Debugging slow bash startup files

Recently I found that opening a new bash session (e.g. when opening a new terminal window) was getting a bit slow on my machine. I take reasonable care to make sure my dotfiles don’t get too crufty, and I keep them all in version control.

The following is a walk through of how I went about debugging the issue.

So, how does one go about profiling what bash is doing when starting a login shell/interactive shell?

My initial thought was to use some kind of system call tracing to see what files were being opened/executed. dtrace exists on OS X, so let’s try that:

sudo dtruss -ef bash

Sadly, the output isn’t overly useful due to System Integrity Protection. I don’t want to boot into recovery mode, so what are our options?

I regularly add set -o xtrace to my bash scripts … would the same thing work for my .bashrc? I added the line, and executed bash:

+ source /Users/mnewman/.bash_profile
++ export PATH=/Users/mnewman/bin:/Users/mnewman/perl5/bin:/Users/mnewman/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/Users/mnewman/.rvm/bin
++ PATH=/Users/mnewman/bin:/Users/mnewman/perl5/bin:/Users/mnewman/bin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin:/Users/mnewman/.rvm/bin
++ for file in ~/.{path,bash_prompt,exports,aliases,functions,extra}
++ '[' -r /Users/mnewman/.path ']'
++ for file in ~/.{path,bash_prompt,exports,aliases,functions,extra}
++ '[' -r /Users/mnewman/.bash_prompt ']'

It looks like that works (the above is showing the start of my .bash_profile, which is sourced from .bashrc). There is a lot of output there though, and we still don’t have any timing information. A little searching for variants of bash add timestamp to each line led me to an SO answer recommending ts. Looking at the manual page for ts:

$ man ts

       ts - timestamp input

       ts [-r] [-i | -s] [format]

       ts adds a timestamp to the beginning of each line of input.

       The optional format parameter controls how the timestamp is formatted, as used by strftime(3). The default format is "%b %d %H:%M:%S". In addition to the regular strftime
       conversion specifications, "%.S" and "%.s" are like "%S" and "%s", but provide subsecond resolution (ie, "30.00001" and "1301682593.00001").

       If the -r switch is passed, it instead converts existing timestamps in the input to relative times, such as "15m5s ago". Many common timestamp formats are supported. Note that
       the Time::Duration and Date::Parse perl modules are required for this mode to work. Currently, converting localized dates is not supported.

       If both -r and a format is passed, the existing timestamps are converted to the specified format.

       If the -i or -s switch is passed, ts timestamps incrementally instead. In case of -i, every timestamp will be the time elapsed since the last timestamp. In case of -s, the time
       elapsed since start of the program is used.  The default format changes to "%H:%M:%S", and "%.S" and "%.s" can be used as well.

So far so good, it looks like we could use ts -i and get the duration of every command! I’d like to try this out, but how can we redirect the xtrace output to ts?

Some further Googling led me to this SO answer, which suggests using the BASH_XTRACEFD variable to tell bash where to write its xtrace output. After some trial and error, I added a few lines to my .bashrc:

# open file descriptor 5 such that anything written to /dev/fd/5
# is piped through ts and then to /tmp/timestamps
exec 5> >(ts -i "%.s" >> /tmp/timestamps)

export BASH_XTRACEFD="5"

# Enable tracing
set -x

# Source my .bash_profile script, as usual
[ -n "$PS1" ] && source ~/.bash_profile;

Upon restarting bash, this produces (a lot of) output in /tmp/timestamps, and each line contains an incremental timestamp, like so:

0.000046 ++ which brew
0.003437 +++ brew --prefix
0.025518 ++ '[' -f /usr/local/share/bash-completion/bash_completion ']'
0.000741 +++ brew --prefix

These particular lines tell me that a brew --prefix command executed and took 20ms.

With output like the above, I had enough info to track down a couple of slow loading scripts (like sourcing and remove them from my .bashrc/.bash_profile.