CLI Tutorial

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The Graphite CLI

By Dave Mangot

As part of working on a large scale website like Tagged we are constantly exploring new technologies to see what might be advantageous to help with the site. Whether it's exploring NoSQL technologies, new storage or server hardware, or visualization tools, there is no shortage of software and hardware to try.

Recently, we've been trying out the Graphite Realtime Graphing system. It started as an experiment during our latest Hackathon, and the more we've tried it, the more things there are to like. Because the current Graphite documentation doesn't include a CLI tutorial, I thought it might be nice to write one.

One of the first things you notice when using Graphite is how powerful and flexible its graphing system is. Sometimes I feel like Tom Cruise in the "Minority Report" being able to have complete control over the way I manipulate and visualize my data. One of the great things (I guess if you're a Unix geek) about Graphite is that it also comes with a CLI.
To access the CLI, simple point your browser at http://yourgraphiteinstall/cli or just click the link on the top of the regular composer window. You will be presented with a prompt like this:


If you haven't logged in yet (here I am logged in as "admin"), simply type 'login' at the command prompt and you will be taken to a screen where you can login to Graphite. Without being logged in, we will be unable to save our views, which we will get to a bit later.

While we can simply begin drawing graphs, right inside the actual cli, I prefer to draw them inside windows. This way, if you create multiple windows and save them as a view, you can move them around, resize them, etc, independently of one another. To create a new window, type 'create windowname' and it pops up on your screen:

Now we have somewhere to plot our data. For the purposes of this tutorial, we have populated our datastore with some fictionalized data about some Earth defense stations that are using their lasers to blast invading ships out of the sky. Now we are going to plot how the individual stations are doing. In reality, this data can be anything that you can get into Graphite (networking data, number of users on a site, temperature, stock prices, etc). In the CLI, I type 'draw battle.ships.' and as I type, Graphite automatically shows me below the cursor all the possible completions for my namespace as I type:


One of the nice things about using a CLI is that I can use wildcards, so for this example, I type 'draw battle.ships.destroyed.* in Earth_Defense' and Graphite shows me my data in the window on a smart looking graph. It has automatically matched all the different parts of my namespace and plotted them individually on the graph (in this case, SFO, JFK, and LAX).

That's pretty nice, but it's difficult to see how the individual battle stations are doing because we've only recently been getting our reports in from the stations. So, we need to change the timescale of our graph. In the CLI, this is trivially easy. We type 'change Earth_Defense from to -20min' and the timescale on our window is updated instantly.


If we are going to send these reports to our superiors, they might not be as tuned into our data collection methods as we are, so let's add a title to our graph. We type 'change Earth_Defense title to "Laser Batteries"' and Graphite updates our graph once again.


That is just one example of a way we can manipulate a graph in the CLI, but in reality, we can not only change the chrome of our graph, but also work with the data itself. Maybe the generals in charge our our battle don't care about the individual battle stations, they want to know about the total number of ships destroyed minute by minute. So let's give them a total they can see on the graph. We type 'add sum(battle.ships.destroyed.*) to Earth_Defense' and our total kills now appears on the graph:


There are lots more things we can do with the CLI, and many more manipulations we can do on our graphs, but for now, we want to be able to save our graph, so that we can return to it later. In the CLI this is called a "view". You can have multiple windows/plots saved in a view, but we are going to save our view now by typing 'save laserreport'.


If at some point in the future, we wanted to get this report back, we could simple type 'views' to get a list of all the different saved views, followed by 'load viewname' to actually retrieve the report.

Of course having an easy to use CLI like graphite also allows us to do other powerful things. Having a CLI is almost like having a basic API, so we can actually script what we will cut and paste into our CLI in order to automate repetitive actions. We'll use this Ruby script as a basic example.


graphite = { "Apple" => "AAPL", "Google" => "GOOG", "Visa" => "V" }
graphite.each { |key, value| puts "create #{key}\ndraw stocks.#{value} in #{key}\n" }

Here we take a hash with information about our window titles and iterate through a list of stock quotes we have in our Graphite installation. You can imagine the possibilities this can give you. Here's the output:

create Visa
draw stocks.V in Visa
create Google
draw stocks.GOOG in Google
create Apple
draw stocks.AAPL in Apple

Graphite is an exciting tool that is becoming easier to use and more capable with every release. Currently we're trying to see how it compares to the tools that we have internally (like you can see here). There are a number of compelling attributes to both tools and it may be the case that one tool will not be the best fit for all cases. In the few short weeks we've been experimenting with Graphite, at the very least, it's proven to be a great addition to the sysadmin's toolbox.

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