Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in cloud computing, virtualization, and networking, all with an open source view

Opening Web Internet Location Files on Ubuntu

As part of my effort to make myself and my workflows more “cross-platform friendly,” I’ve been revisiting certain aspects of how I do things. One of the things I’m reviewing is how I capture—and later review—posts or articles on the web. On OS X, I would run an AppleScript that generated a .webloc file (aka an Internet location file). This is an XML file that OS X understands. However, Linux doesn’t natively understand these files, so today I came up with a solution to reading .webloc files with Ubuntu and Firefox.

The solution to the file involves the use of xmllint, a tool that you can install on Ubuntu as part of the “libxml2-utils” package. Using xmllint, you can easily extract a single XML element from an XML file—and .webloc files are just XML files. For the sake of illustration, here’s the contents of a .webloc file generated on OS X:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

Using xmllint, you can extract the URL value, and then pass that value to the browser of your choice (Firefox, in my case). Here’s a quick script that I concocted that will extract the URL using xmllint, then pass that URL to Firefox:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

# Test to be sure user supplied a parameter; error if not
if [ $# -eq 0 ]; then
    echo "Please supply the name of a .webloc file to open"

# Extract URL from webloc file
URL=$(xmllint --xpath "string(//string)" "$1")

# Open $URL in Firefox
/usr/bin/firefox $URL &

The trick here, apparently, is the --xpath parameter to xmllint. I don’t fully understand the syntax yet, but it looks for the element named “string” (which, in the case of a .webloc file, is the URL of the site). If the element had been named “weburl”, then the syntax would change to --xpath "string(//weburl)".

Using this script, I can now easily pass in the name of a .webloc file created on OS X and open it in Firefox on my Ubuntu laptop. The script is also easily modified to work on OS X itself as well; just replace the line calling Firefox with the open command instead. (I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.)

The next step for me is to create a .desktop file that references this script, then modify the Ubuntu environment so that double-clicking on a .webloc file invokes the script (which, in turn, invokes Firefox). Once I’ve figured that out, I’ll post something here. Until then, enjoy!

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