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Write Your Own Linux Twitter Client In Less Time Than It Takes To Find One!

A command-line Twitter client in about 20 lines

  • July 9, 2009
  • By Akkana Peck
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I know, I know. All the cool kids have been doing it for months now. I'm way behind. But a couple of weeks ago, I finally took the plunge and signed up for Twitter.

I was skeptical, but it's actually pretty interesting. It didn't take me long to build up a list of people to follow. But I didn't want to keep a tab open in my browser all day every day just to check on them.

I investigated the available Linux clients, but none was quite what I was looking for. Either they required that I install some big piece of infrastructure like Mono or Adobe Air, or they had nasty bugs.

And then I found out about Python-Twitter. It provides Python bindings for Twitter's public API, and it's super easy to use. Turns out you can write your own Twitter client in less time than it takes to read about the existing ones!

Install python-twitter

The first step is installing Python-Twitter. Cutting-edge distros like Ubuntu 9.04 have it as a package; install python-twitter and you're done.

On older distros, you might have to get it from the source. First, you'll need a package called SimpleJSON. Your distro may have it already (it might, even if it doesn't have python-twitter. But if not, get it from cheeseshop.python.org/pypi/simplejson.

Then go to code.google.com/p/python-twitter, click on Downloads and grab the latest tarball. Expand it, build and install:

tar xvf python-twitter-0.6.tar.gz
cd python-twitter-0.6/
python setup.py build
sudo python setup.py install

Once it's installed, you're ready to start programming.

A command-line Twitter client in about 20 lines

To do anything with Twitter, you need to log in with a username and password. That looks like this:

import twitter

username = "your_username"
password = "your_password"
api = twitter.Api(username=username, password=password)

Once you're logged in, you can get your "friends timeline" -- the list of tweets you'd see if you went to twitter.com and logged in -- like this:

statuses = api.GetFriendsTimeline(username)

statuses is a list of the Python-Twitter status object. A status represents one tweet, and has properties like user (the author), text (the contents) and created_at_in_seconds (the time when it was posted).

user is an object representing a Twitter user. It has properties like name, screen_name and profile_image_url.

So you can print that list of tweets like this:

for s in statuses :
    print s.user.name, "(", s.user.screen_name, ") :"
    print s.text
    print

Well, almost. There's one more thing you need to do. Tweets come in as unicode, and Python's print can't handle unicode characters unless you tell it how to encode them. If you're not sure, UTF-8 is a good choice:

for s in statuses :
    print s.user.name.encode("utf-8"), "(", s.user.screen_name, ") :"
    print s.text.encode("utf-8")
    print

Run it, and you'll see output something like this:

/var/lib/python-support/python2.6/twitter.py:10: DeprecationWarning: the md5 module is deprecated; use hashlib instead
  import md5

donttrythis ( donttrythis ) :
I'm playing with a Canon 5D Mark II if you must know @el_es_gato.  The footage it shoots is UNBELIEVABLE!  I'm gonna make me a film.

Tim O'Reilly ( timoreilly ) :
Chevron patents on NiMH batteries holding back future of plug-in hybrid cars. http://bit.ly/awwJ3 Learned about in conversation at #aif09

PZ Myers ( pzmyers ) :
I have now been traveling for a full 24 hours...and still 2 hours from home.

Wall Street Journal ( WSJ ) :
Companies, Workers Tangle Over Law http://bit.ly/kya1p

Science News ( SciNewsBlog ) :
China's Internet Users Force Government to Back Down on Censorship: China's Internet Users Force Government to B.. http://tinyurl.com/qmorz9

Voil´┐Ż! Your very own customizable Twitter client. Add a loop and a time.sleep(300) to make it update every five minutes (300 seconds).

Don't worry too much if you see that DeprecationWarning at the beginning. That's a minor bug in python-twitter, but it doesn't hurt anything; hopefully they'll fix it soon.

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