From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Monday, January 26, 2015

Introducing PetName libraries for Golang, Python, and Shell

Gratuitous picture of my pets, the day after we rescued them
The PetName libraries (Shell, Python, Golang) can generate infinite combinations of human readable UUIDs

Some Background

In March 2014, when I first started looking after MAAS as a product manager, I raised a minor feature request in Bug #1287224, noting that the random, 5-character hostnames that MAAS generates are not ideal. You can't read them or pronounce them or remember them easily. I'm talking about hostnames like: sldna, xwknd, hwrdz or wkrpb. From that perspective, they're not very friendly. Certainly not very Ubuntu.

We're not alone, in that respect. Amazon generates forgettable instance names like i-15a4417c, along with most virtual machine and container systems.

Meanwhile, there is a reasonably well-known concept -- Zooko's Triangle -- which says that names should be:
  • Human-meaningful: The quality of meaningfulness and memorability to the users of the naming system. Domain names and nicknaming are naming systems that are highly memorable
  • Decentralized: The lack of a centralized authority for determining the meaning of a name. Instead, measures such as a Web of trust are used.
  • Secure: The quality that there is one, unique and specific entity to which the name maps. For instance, domain names are unique because there is just one party able to prove that they are the owner of each domain name.
And, of course we know what XKCD has to say on a somewhat similar matter :-)

So I proposed a few different ways of automatically generating those names, modeled mostly after Ubuntu's beloved own code naming scheme -- Adjective Animal. To get the number of combinations high enough to model any reasonable MAAS user, though, we used Adjective Noun instead of Adjective Animal.

I collected a Adjective list and a Noun list from a blog run by moms, in the interest of having a nice, soft, friendly, non-offensive source of words.

For the most part, the feature served its purpose. We now get memorable, pronounceable names. However, we get a few odd balls in there from time to time. Most are humorous. But some combinations would prove, in fact, to be inappropriate, or perhaps even offensive to some people.

Accepting that, I started thinking about other solutions.

In the mean time, I realized that Docker had recently launched something similar, their NamesGenerator, which pairs an Adjective with a Famous Scientist's Last Name (except they have explicitly blacklisted boring_wozniak, because "Steve Wozniak is not boring", of course!).

Similarly, Github itself now also "suggests" random repo names.

I liked one part of the Docker approach better -- the use of proper names, rather than random nouns.

On the other hand, their approach is hard-coded into the Docker Golang source itself, and not usable or portable elsewhere, easily.

Moreover, there's only a few dozen Adjectives (57) and Names (76), yielding only about 4K combinations (4332) -- which is not nearly enough for MAAS's purposes, where we're shooting for 16M+, with minimal collisions (ie, covering a Class A network).

Introducing the PetName Libraries

I decided to scrap the Nouns list, and instead build a Names list. I started with Last Names (like Docker), but instead focused on First Names, and built a list of about 6,000 names from public census data.  I also built a new list of nearly 38,000 Adjectives.

The combination actually works pretty well! While smelly-Susan isn't particularly charming, it's certainly not an ad hominem attack targeted at any particular Susan! That 6,000 x 38,000 gives us well over 228 million unique combinations!

Moreover, I also thought about how I could actually make it infinitely extensible... The simple rules of English allow Adjectives to modify Nouns, while Adverbs can recursively modify other Adverbs or Adjectives.   How convenient!

So I built a word list of Adverbs (13,000) as well, and added support for specifying the "number" of words in a PetName.
  1. If you want 1, you get a random Name 
  2. If you want 2, you get a random Adjective followed by a Name 
  3. If you want 3 or more, you get N-2 Adverbs, an Adjective and a Name 
Oh, and the separator is now optional, and can be any character or string, with a default of a hyphen, "-".

In fact:
  • 2 words will generate over 221 million unique combinations, over 227 combinations
  • 3 words will generate over 2.8 trillion unique combinations, over 241 combinations (more than 32-bit space)
  • 4 words can generate over 255 combinations
  • 5 words can generate over 268 combinations (more than 64-bit space)
Interestingly, you need 10 words to cover 128-bit space!  So it's





So once the algorithm was spec'd out, I built and packaged a simple shell utility and text word lists, called petname, which are published at:
The packages are already in Ubuntu 15.04 (Vivid). On any other version of Ubuntu, you can use the PPA:

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:petname/ppa
$ sudo apt-get update

$ sudo apt-get install petname
$ petname
$ petname -w 3
$ petname -s ":" -w 5


That's only really useful from the command line, though. In MAAS, we'd want this in a native Python library. So it was really easy to create python-petname, source now published at:
The packages are already in Ubuntu 15.04 (Vivid). On any other version of Ubuntu, you can use the PPA:

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:python-petname/ppa
$ sudo apt-get update

$ sudo apt-get install python-petname
$ python-petname
$ python-petname -w 4
$ python-petname -s "" -w 2

Using it in your own Python code looks as simple as this:

$ python
⟫⟫⟫ import petname
⟫⟫⟫ foo = petname.Generate(3, "_")
⟫⟫⟫ print(foo)


In the way that NamesGenerator is useful to Docker, I though a Golang library might be useful for us in LXD (and perhaps even usable by Docker or others too), so I created:
Of course you can use "go get" to fetch the Golang package:

$ export GOPATH=$HOME/go
$ mkdir -p $GOPATH
$ export PATH=$PATH:$GOPATH/bin
$ go get

And also, the packages are already in Ubuntu 15.04 (Vivid). On any other version of Ubuntu, you can use the PPA:

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:golang-petname/ppa
$ sudo apt-get update

$ sudo apt-get install golang-petname
$ golang-petname
$ golang-petname -words=1
$ golang-petname -separator="|" -words=10

Using it in your own Golang code looks as simple as this:

package main
import (
func main() {
        fmt.Println(petname.Generate(2, ""))
Gratuitous picture of my pets, 7 years later.