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Introducing Wutch: python-based Live Server

vduseev profile image Vagiz Duseev Originally published at duseev.com ・5 min read

Wutch Demo

Wutch is a python based live server that observes changes in the given directories and executes a shell command on each change. It also, optionally, renders the results in the default web browser, automatically refreshing each web page after every change.

You can use wutch with Sphinx, Jekyll, and other static site generators. On the GIF above you can see how wutch builds its own documentation. It behaves just like a live server. Adding any change causes a subprocess shell to run Sphinx (doc site generator used by wutch) to rebuild its docs in real time.

Why wutch?

If you've ever worked with live servers popular among frontend developers you know how convenient they are. Problem is you should either rely on the Live Server extension such as this one or create a build pipeline using something like gulp.

We wanted to create a command line tool that is able to rebuild documentation or website on each change and automatically refresh browser's webpage afterwards.

Features

  • Watches multiple directories and glob file patters for changes
  • Able to ignore multiple directories and glob file patters
  • Runs given shell command on each change
  • Starts a live server (with an option to bind to a given port and address)
  • (optionally) Opens a browser when Wutch starts pointing to the build directory
  • Automatically refreshes web page on each build
  • Configurable timeout between rebuilds
  • Configurable binging port and host (can be used as a development web server)

Hot to install wutch?

At the moment, wutch is distributed as a Python package for Python >= 3.8. In the future a Homebrew formula, as well as .deb and .rpm distributions will be added.

You can install wutch like this:

pip install wutch
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Or, to install for the current user only:

pip install --user wutch
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How to use wutch?

After installation wutch binary becomes available. Now you can start a wutch watcher process. By default, it will do the following

  • watch current directory ./ for changes
  • start a live server
  • open a web browser pointing to the ./_build/index.html
  • run sphinx-build shell command on each change
  • auto-refresh web page on each build
$ wutch
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How to configure wutch to perform different actions? Wutch supports multiple sources of configuration settings. They are loaded in a priority given below. Let's take a command parameter that specifies what shell command to run as an example here.

  • command line options

$ wutch --command "bundle exec jekyll build"

  • environment variables starting with WUTCH_

export WUTCH_COMMAND="bundle exec jekyll build"

  • configuration file wutch.cfg present in the current directory

{ "command": "bundle exec jekyll build" }

  • default variables hardcoded into wutch itself

sphinx-build

Below is the full list of supported parameters:

-h, --help            show this help message and exit
-c COMMAND, --command COMMAND
                      Shell command executed in response to file changes. Defaults to: sphinx-build.
-p [PATTERNS ...], --patterns [PATTERNS ...]
                      Matches paths with these patterns (separated by ' '). Defaults to: ['*'].
-P [IGNORE_PATTERNS ...], --ignore-patterns [IGNORE_PATTERNS ...]
                      Ignores file changes in these patterns (separated by ' '). Defaults to: [].
-d [DIRS ...], --dirs [DIRS ...]
                      Directories to watch (separated by ' '). Defaults to: ['.'].
-D [IGNORE_DIRS ...], --ignore-dirs [IGNORE_DIRS ...]
                      Ignore file changes in these directories (separated by ' '). Defaults to: ['_build', 'build'].
-w WAIT, --wait WAIT  Wait N seconds after the command is finished before refreshing the web page. Defaults to: 3.
-b BUILD, --build BUILD
                      Build directory containing files to render in the browser. Defaults to: _build.
-I [INJECT_PATTERNS ...], --inject-patterns [INJECT_PATTERNS ...]
                      Patterns of files to inject with JS code that refreshes them on rebuild (separated by ' '). Defaults to: ['*.htm*'].
-i INDEX, --index INDEX
                      File that will be opened in the browser with the start of the watcher. Defaults to: index.html.
--host HOST           Host to bind internal HTTP server to. Defaults to: localhost.
--port PORT           TCP port to bind internal HTTP server to. Defaults to: 5010.
-B NO_BROWSER, --no-browser NO_BROWSER
                      Do not open browser at wutch launch. Defaults to: False.
-S NO_SERVER, --no-server NO_SERVER
                      Do not start the webserver, just launch the shell command. Defaults to: False.
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Building Sphinx documentation with Wutch

Wutch relies on itself when building and rendering its own documentation written with Sphinx (see wutch docs sources).

In order to set up a Sphinx doc development using wutch's live server it's enough to place a wutch.cfg file into the project folder and then simply run wutch binary.

{
    "dirs": ["docs"],
    "patterns": ["*.rst", "*.py"],
    "command": "make -C docs build",
    "build": "docs/_build/html",
}
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With these settings wutch will look for the changes happening in *.rst and *.py files in the ./docs directory. For each change, wutch will run make -C docs build command from its Makefile. It will then open the ./docs/_build/html/index.html file in the default browser and will auto-refresh the browser page every rebuild.

Building Jekyll with Wutch

Jekyll already comes with the jekyll serve command that creates a server which rebuilds the website for every change. However, jekyll is not able to refresh the page in the browser automatically.

Imagine you have a pretty standard Jekyll project structure. Below is a structure of my blog.

drwxr-xr-x  _drafts
drwxr-xr-x  _includes
drwxr-xr-x  _layouts
drwxr-xr-x  _posts
drwxr-xr-x  _site
drwxr-xr-x  assets
-rwxr-xr-x  index.md
drwxr-xr-x  pages
-rw-r--r--  robots.txt
-rwxr-xr-x  404.html
-rwxr-xr-x  Gemfile
-rw-r--r--  Gemfile.lock
-rwxr-xr-x  _config.yml
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Here is how to build and run a live server for it with Wutch.
For this example we will be using command line options instead of the config file.

$ wutch --ignore-dirs _site --build _site --command "bundle exec jekyll build"
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Using Wutch as live server for frontend builds

Even though there are plenty of options in frontend to implement a live server that watches for changes and rebuilds CSS and HTML, still, wutch is capable of that too.

Imagine you have a Gulp based build pipeline for your website and you can run a build using gulp build command. Then all results of the build are dropped into the build directory of the project.

In that case we'd need to look for the changes in the current directory, but ignore the changes in the build folder.

$ wutch --ignore-dirs "build" --build "build" --command "gulp build"
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