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I've got a logfile in the standard syslog format. It looks like this, except with hundreds of lines per second:

Jan 11 07:48:46 blahblahblah...
Jan 11 07:49:00 blahblahblah...
Jan 11 07:50:13 blahblahblah...
Jan 11 07:51:22 blahblahblah...
Jan 11 07:58:04 blahblahblah...

It doesn't roll at exactly midnight, but it'll never have more than two days in it.

I often have to extract a timeslice from this file. I'd like to write a general-purpose script for this, that I can call like:

$ timegrep 22:30-02:00 /logs/something.log

...and have it pull out the lines from 22:30, onward across the midnight boundary, until 2am the next day.

There are a few caveats:

  • I don't want to have to bother typing the date(s) on the command line, just the times. The program should be smart enough to figure them out.
  • The log date format doesn't include the year, so it should guess based on the current year, but nonetheless do the right thing around New Year's Day.
  • I want it to be fast -- it should use the fact that the lines are in order to seek around in the file and use a binary search.

Before I spend a bunch of time writing this, does it already exist?

share|improve this question

Update: I've replaced the original code with an updated version with numerous improvements. Let's call this (actual?)alpha-quality.

This version includes:

  • command-line option handling
  • command-line date format validation
  • some try blocks
  • line reading moved into a function

Original text:

Well what do you know? "Seek" and ye shall find! Here is a Python program that seeks around in the file and uses a more-or-less binary search. It's considerably faster than that AWK script that other guy wrote.

It's (pre?)alpha-quality. It should have try blocks and input validation and lots of testing and could no doubt be more Pythonic. But here it is for your amusement. Oh, and it's written for Python 2.6.

New code:

#!/usr/bin/env python
# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# by Dennis Williamson 20100113
# in response to

# thanks to serverfault user
# for the inspiration

# Perform a binary search through a log file to find a range of times
# and print the corresponding lines

# tested with Python 2.6

# TODO: Make sure that it works if the seek falls in the middle of
#       the first or last line
# TODO: Make sure it's not blind to a line where the sync read falls
#       exactly at the beginning of the line being searched for and
#       then gets skipped by the second read
# TODO: accept arbitrary date

# done: add -l long and -s short options
# done: test time format

version = "0.01a"

import os, sys
from stat import *
from datetime import date, datetime
import re
from optparse import OptionParser

# Function to read lines from file and extract the date and time
def getdata():
    """Read a line from a file

    Return a tuple containing:
        the date/time in a format such as 'Jan 15 20:14:01'
        the line itself

    The last colon and seconds are optional and
    not handled specially

        line = handle.readline(bufsize)
        print("File I/O Error")
    if line == '':
        print("EOF reached")
    if line[-1] == '\n':
        line = line.rstrip('\n')
        if len(line) >= bufsize:
            print("Line length exceeds buffer size")
            print("Missing newline")
    words = line.split(' ')
    if len(words) >= 3:
        linedate = words[0] + " " + words[1] + " " + words[2]
        linedate = ''
    return (linedate, line)
# End function getdata()

# Set up option handling
parser = OptionParser(version = "%prog " + version)

parser.usage = "\n\t%prog [options] start-time end-time filename\n\n\
\twhere times are in the form hh:mm[:ss]"

parser.description = "Search a log file for a range of times occurring yesterday \
and/or today using the current time to intelligently select the start and end. \
A date may be specified instead. Seconds are optional in time arguments."

parser.add_option("-d", "--date", action = "store", dest = "date",
                default = "",
                help = "NOT YET IMPLEMENTED. Use the supplied date instead of today.")

parser.add_option("-l", "--long", action = "store_true", dest = "longout",
                default = False,
                help = "Span the longest possible time range.")

parser.add_option("-s", "--short", action = "store_true", dest = "shortout",
                default = False,
                help = "Span the shortest possible time range.")

parser.add_option("-D", "--debug", action = "store", dest = "debug",
                default = 0, type = "int",
                help = "Output debugging information.\t\t\t\t\tNone (default) = %default, Some = 1, More = 2")

(options, args) = parser.parse_args()

if not 0 <= options.debug <= 2:
    parser.error("debug level out of range")
    debug = options.debug    # 1 = print some debug output, 2 = print a little more, 0 = none

if options.longout and options.shortout:
    parser.error("options -l and -s are mutually exclusive")

    parser.error("date option not yet implemented")

if len(args) != 3:
    parser.error("invalid number of arguments")

start = args[0]
end   = args[1]
file  = args[2]

# test for times to be properly formatted, allow hh:mm or hh:mm:ss
p = re.compile(r'(^[2][0-3]|[0-1][0-9]):[0-5][0-9](:[0-5][0-9])?$')

if not p.match(start) or not p.match(end):
    print("Invalid time specification")

# Determine Time Range
yesterday = date.fromordinal("%b %d")
today     ="%b %d")
now       ="%R")

if start > now or start > end or options.longout or options.shortout:
    searchstart = yesterday
    searchstart = today

if (end > start > now and not options.longout) or options.shortout:
    searchend = yesterday
    searchend = today

searchstart = searchstart + " " + start
searchend = searchend + " " + end

    handle = open(file,'r')
    print("File Open Error")

# Set some initial values
bufsize = 4096  # handle long lines, but put a limit them
rewind  =  100  # arbitrary, the optimal value is highly dependent on the structure of the file
limit   =   75  # arbitrary, allow for a VERY large file, but stop it if it runs away
count   =    0
size    =    os.stat(file)[ST_SIZE]
beginrange   = 0
midrange     = size / 2
oldmidrange  = midrange
endrange     = size
linedate     = ''

pos1 = pos2  = 0

if debug > 0: print("File: '{0}' Size: {1} Today: '{2}' Now: {3} Start: '{4}' End: '{5}'".format(file, size, today, now, searchstart, searchend))

# Seek using binary search
while pos1 != endrange and oldmidrange != 0 and linedate != searchstart:
    linedate, line = getdata()    # sync to line ending
    pos1 = handle.tell()
    if midrange > 0:             # if not BOF, discard first read
        if debug > 1: print("...partial: (len: {0}) '{1}'".format((len(line)), line))
        linedate, line = getdata()

    pos2 = handle.tell()
    count += 1
    if debug > 0: print("#{0} Beg: {1} Mid: {2} End: {3} P1: {4} P2: {5} Timestamp: '{6}'".format(count, beginrange, midrange, endrange, pos1, pos2, linedate))
    if  searchstart > linedate:
        beginrange = midrange
        endrange = midrange
    oldmidrange = midrange
    midrange = (beginrange + endrange) / 2
    if count > limit:

if debug > 0: print("...stopping: '{0}'".format(line))

# Rewind a bit to make sure we didn't miss any
seek = oldmidrange
while linedate >= searchstart and seek > 0:
    if seek < rewind:
        seek = 0
        seek = seek - rewind
    if debug > 0: print("...rewinding")

    linedate, line = getdata()    # sync to line ending
    if debug > 1: print("...junk: '{0}'".format(line))

    linedate, line = getdata()
    if debug > 0: print("...comparing: '{0}'".format(linedate))

# Scan forward
while linedate < searchstart:
    if debug > 0: print("...skipping: '{0}'".format(linedate))
    linedate, line = getdata()

if debug > 0: print("...found: '{0}'".format(line))

if debug > 0: print("Beg: {0} Mid: {1} End: {2} P1: {3} P2: {4} Timestamp: '{5}'".format(beginrange, midrange, endrange, pos1, pos2, linedate))

# Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, we just loop,
#     reading lines and printing them until they are
#     beyond the end of the range we want

while linedate <= searchend:
    print line
    linedate, line = getdata()

if debug > 0: print("Start: '{0}' End: '{1}'".format(searchstart, searchend))
share|improve this answer
Wow. I really need to learn Python... – Stefan Lasiewski Jun 15 '10 at 19:48
@Dennis Williamson: I see a line containing if debug > 0: print("File: '{0}' Size: {1} Today: '{2}' Now: {3} Start: '{4}' End: '{5}'".format(file, size, today, now, searchstar$. Is the searchstar supposed to end with a $, or is that a typo? I get a syntax error on this line (Line 159) – Stefan Lasiewski Jun 15 '10 at 19:55
@Stefan I'd replace that with )). – Bill Weiss Jun 15 '10 at 20:48
@Stefan: Thanks. It was a typo which I've fixed. For quick reference, the $ should instead be t, searchend)) so it says ... searchstart, searchend)) – Dennis Williamson Jun 15 '10 at 20:48
@Stefan: Sorry about that. I think that's got it. – Dennis Williamson Jun 16 '10 at 4:14

From a quick search on the net, there are things that extract based upon keywords (like FIRE or such :) but nothing that extracts a date range from the file.

It does not seem hard to do what you propose:

  1. Search for the starting time.
  2. Print out that line.
  3. If the ending time < start time, and a line's date is > end and < start, then stop.
  4. If the ending time is > start time, and a line's date is > end, stop.

Seems straight forward, and I could write it for you if you don't mind Ruby :)

share|improve this answer
I don't mind Ruby, but #1 is not straightforward if you want to do it efficiently in a large file -- you need to seek() to the halfway point, find the nearest line, see how it begins, and repeat with a new midpoint. It's too inefficient to look at every line. – mike Jan 12 '10 at 1:18
You said large, but didn't specify an actual size. Just how large is large? Worse, if there are multiple days involved, it would be pretty easy to find the wrong one only using the time. After all, if you cross a day boundary, the day the script is running will always be different than the start time. Will the files fit in memory via mmap()? – Michael Graff Jan 12 '10 at 1:45
About 30 GB, on a network-mounted disk. – mike Jan 12 '10 at 17:15

This will print the range of entries between a start time and an end time based on how they relate to the current time ("now").


timegrep [-l] start end filename


$ timegrep 18:47 03:22 /some/log/file

The -l (long) option causes the longest possible output. The start time will be interpreted as yesterday if the hours and minutes value of the start time is less than both the end time and now. The end time will be interpreted as today if both the start time and end time HH:MM values are greater than "now".

Assuming that "now" is "Jan 11 19:00", this is how various example start and end times will be interpreted (without -l except as noted):

start    end      range begin    range end
19:01    23:59    Jan 10         Jan 10
19:01    00:00    Jan 10         Jan 11
00:00    18:59    Jan 11         Jan 11
18:59    18:58    Jan 10         Jan 10
19:01    23:59    Jan 10         Jan 11        # -l
00:00    18:59    Jan 10         Jan 11        # -l
18:59    19:01    Jan 10         Jan 11        # -l

Almost all of the script is setup. The last two lines do all the work.

Warning: no argument validation or error checking is done. Edge cases have not been thoroughly tested. This was written using gawk other versions of AWK may squawk.

#!/usr/bin/awk -f
    if ( ARGV[arg] == "-l" ) {
        long = 1
        ARGV[arg++] = ""
    start = ARGV[arg]
    ARGV[arg++] = ""
    end = ARGV[arg]
    ARGV[arg++] = ""

    yesterday = strftime("%b %d", mktime(strftime("%Y %m %d -24 00 00")))
    today = strftime("%b %d")
    now = strftime("%R")

    if ( start > now || start > end || long )
        startdate = yesterday
        startdate = today

    if ( end > now && end > start && start > now && ! long )
        enddate = yesterday
        enddate = today

startdate = startdate " " start
enddate = enddate " " end

$1 " " $2 " " $3 > enddate {exit}
$1 " " $2 " " $3 >= startdate {print}

I think AWK is very efficient at searching through files. I don't think anything else is necessarily going to be any faster at searching an unindexed text file.

share|improve this answer
It seems you overlooked my third bullet point. The logs are on the order of 30 GB -- if the first line of the file is 7:00 and the last line is 23:00, and I want the slice between 22:00 and 22:01, I don't want the script looking at every line between 7:00 and 22:00. I want it to estimate where it would be, seek to that point, and make a new estimate until it finds it. – mike Jan 12 '10 at 17:14
I didn't overlook it. I expressed my opinion in the last paragraph. – Dennis Williamson Jan 12 '10 at 18:39

A C++ program applying a binary search - it would need some simple modifications (i.e. calling strptime) to work with text dates.

I had a previous version with support for text dates, however it was still too slow for the scale of our log files; profiling said that over 90% of the time was spent in strptime, so, we just modified the log format to include a numeric unix timestamp as well.

share|improve this answer

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