Blast from the past Published on 19 Jun 2023 by Marcin Kulik

Did you know that the first prototype of what later became the asciinema player replayed “typescript” files produced by script command?

In fact, the whole asciinema project originated with the player, not with the command line recorder. That was back in 2010. I was having fun with script and scriptreplay commands, when I imagined being able to easily share typescript files with fellow geeks, who could watch the recordings in their browsers. I wrote a rough parser/interpreter for typescript format and got some characters moving happily on a page with the help of a bunch <div> and <span> elements.

Back then, script version found in most Linux distros was capable of saving timing information to a second file with -t option (later deprecated, superseded with newer -T). For playback, timing information is essential, so all was great. Except, I wanted to support macOS (or, then “OS X”) as well as *BSD systems. The version of the script command that was shipped with OS X unfortunatelly didn’t support saving timing information. I learned this by causing many work interruptions to my colleague MacKuba, who was working on OS X and was sitting in the same office room as me.

I figured out how script works, what is a PTY, TTY and whatnot, and eventually found Python’s pty module which had a small code example at the bottom of the page, which showed how to write your own (simplified) script in Python with nothing more than standard library. I tested this on Linux and OS X - worked beautifully. So I decided to drop script and create my own recorder with its own JSON-based recording format - asciicast. The rest is history.

Fast-forward to 2023. script on all popular platforms, including macOS, supports saving timing information (this happened somewhere between 2011 and now, but not sure when precisely). JS has fetch API (since 2015), which, combined with full adoption of ArrayBuffer and TypedArrays allows fetching and parsing files in any format with relative ease.

Which brings us to recently released asciinema player 3.4.0, which added support for additional recording formats through parsers. In addition to asciicast (v1 and v2), which has been THE recording format of the player since the beginning, asciinema player can now replay typescript recordings, ttyrec recordings (produced by ttyrec, termrec or ipbt), as well as any other terminal recording format you write a custom parser for.

Here’s how to use the player with typescript recordings:

  url: ['/demo.timing', '/'],
  parser: 'typescript'
}, document.getElementById('demo'));

Note url above being an array of URLs pointing to typescript timing and data files.

And here’s how to use the player with ttyrec recordings:

  url: '/demo.ttyrec',
  parser: 'ttyrec'
}, document.getElementById('demo'));

See parsers documention for more details.

Note: typescript and ttyrec recordings can be used with self-hosted asciinema player. As of this writing supports asciicast files only.

One more thing…

I mentioned playing custom recording formats. Let’s do one more blast from the past.

In 1997 Simon Jansen created initial version of his famous Star Wars Asciimation. You may have seen it via telnet (defunct as of 2023). Simon’s asciimation file format is a simple text format, where each animation frame is defined by 14 lines. First of every 14 lines defines duration a frame should be displayed for (multiplied by a speed constant, by default 67 ms), while lines 2-14 define frame content - text to display.

Let’s write asciinema player parser for it:

const LINES_PER_FRAME = 14;
const FRAME_DELAY = 67;
const COLUMNS = 67;

async function parseAsciimation(response) {
  const text = await response.text();
  const lines = text.split('\n');
  const output = [];
  let time = 0;
  let prevFrameDuration = 0;

  output.push([0, '\x9b?25l']); // hide cursor

  for (let i = 0; i + LINES_PER_FRAME - 1 < lines.length; i += LINES_PER_FRAME) {
    time += prevFrameDuration;
    prevFrameDuration = parseInt(lines[i], 10) * FRAME_DELAY;
    const frame = lines.slice(i + 1, i + LINES_PER_FRAME).join('\r\n');
    let text = '\x1b[H'; // move cursor home
    text += '\x1b[J'; // clear screen
    text += frame; // print current frame's lines
    output.push([time / 1000, text]);

  return { cols: COLUMNS, rows: ROWS, output };

  { url: '/starwars.txt', parser: parseAsciimation },

Here it is in action:

Maybe Simon finishes it one day :)

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