Sep 05, 2023

Auto-generated hash-petnames for things

Usually auto-generated names aim for being meaningful instead of distinct, e.g. LEAFAL01A-P281, LEAFAN02A-P281, LEAFAL01B-P282, LEAFEL01A-P281, LEAFEN01A-P281, etc, where single-letter diffs are common and decode to something like different location or purpose.

Sometimes they aren't even that, and are assigned sequentially or by hash, like in case of contents hashes, or interfaces/vlans/addresses in a network infrastructure.

You always have to squint and spend time mentally decoding such identifiers, as one letter/digit there can change whole meaning of the message, so working with them is unnecessarily tiring, especially if a system often presents many of those without any extra context.

Usual fix is naming things, i.e. assigning hostnames to separate hardware platforms/VMs, DNS names to addresses, and such, but that doesn't work well with modern devops approaches where components are typically generated with "reasonable" but less readable naming schemes as described above.

Manually naming such stuff up-front doesn't work, and even assigning petnames or descriptions by hand gets silly quickly (esp. with some churn in the system), and it's not always possible to store/share that extra metadata properly (e.g. on rebuilds in entirely different places).

Useful solution I found is hashing to an automatically generated petnames, which seem to be kinda overlooked and underused - i.e. to hash the name to an easily-distinct, readable and often memorable-enough strings:

  • LEAFAL01A-P281 [ Energetic Amethyst Zebra ]
  • LEAFAN02A-P281 [ Furry Linen Eagle ]
  • LEAFAL01B-P282 [ Suave Mulberry Woodpecker ]
  • LEAFEL01A-P281 [ Acidic Black Flamingo ]
  • LEAFEN01A-P281 [ Prehistoric Raspberry Pike ]

Even just different length of these names makes them visually stand apart from each other already, and usually you don't really need to memorize them in any way, it's enough to be able to tell them apart at a glance in some output.

I've bumped into only one de-facto standard scheme for generating those - "Angry Purple Tiger", with a long list of compatible implementations (e.g. ):

% angry_purple_tiger LEAFEL01A-P281

% angry_purple_tiger LEAFEN01A-P281

(default output is good for identifiers, but can use proper spaces and capitalization to be more easily-readable, without changing the words)

It's not as high-entropy as "human hash" tools that use completely random words or babble (see z-tokens for that), but imo wins by orders of magnitude in readability and ease of memorization instead, and on the scale of names, it matters.

Since those names don't need to be stored anywhere, and can be generated anytime, it is often easier to add them in some wrapper around tools and APIs, without the need for the underlying system to know or care that they exist, while making a world of difference in usability.

Honorable mention here to occasional tools like docker that have those already, but imo it's more useful to remember about this trick for your own scripts and wrappers, as that tends to be the place where you get to pick how to print stuff, and can easily add an extra hash for that kind of accessibility.