Ryan Harrison My blog, portfolio and technology related ramblings

Cygwin Change Home Directory

In a new installation of Cygwin, your home directory will be in C:/cygwin/home/<user>/, and can be accessed by the usual ~ shortcut. Although this works just fine, it’s often useful to use the utilities provided by Cygwin in your local Windows user area C:/Users/<user>. Manually navigating to your Windows home directory can be a tedious process as you also have to go through cygdrive. By default, to access your Windows area in Cygwin you would navigate to /cygdrive/c/Users/<user>. Alternatively, you can just change your Cygwin home directory to be the same as Windows for easy access to all your files.

There are numerous posts on the Internet about how to accomplish this but the accepted methods always seems to change alongside Cygwin versions. Common solutions tend to involve the mkpasswd command, various environment variables, shortcuts and even registry edits. Thankfully, it seems that in the newer versions of Cygwin, there is a much easier way which requires one simple edit to a configuration file.

Navigate to the /etc/nsswitch.conf file in your installation folder (this should be something like C:/cygwin/etc/nsswitch.conf). Open it up in your favourite text editor and make the following change to the db_home property. This change simply points your Cygwin home to your Windows home using the %H variable. After the change, the file should look like this:

# /etc/nsswitch.conf
#
# Defaults:
# passwd:   files db
# group:    files db
# db_enum:  cache builtin
db_home: /%H
# db_shell: /bin/bash
# db_gecos: <empty>

And that’s it. Fire up a new Cygwin terminal and you should see that the default directory is now your Windows home directory. As expected, ~ also now points to your Windows home area.

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Open Cygwin Here Shortcut

After frequently using the ‘Open command window here shortcut’ in Windows Explorer to open up a command prompt window in the current directory, I found it cumbersome not to have the option to open a Cygwin (or Bash) prompt as well, especially considering how I now find myself using Cygwin more and more often.

There are registry edits that you can do to get similar functionality, but it’s much easier to just use one of the packages bundled with Cygwin. Open up the Cygwin installer and select the chere package under Shells. It’s a very small package and so should install relatively quickly.

After that it’s just one command to add the new entry to the right-click context menu in Windows Explorer. Open up a new Cygwin terminal as administrator (this is important!) and run:

chere -i -t mintty

This will add a new entry to open up a mintty (bash) shell at the current directory. There are also options to specify the shell to open (-s zsh etc) and the text in the shortcut (-e "Custom text" etc). If completed successfully, you should see a new ‘Bash Prompt Here’ context menu entry:

Bash Prompt Here Entry

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New Environment Variable Editor in Windows 10

The old environment variable editor in Windows has never been the best in terms of user experience. The main editor window was not resizeable and the two listboxes showing user and system environment variables were both small - making it awkward to manage a lot of variables. The problem got even worth when editing the PATH environment variable, which can often grow to become a rather large and unwieldy string. Previously, again the variable editor itself was not resizeable, forcing you to scroll through a small textbox to read or make changes to your PATH.

Old Windows Environment Variable Editor

Thankfully, in the new November Update for Windows 10 (build 10586), which includes enhancements to the Edge browser, Cortana, Start Menu and more, Microsoft have finally updated the Environment Variable manager.

New Windows Environment Variable Editor

The main editor window is now resizeable, making it much easier to navigate through your list of variables. The real magic however happens when editing the PATH variable, which now gets it’s own dedicated editor. Each path in the variable is now listed separately in a convenient listview, allowing you to quickly add or delete entries or change the order without having to scroll the whole string or worry about any semi-colon separators.

This new enhancement hasn’t had much attention in the latest update, but is definitely welcome nonetheless. Hopefully Microsoft will continue to update similar areas in Windows which haven’t seen any attention in years.

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Spotify - Fix Repeating Radio

Spotify Logo

I tend to use the radio in Spotify quite a bit. It’s never been the best of implementations out there, but recently it’s been more annoying than usual in terms of repeating. The radio has always liked to repeat some songs over and over again, but it has now decided to repeat entire sequences of songs.

For example, if I start a new radio I will get a sequence of songs as usual. If however I listen to something else (perhaps a random song or playlist etc) and then go back to the same radio station, I will be greeted with the exact same sequence of songs as before. As you can imagine, this has gotten annoying really quickly. Initially you can keep skipping until you get to something new, but eventually that gets way too long-winded.

A quick search on the support forums show multiple users with the same kind of issues as me, but none are recent and there are no real solutions. Thankfully, after snooping through the AppData files for Spotify, I was able to come up with a solution:

  1. Navigate to the Local AppData folder for Spotify. This should be at C:/Users/<user>/AppData/Local/Spotify
  2. Locate to the Local Storage directory inside the Browser directory. At this point you should be in AppData/Local/Spotify/Browser/Local Storage
  3. There should be two files starting with http_radio. For me they are http\_radio.app.spotify.com\_0.localstorage and http\_radio.app.spotify.com\_0.localstorage-journal. Delete both of these files
  4. Restart Spotify and the radio’s should be reset

This might just be an issue for me, or might be a bug that will be fixed at some point. If it’s a design decision they need to rethink their priorities. At least I have this relatively easy fix however. I’ve put it all into a batch file and tend to run it just before I start Spotify.

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My Experiences with Hostgator

When I first launched my blog way back in 2011 I didn’t really know a whole lot about web hosting at all and just wanted to get something tangible up and running as quick as possible. Therefore of course I had no idea what constituted a half decent web hosting company. At the time I think I was just following some online tutorial which ran through the process of setting up and hosting your own site. I registered my domain with GoDaddy as recommended (and still do with no issues) and then had to move on to actually hosting my site. The tutorial recommended Hostgator and that seemed fine to me. They had pretty good reviews and the prices for shared hosting were good for a minimal setup like mine.

I got myself their most basic shared web hosting plan which consists of a single domain and unlimited (yeah, until you start using too much of course) bandwidth/email/databases. To be honest even by today’s standards that’s pretty good going. At the time I payed $5.95/mo for 2 years of hosting which included a 20% promotion (which I later learnt is pretty much a constant thing).

Hostgator Logo

They provided a good service to me for the duration of my stay. I was able to host my Wordpress blog with no issues and could easily play around with FTP and a few MySql databases on the side. Most importantly actually was the ease of getting hold of personalised email with my domain - something that it turns out is quite messy without cPanel as I found out recently.

Throughout my use of Hostgator speed wasn’t an issue - although granted I wasn’t using it for any real strenuous activity. I also didn’t get notified of any usage issues as a lot of people do with shared hosting (again this was really only Wordpress so that’s to be as expected). cPanel is ridiculously easy to use as well so no issues there setting things up.

Then my initial two year contract expired and I realised why the initial price was so cheap. The renewal invoice was sent to me and the price had increased by a third (about $70 for the two years). Not only had the base price increased slightly, but you don’t get that nice 20% discount that you take for granted when you initially sign on. There are never any renewal discounts that I can make out. Even if you have marketing emails from them, their offers are always for new accounts - never for existing customers which is a real shame. I can of course understand why they do that in the business sense, but still I would expect some kind of special offer on renewals once in a blue moon. With hindsight, I should have threatened to leave which is when they start trying to discount things, but at the time I really didn’t want the hassle of moving everything over to a new host and was happy with the service I was getting. Another two years with Hostgator it was.

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