Paths and Directories

Working with Paths

Programs should not depend on quirks of your operating system. They will be harder to read, and need to be ported for other systems. The worst of course is hardcoding paths like ‘c:\’ in programs, and wondering why Vista complains so much. But even something like dir..'\'..file is a problem, since Unix can’t understand backslashes in this way. dir..'/'..file is usually portable, but it’s best to put this all into a simple function, path.join. If you consistently use path.join, then it’s much easier to write cross-platform code, since it handles the directory separator for you.

pl.path provides the same functionality as Python’s os.path module (11.1).

> p = 'c:\\bonzo\\DOG.txt'
> = path.normcase (p)  ---> only makes sense on Windows
c:\bonzo\dog.txt
> = path.splitext (p)
c:\bonzo\DOG    .txt
> = path.extension (p)
.txt
> = path.basename (p)
DOG.txt
> = path.exists(p)
false
> = path.join ('fred','alice.txt')
fred\alice.txt
> = path.exists 'pretty.lua'
true
> = path.getsize 'pretty.lua'
2125
> = path.isfile 'pretty.lua'
true
> = path.isdir 'pretty.lua'
false

It is very important for all programmers, not just on Unix, to only write to where they are allowed to write. path.expanduser will expand ‘~’ (tilde) into the home directory. Depending on your OS, this will be a guaranteed place where you can create files:

> = path.expanduser '~/mydata.txt'
'C:\Documents and Settings\SJDonova/mydata.txt'

> = path.expanduser '~/mydata.txt'
/home/sdonovan/mydata.txt

Under Windows, os.tmpname returns a path which leads to your drive root full of temporary files. (And increasingly, you do not have access to this root folder.) This is corrected by path.tmpname, which uses the environment variable TMP:

> os.tmpname()  -- not a good place to put temporary files!
'\s25g.'
> path.tmpname()
'C:\DOCUME~1\SJDonova\LOCALS~1\Temp\s25g.1'

A useful extra function is pl.path.package_path, which will tell you the path of a particular Lua module. So on my system, package_path('pl.path') returns ‘C:\Program Files\Lua\5.1\lualibs\pl\path.lua’, and package_path('ifs') returns ‘C:\Program Files\Lua\5.1\clibs\lfs.dll’. It is implemented in terms of package.searchpath, which is a new function in Lua 5.2 which has been implemented for Lua 5.1 in Penlight.

File Operations

pl.file is a new module that provides more sensible names for common file operations. For instance, file.read and file.write are aliases for utils.readfile and utils.writefile.

Smaller files can be efficiently read and written in one operation. file.read is passed a filename and returns the contents as a string, if successful; if not, then it returns nil and the actual error message. There is an optional boolean parameter if you want the file to be read in binary mode (this makes no difference on Unix but remains important with Windows.)

In previous versions of Penlight, utils.readfile would read standard input if the file was not specified, but this can lead to nasty bugs; use io.read '*a' to grab all of standard input.

Similarly, file.write takes a filename and a string which will be written to that file.

For example, this little script converts a file into upper case:

require 'pl'
assert(#arg == 2, 'supply two filenames')
text = assert(file.read(arg[1]))
assert(file.write(arg[2],text:upper()))

Copying files is suprisingly tricky. file.copy and file.move attempt to use the best implementation possible. On Windows, they link to the API functions CopyFile and MoveFile, but only if the alien package is installed (this is true for Lua for Windows.) Otherwise, the system copy command is used. This can be ugly when writing Windows GUI applications, because of the dreaded flashing black-box problem with launching processes.

Directory Operations

pl.dir provides some useful functions for working with directories. fnmatch will match a filename against a shell pattern, and filter will return any files in the supplied list which match the given pattern, which correspond to the functions in the Python fnmatch module. getdirectories will return all directories contained in a directory, and getfiles will return all files in a directory which match a shell pattern. These functions return the files as a table, unlike lfs.dir which returns an iterator.)

dir.makepath can create a full path, creating subdirectories as necessary; rmtree is the Nuclear Option of file deleting functions, since it will recursively clear out and delete all directories found begining at a path (there is a similar function with this name in the Python shutils module.)

> = dir.makepath 't\\temp\\bonzo'
> = path.isdir 't\\temp\\bonzo'
true
> = dir.rmtree 't'

dir.rmtree depends on dir.walk, which is a powerful tool for scanning a whole directory tree. Here is the implementation of dir.rmtree:

--- remove a whole directory tree.
-- @param path A directory path
function dir.rmtree(fullpath)
    for root,dirs,files in dir.walk(fullpath) do
        for i,f in ipairs(files) do
            os.remove(path.join(root,f))
        end
        lfs.rmdir(root)
    end
end

dir.clonetree clones directory trees. The first argument is a path that must exist, and the second path is the path to be cloned. (Note that this path cannot be inside the first path, since this leads to madness.) By default, it will then just recreate the directory structure. You can in addition provide a function, which will be applied for all files found.

-- make a copy of my libs folder
require 'pl'
p1 = [[d:\dev\lua\libs]]
p2 = [[D:\dev\lua\libs\..\tests]]
dir.clonetree(p1,p2,dir.copyfile)

A more sophisticated version, which only copies files which have been modified:

-- p1 and p2 as before, or from arg[1] and arg[2]
dir.clonetree(p1,p2,function(f1,f2)
  local res
  local t1,t2 = path.getmtime(f1),path.getmtime(f2)
  -- f2 might not exist, so be careful about t2
  if not t2 or t1 > t2 then
    res = dir.copyfile(f1,f2)
  end
  return res -- indicates successful operation
end)

dir.clonetree uses path.common_prefix. With p1 and p2 defined above, the common path is ‘d:\dev\lua’. So ‘d:\dev\lua\libs\testfunc.lua’ is copied to ‘d:\dev\lua\test\testfunc.lua’, etc.

If you need to find the common path of list of files, then tablex.reduce will do the job:

> p3 = [[d:\dev]]
> = tablex.reduce(path.common_prefix,{p1,p2,p3})
'd:\dev'
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