Spinner 1.2.4

Spinner is an anti-idle program that displays a little 'spinning' ASCII character in the top left corner of your terminal.
Spinner is an anti-idle program that displays a little "spinning" ASCII character in the top left corner of your terminal. To make this effect it cycles through punctuation marks like this " - | / - | / ... " (try it to see). By default the character is drawn in inverse video (or your terminal's equivalent). But you can turn this off with the -i switch. In spinner mode Spinner supports any terminal capable of handling VT100 style escape codes. In null mode (-n switch) Spinner supports any terminal. In null mode there is no visible output, and Spinner will not interfere with your terminal or scrollback. If you find the little spinner in the top left corner to be distracting use null mode. (-n switch).

The Spinner project is useful for keeping telnet and ssh links from dropping due to inactivity. Many firewalls, and some ISPs drop connections when they are perceived as idle. By having spinner running the server is constantly sending a tiny amount of data over the link, preserving the connection. As of version 1.2 Spinner can also be activated with the -n switch so that, instead of displaying a spinner, it simply sends out a periodic null character to the terminal. This achieves the same anti-idle benefit without disturbing your screen. But it lacks the coolness factor of a little spinner in the corner of the terminal...

Thus (for search engines) Spinner is an anti-idle, timeout preventing, background daemon process for unix variants including linux. Spinner is known to compile and work properly under NetBSD 1.5 and 1.6, Mac OS X 10.2, linux 2.2 and 2.4.

Spinner also has a (mainly fun) mode I like to call "Ghost in the Machine" mode. In this mode you can use spinner to write the spinner character to ANY tty, not just your own. This requires adequate permissions, of course.

Usage: spinner[-IntTuvl< path >[f< path >|F][p< prio >|P]] [delay]
-f < path > Set pid file path (default is ~/.spinner.pid)
-F Do *not* create a pid file
-I Do *not* use inverse video for spinner
-l < path > Set log file path (for debugging). Off by default.
-L Display the license
-n Send only null characters. (No visible output.)
-p < priority > Specify process priority to use
-P Do *not* change process priority (default is to make nice)
-r Reset term on quit (Use if you get left in inverse a lot.)
-R Reset the term and Quit immediately. (nothing else)
-t < tty path > Specify path of TTY to which to write
-T Ignore incompatible TERM environment var setting
-u Delay is in microseconds instead of seconds
-v Verbose mode (lots of output)

Returns: 0 on success, non-zero on failure.
Launches into the background on success.
Use: kill `cat < pidfile >` to stop.

IN ORDER FOR SPINNER TO PREVENT IDLE CONNECTIONS YOU MUST RUN IT ON THE SERVER. If you run Spinner on your client the data is not sent over the wire. It is only drawn locally. So you must run Spinner on the remote machine to keep the data coming to your terminal over the wire. If you do not have root access on the remote machine you can still use Spinner. Compile Spinner with "./configure --prefix= && make install". You can then launch Spinner from your .login file or .tcshrc / .profile file if you wish.

Spinner is a daemon process (also known as a background process). When you start spinner it will launch into the background as not to interfere much with your foreground jobs. By default Spinner creates a pid (process id) file called ".spinner.pid" in your home directory. (You may use the -f or -F switches to modify this behavior.) Note this pid file has a "." character in front so you will need to use ls -a to see it in a listing. You can use this file to easily kill Spinner with the command:

kill `cat ~/.spinner.pid`

Note that those are backticks (top left key below ESC, same key with ~). Of course you can also just find Spinner in your process list and kill it manually that way. Spinner's pid file is NOT a lock file. It will be overwritten every time you launch a copy of Spinner. So if you have multiple spinners running you will have to kill them manually.
Spinner should commit suicide (i.e. quit) if the tty to which it is writing is no longer active. Sometimes, if you start Spinner writing to another tty when that tty is not active to begin with Spinner will not quit. (Anyone know why?? Tell me.)

Since Spinner draws to the terminal it is possible (and likely) that the spinner character will end up in the terminal's scrollback. To reduce this annoyance you can use a long delay. As of version 1.2 you may opt to use the -n switch to cause spinner to send only null characters, instead of the spinning cursor. If you do not use -n you may also kill Spinner with the STOP signal (kill -STOP `cat ~/.spinner.pid`) and then continue it after you get your scrollback via the CONT signal (kill -CONT `cat ~/.spinner.pid`).
Spinner may interfere with the display of mouse selections. If you drag out a selection the highlighted text may become unhighlighted as sooner as Spinner draws to the terminal. Typically the contents of the paste buffer still remain, however. So even though you lose the highlighting you can still paste the text that you selected in the usual fashion. Again, as of version 1.2 you may opt to use the -n switch to cause Spinner to only send null characters to the screen (which do not show up).

At startup spinner checks to be sure your TERM environment variable is set to "vt100" or "vt102". It only checks for these since these are the only terminal types that I KNOW will accept the vt100 escape codes (to move the cursor, inverse video, etc.) Spinner works perfectly well in every terminal I have tried it in (including GNU screen, eterm, xterm, aterm, etc.) If you get the message about your terminal not being "vt100" or "vt102" simply invoke Spinner with the -T switch. This forces Spinner to ignore the TERM setting. Note that if you use spinner on a dumb terminal, or any other terminal that does not support the escape codes you will see a lot garbage characters. Just stop Spinner and get a real terminal! If you find this check annoying, or think it should go away let me know. Note that if you use the -n switch Spinner will not check the terminal type at all, as it is not attempting to move the cursor, change inverse modes, etc.

Note that if you would like to use Spinner in conjunction with the GNU screen program (one of the world's coolest programs, screen is a "terminal multiplexer" allowing multiple virtual terminals in a single terminal window, switching between them, detaching and resuming screens both local and remote, etc.) you will want to start Spinner *BEFORE* you start screen. Otherwise Spinner will end up in one of screen's virtual terminals, which means that it may not be on the real terminal all the time. This could lead to an idle timeout, which is exactly what Spinner was coded to prevent. You may also be able to determine your parent tty (the original tty from which you invoked screen), and have Spinner write to that tty using the -t switch. (This would let you invoke Spinner in such a way that it would write to the parent terminal even though you launched Spinner from within screen.

In normal operation (delay >= 2 sec) Spinner functions well with most terminals / emulators. However, if you switch to microsecond mode for the delay (-u) and use lower delays it is possible that your terminal will become somewhat garbled. You will notice that parts of the screen that shouldn't be are displayed in inverse text, or text is in the wrong place, etc. Setting a higher delay will normally make this issue non-existent. Note that "Terminal.app" under Mac OSX seems more prone to do this. Gnome term and eterm, etc seem immune. **NOTE: In version 1.2 the code was reworked to all but eliminate this. If you encounter this issue, please send me an email with your system info. Since when using the -n switch Spinner does not send printable characters you will not experience this problem at all.

If you use an extremely low delay on a slow link, or use a slow-drawing terminal, be prepared for Spinner to slow your terminal down. I would say, "Don't do that!" Spinner is coded to be very efficient in its main loop. Only one write statement and one check to be sure the tty is active per iteration. Since Spinner is meant as an anti-idle tool you will most likely keep the delay high (but less than 30 sec or so depending upon what it is that is timing out your connection to begin with).

By default Spinner will set its process priority (niceness) to 10. You can use the -p or -P switches to modify this behavior.

Sometimes when you terminate Spinner it could leave the terminal in a state you were not expecting (e.g. inverse video "stuck" on, cursor in the wrong spot, etc.) If you experience this a lot consider the -r switch. This will send a vt100 reset code at quit, which usually helps, but will clear your terminal screen. **NOTE: In version 1.2 the code was reworked to all but eliminate this. If you encounter this issue, please send me an email with your system info.

If your terminal gets stuck in an inconsistent (read "whacked") state you can try to fix it by running Spinner with the -R switch. With this switch ALL Spinner will do is send a vt100 reset code to the tty (then quit).
Using the -n switch will avoid these problem altogether by sending only null characters to the terminal. You loose the cool little spinner effect, however.

Verbose mode will walk you through most of the steps Spinner takes as it launches. Mainly for debugging, it can, however, help you troubleshoot switch settings. Note that once Spinner has forked to the background it no longer has a controlling terminal and cannot output error messages. In or to see verbose output (or errors) after the fork you must use the -l switch and specify a filename to write to. This file will ONLY contain the output from Spinner AFTER the fork. Most likely you will never need this, but it is available if you do. Note that it t is perfectly normal to see a no such file or directory error in this log when logging out of linux. Linux cretaes and deletes files in /dev/pts/ with every change of TTY.

Ghost in the Machine mode (i.e. using the -t switch to write to another tty other than your controlling terminal) can be both fun and (a little) useful. To use this mode determine the PATH to the tty you want Spinner to write. Usually the "tty" command will display your own terminal. This should give you the basic path/filename structure (usually "/dev/ttypXX" where "XX" is a number). Then do a "who" command to see which particular tty you want to write to. This will show you a list of logged in users and their ttys. Next run spinner with the -t switch and specify the path to the desired tty. Note that you must have permission to write to the desired tty. Ttys are setup to be owned by the user logged into them, and usually setup with a group of "tty". So you can always write to any of your own ttys. To write to someone else's tty you either need to be root, or root needs to setup Spinner as setgid (not setuid) "tty". There are security concerns with any setuid or setgid program. So don't be surprised if your administrator says no. Spinner has not been thoroughly audited for security. Though little could go wrong, small seemingly meaningless things can lead to real big security holes. You've been warned. Spinner is NOT installed setgid (or setuid) by using the "make install" command. Spinner will not run if it is made setuid.

What's New in This Release:

Fixed the real problem (open tty fds) that prevented termination on logout from linux sshd.
Added xterm, screen and ansi to the acceptable TERM types.
Added -l switch.

last updated on:
February 6th, 2008, 13:37 GMT
price:
FREE!
developed by:
Joe Laffey
license type:
GPL (GNU General Public License) 
category:
ROOT \ Utilities

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