Searching a FOSS project’s history

I’m curious about whether anyone has tried to build a predictive analytics plugin for Heka before. To find out, I’m going to stalk the project’s entire recorded history. Since it’s a relatively young project (only in its third year of having a public mailing list), the history is small enough for basic Linux command-line utilities to handle in a timely manner.

Here are all the places one can look for project history, and how I used them.

Find the Communication Channels

FOSS projects communicate on IRC, issue trackers, and mailing lists. Sometimes contributors also discuss things on the phone, via private messages, during video games, and in person. Although the latter type of interactions are rarely publicly documented, most of content that’s important to a project is shared with all of its members, and thus easy for even a new contributor to find.

When you want a particular piece of information, the question to ask is “if I was the person who created that information, where would I have put it?”

Find the project’s documentation on how to get involved and where to ask questions. On the front page of the Heka docs, it suggests a mailing list, issue tracker, github project, and IRC channel.

Searching the Mailing List Archives

Heka’s mailing list archives don’t explicitly offer a search feature. Fortunately, the archives are not overwhelmingly large, so I can just download them and search them locally.

Downloading the archives

Examining the page source reveals that the .txt.gz archives have nicely standardized names, which allowed me to craft a slightly verbose wget command to retrieve them all:


I suspect there’s a recursive wget command which would grab all .txt.gz links from a specified index page, but I didn’t know it off the top of my head so I’ll save the rabbit hole of crafting the shortest possible incantation for later. The command above was fast to research and write, and got all the tarballs I wanted, so it accomplished its purpose.


After that wget, I have a directory full of .txt.gz files. I unzip them:

gzip -d *


Now it’s easy to look for any keywords that might go with the information I’m seeking:

grep -i "predict" *

Searching the Source Code

Since the GitHub link was given in the heka docs, it’s trivial to clone a copy and search for keywords throughout the source and comments:

git clone
cd heka
git grep -i predict

Searching the Commit History

The git grep command used above is designed to search only in the tree and index, so Git’s metadata is left out. If you do a regular recursive grep on a Git repo, you can get a bunch of redundant or spurious matches from Git’s commit history.

When it’s time to intentionally search the commit history, Git has a tool for that too:

git log -S"predict"

The output of the git log command will by default be a list of commits, with hash, author, date, and short message. For more detail on a commit, just git show the hash:

git show ea2b3c9f12f7f046be9b3bc133ee3eda90e16306

Searching the Issue Tracker

Luckily, the terms I’m searching for are simple case-insensitive strings, so I can use the search box on the project’s GitHub issue tracker.

If I needed to search with a regular expression, or simply wanted a local copy of the issue database, my options would be to use a pre-made GitHub backup tool or the API.

Seek IRC history

Some channels are logged publicly. It’s always worth a try to join the channel and examine the /topic for any hints. IRC channel topics are also good places to find a community-specific pastebin or etherpad, both of which could potentially contain information relevant to your search.

Also, Google.

In my case, Google helped find several repositories of Heka plugins, on which I repeated the issue tracker and source code search steps. Google is also the best way of finding a project’s official blog, or simply individual blogs about the project, if those are available.