Getting Complex With Remote Bash

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Over the past few months, I’ve found and created a bunch of fun new scripting tricks and tools. Below are two somewhat related items that helped to unlock new possibilities for me in remote bash automation. The first is a Perl one-liner that allows filtering access logs by start and end times. The second is a method for executing complex commands remotely via ssh without all those intricate escapes.

As context for the Perl log filter, my team at work regularly performs Load Test Analyses. A customer will run a Load Test, provide us with the start and end times for the test window, and then we run a comprehensive analysis to determine whether any problems were recorded. Previous to automation, we would develop grep time filters via Regular Expressions (i.e. grep -E '15/Oct/2015:0(4:(3[4-9]|[4-5]|5:([0-1]|2[0-3]))'), and then run a bunch of analyses on the results. This is not so bad, but involves training in Regular Expressions, is prone to human error, and requires some careful thought.

In developing a more human/beginner-friendly solution, I desired for people to be able to enter start and stop times in the following format:

  • YYYY-MM-DD:HH:mm

This part is pretty easy, since the entered date can be converted to a timestamp for easy comparisons and then passed along to another function for the comparison/computation.

I first built a filter using awk, but found that the version of awk on my local machine is more feature-rich than mawk which is available on the platform. Most crucially, mawk is missing time functions that would enable doing the following:

awk -v starttime=$STARTTIME -v endtime=$ENDTIME'
  m = split("Jan|Feb|Mar|Apr|May|Jun|Jul|Aug|Sep|Oct|Nov|Dec", d, "|")
  for(o=1; o<=m; o++) {
    months[d[o]] = sprintf("%02d", o)
  gsub("[\[]", "", $0)
  split($0, hm, ":")
  split(hm[1], dmy, "/")
  date = (dmy[3] " " months[dmy[2]] " " dmy[1] " " hm[2] " " hm[3] " 0")
  logtime = mktime(date)
  if (starttime <= logtime && logtime <= endtime) print $0

Since it’s not likely that gawk will be available any time soon on the platform, the next alternative I considered was Perl. With some deliberation, I came up with the Perl one-liner below (here wrapped in a bash function):

function time_filter() {
  echo "perl -MPOSIX -sane '
      @months = split(\",\", \"Jan,Feb,Mar,Apr,May,Jun,Jul,Aug,Sep,Oct,Nov,Dec\");
      \$i = 0;
      foreach \$mon (@months) {
        @m{\$mon} = \$i;
      @hm = split(\":\", \$F[$PERL_COLUMN]);
      @dmy = split(\"/\", @hm[0]);
      @dmy[0] =~ s/\[//;
      \$logtime = mktime(0, @hm[2], @hm[1], @dmy[0], @m{@dmy[1]}, @dmy[2]-1900);
      if (\$startTime <= \$logtime && \$logtime <= \$endTime) {
    };' -- -startTime=${START_TIMESTAMP} -endTime=${END_TIMESTAMP}"

To start off, the function takes an optional argument for the location of the date string in a log line. Next, the POSIX module is loaded along with Perl options (switch, loop, split, single line). Diving into the actual script logic, an array containing 3-letter abbreviations for each month is created, and then the date/time value from the log line is converted to a format that can be used to create a timestamp via the mktime function. Lastly, if the converted log time falls between specified start and end times the full log line is printed. startTime and endTime are fed into the Perl script from corresponding bash variables. You can see that there is a little bit of escaping for the double quotation marks and dollar signs, but nothing beyond what’s required to run this locally.

Next up, I needed the ability to execute this remotely over ssh. I initially attempted to insert additional escapes to be able to pass this directly to ssh. This task proved to be quite challenging, and greatly impacted the human-friendliness of the code. Thankfully, there is a nice alternative - base64 encoding. This approach gets a bad wrap as a common hacker technique, but I can attest that it works wonders (it’s not the tool but the intent!).

Here’s a sample implementation:

function ssh_cmd() {
  echo "ssh -q -t -F ${HOME}/.ssh/config \
    -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no \
    -o UserKnownHostsFile=/dev/null \
    -o PreferredAuthentications=publickey \

REMOTE_CMD=$(echo "cat access.log | ${TIME_FILTER} >> /path/to/filtered/access.log" \
  | base64)
$(ssh_cmd server-id)" echo ${REMOTE_CMD} | base64 -d | sudo bash" < /dev/null

Firstly, we’re defining a general purpose ssh command. Then the Perl logic is loaded into a variable and concatenated into a full remote command that is subsequently base64-encoded. Lastly, we assemble the full remote ssh command by piping the base64-encoded logic to be decoded remotely and piped into sudo bash.

There are alternatives to this approach such as using rsync to pass a file with the above Perl script to a remote server ahead of remote execution, but I really like the simplicity that’s achievable with base64.

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