developed with the support of MyDrive Solutions Limited.


This plugin is released under the BSD two clause license which is available in both the Ruby Gem and the source repository.