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A server-side framework that makes it easy to manage artistic bots that post to social media.

Project description


Botfriend is a Python framework for managing a lot of creative bots that post to a number of different services.

I think the primary features of Botfriend are these:

  • Minimal Python coding -- just write the interesting part of your bot.
  • Simple configuration based on YAML.
  • Easy scheduling of posts.
  • Each bot can post to Twitter and/or Mastodon. (Tumblr support is planned.)
  • Built-in access to art supplies through Olipy.

Botfriend is a Python library that runs on a server. If you're not comfortable with setting up a cron job, or writing Python code, I recommend you instead check out Cheap Bots, Done Quick or Cheap Bots, Toot Sweet!, as a simpler way to express your creativity.

The Story

I wrote Botfriend to manage about thirty different Twitter bots that I created. I found myself constantly copying and pasting, writing the same code over and over. Every bot does something different, but they all have certain basic needs: connecting to various services and APIs, deciding when to post something, managing backlogs of content, and so on. There's no reason each bot needs its own version of this code. The only part of a bot that needs new code is the creative bit.

My other big problem was, I've come to dislike Twitter. It's a great platform for creative bots, but every time I created a bot, I felt guilty about increasing the value of an platform I think is making the world worse. (Also, Twitter has started suspending my bots for no reason.)

I didn't want to give up my botmaking hobby, so I started investigating the world of Mastodon bots. This created another problem: it's a big pain to rewrite thirty bots to post to a different service. If I was going to do that much work, I wanted the end product to be a reusable library that could save everyone time.

So I went through my thirty bots, rewrote everything, and moved all of the reusable code into Botfriend. Now my bots are a lot smaller and easier to manage. All of the tedious code is in one place, and I can focus on the fun part of bot-writing.

Consider a bot like A Dull Bot (source). Creating this bot was a fair amount of work. But all of the work went into the fun part: creating an accurate software model of the typewriter from The Shining. There's no code for making sure the bot posts once an hour, or for pushing the typewritten text through the Twitter or Mastodon APIs. Botfriend takes care of all that stuff.

If you want to save code on your own bot projects, port your bots from Twitter to Mastodon, or just expand the reach of your bots, I hope you'll consider Botfriend.


I recommend you run Botfriend in a Python virtual environment. Here's how to create a virtual environment called env and install Botfriend into it.

$ virtualenv env
$ source env/bin/activate
$ pip install botfriend

You'll interact with Botfriend exclusively through command-line scripts. From this point on I'll be giving lots of example command lines. All of my examples assume you've entered the Botfriend virtual environment by running this command beforehand:

$ source env/bin/activate

A simple example: Number Jokes

By default, Botfriend expects you to put the source code for the bots in a directory bots/, located in the same directory as your virtual environment. So if your virtual environment is located in /home/myusername/botfriend/env, Botfriend will expect your bots to live underneath /home/myusername/botfriend/bots.

The Botfriend database itself will be stored in the bot directory as botfriend.sqlite.

If you want to store your Botfriend data somewhere other than bots/, every Botfriend script takes a --config argument that points to your bot directory. But most of the time, bots/ is fine.

Each individual bot will live in a subdirectory of your bot directory, named after the bot. Let's get started with a simple example, called number-jokes.

$ mkdir bots
$ mkdir bots/number-jokes

Each bot needs to contain two special files: for source code and bot.yaml for configuration. Coming up with the joke

Imagine walking up to to a comedian and saying "Tell me a joke!" A human comedian probably won't appreciate it, but this is what bots live for. For a Botfriend bot, is where the comedian comes up with their jokes.

To get started, we'll make a simple bot that makes up observational humor about numbers.

To get started, open up bots/number-jokes/ in a text editor and write this in there:

import random
from import TextGeneratorBot

class NumberJokes(TextGeneratorBot):

    def generate_text(self):
        """Tell a joke about numbers."""
        num = random.randint(1,10)
        arguments = dict(
        setup = "Why is %(num)d afraid of %(plus_1)d? "
        punchline = "Because %(plus_1)d ate %(plus_3)d!"
        return (setup + punchline) % arguments

Bot = NumberJokes

Botfriend provides a lot of utilities to help you write a good, but there's only one hard-and-fast rule: by the end of the file, you have to have a class called Bot. The Botfriend scripts are going to load your Bot class, instantiate it, and use it to do... whatever the bot does.

Some bots do a lot of work to come up with a single "joke". They might draw pictures, do database queries, make API calls, all sorts of complicated things. As befits an example, NumberJokes here does almost no work. It just picks a random number and puts it into a string.

bot.yaml: Telling the joke

Like most comedians, bots are constantly coming up with jokes. But if no one ever hears the joke, what's the point? The bot.yaml file explains how a Botfriend bot should tell its jokes to the public.

Open up the file bots/number-jokes/bot.yaml and write this in there:

name: "Number Jokes"
schedule: 60
      filename: "number-jokes.txt"

Like, bot.yaml can get really complicated, but most of the time it's pretty simple. This file is saying:

  • The name of the bot is "Number Jokes".

  • The bot should 'tell a joke' once an hour.

  • This bot tells jokes by writting them to the file number-jokes.txt. (This is relative to the bot directory, so it's going to be in bots/number-jokes/number-jokes.txt.)

Now you're ready to make your bot tell some jokes, using some basic Botfriend scripts.

The basic scripts

The script makes each of your bots come up with a joke and tell it. Run it now:

# Number Jokes | file | Published 2019-01-20 | Why is 4 afraid of 5… 

Now look at the file you configured in bot.yaml. You told Number Jokes to post its jokes to bots/number-jokes/number-jokes.txt. That file didn't exist before you ran, but now it does exist, and it's got a joke in it:

$ cat bots/number-jokes/number-jokes.txt
2019-01-20 10:23:44 | Why is 4 afraid of 5? Because 5 ate 7!

Hilarious, right? You'll be running this script a lot, probably as part of an automated process. On my site I run every five minutes. (I show an example of how to do this at the end of this document.)

If your bot isn't scheduled to tell a joke, will do nothing. Run it again now -- nothing will happen.


Number Jokes told a joke the first time you ran it, and (as you told it in bot.yaml) it's only supposed to tell one joke an hour. So, no new joke.

If you were to wait an hour and run again, you'd get another joke. But don't wait -- keep going through this tutorial!

Running a script on just one bot

By specifying a directory name on the command line, you can make (and most other Botfriend scripts) operate on just one bot, not all of your bots. Right now, it doesn't make a difference, because you only have one bot, but here's how to do it:

$ number-jokes

Forcing a bot to post

You can use --force to make a bot tell a joke even if its schedule wouldn't normally allow it.

$ number-jokes --force
# LOG 2019-01-20 | Number Jokes | file | Published 2019-01-20 | Why is 9 afraid of 10… 

Now bots/number-jokes/number-jokes.txt contains two jokes.

$ cat bots/number-jokes/number-jokes.txt
2019-01-20 10:23:44 | Why is 4 afraid of 5? Because 5 ate 7!
2019-01-20 10:26:12 | Why is 9 afraid of 10? Because 10 ate 11!


This script is good for getting an overview of your bots. It shows what they've been up to lately and when they're scheduled to post again.

$ botfriend.dashboard number-jokes
# Number Jokes | Most recent post: Why is 9 afraid of 10? Because 10 ate 12!
# Number Jokes | file posted 0m ago (2019-01-20 10:26:12)
# Number Jokes | Next post in 59m


If you have a lot of bots, it can be annoying to remember all their names. The botfriend.bots script just lists all the bots known to Botfriend.

$ botfriend.bots
# number-jokes

Still only one bot so far.


It's difficult to test a bot that does random things. You might have a bug that makes the bot crash only one time in a thousand. Or your bot might never crash, but sometimes take a long time to run.

This is why we have the botfriend.test.stress script, which asks a bot to come up with ten thousand jokes in a row. The jokes aren't published anywhere; the goal is just to give a good test of all the possible cases that might happen inside your bot.

Since Number Jokes is really simple, it can generate ten thousand jokes with no problem, although some of them are repeats:

$ botfriend.test.stress number-jokes
# Why is 2 afraid of 3? Because 3 ate 5!
# Why is 7 afraid of 8? Because 8 ate 10!
# Why is 1 afraid of 2? Because 2 ate 4!
# Why is 4 afraid of 5? Because 5 ate 7!
# Why is 4 afraid of 5? Because 5 ate 7!
# Why is 7 afraid of 8? Because 8 ate 10!
# ... etc. etc. ...

If you've got a complicated bot, it can be a good idea to run botfriend.test.stress on it a couple of times before using it for real.

How to publish

There are a few more interesting features of Botfriend, but let's take a minute to talk about the boring features. It's easy to make a bot write its posts to a file, but nobody's going to see that. What you really need is to get some Twitter or Mastodon credentials. (Specific instructions are below.)

Once you have some credentials, open up your bot's bot.yaml file, add your credentials to the publish configuration setting. This will give your bot additional ways to publish its posts.

Here's an example. This is what the configuration for Number Jokes would look like if it had Twitter and Mastodon connections set up, in addition to writing everything to a file.

name: Number Jokes
schedule: 60
    filename: number-jokes.txt
    api_base_url: ''
    client_id: cc13bf3de67fb399475c315e4a9bf5dd4dfb7ea0f3a521fca72a9c8bf02075ab
    client_secret: 0946d2634d7b6aa1ea93af4b183fccf14e9df2e2b55db8fcdb0c8a5f267ff312
    access_token: c76eb18c5c0dc7c1fe09b53ac175b3b9ed081b0e43ea4d60e94ee721b83c1eda
    consumer_key: t7CfbbNLB3jfoAKI
    consumer_secret: 2teOyqqgFpFpytFanuOXzfjvR3vEmYH3
    access_token: 3341062559-SbUlEDFCDn6k6vHHDWGwqlK0wyZ0fKRegaZMyS9lwBa4L5VXY5fdl
    access_token_secret: ALc2CPkkrSBf33swYluxEgdC0GNueQK3x6D4pEr8GGDpqrmed

(These credentials won't work -- I made them up to resemble real Twitter and Mastodon credentials.)

Publish to a file

This is the simplest publication technique, and it's really only good for testing and for keeping a log. The file publisher takes one configuration setting: filename, the name of the file to write to.

        filename: "anniversary.txt"

Publish to Twitter

To get your bot on Twitter, you need to create a Twitter account for the bot, log in as the bot, and then get four different values: consumer_key, consumer_secret, access_token and access_token_secret. These four values, when inserted into bot.yaml, give you the ability to post to a specific Twitter account using the Twitter API.

Getting those four values can be tricky, and Twitter periodically changes up the rules and the processes. Bot Wiki links to various tutorials for setting this stuff up.

Once you have these four values, put them into bot.yaml, and your bot will be able to post to its Twitter account.

Publish to a Mastodon instance

To connect your bot to Mastodon, you create a Mastodon account for the bot, log in as the bot, and then get four values.

First, api_base_url-- this is easy, it's just the URL to the Mastodon instance you used to create the account. I like to use, a Mastodon instance created especially for bots.

Then you need to get client_id, client_secret, and access_token. You can get these values by logging in as your bot, going to the Settings page, clicking "Development", and creating a new application. (If that's not working for you, try Darius Kazemi's instructions.)

Once you have these four values, put them into bot.yaml, and your bot will be able to post to its Mastodon account.

Okay, now back to the cool bots you can write with Botfriend.

botfriend.test.publisher: test your publishing credentials

The botfriend.test.publisher script tries out all of your bots' publishing credentials to make sure they work. If a bot is having trouble posting, the problem will show up here.

For every bot with a publishing technique that works, you'll get a line that starts with GOOD. For every publishing technique that's broken, you'll get a line that starts with FAIL.

In this example, writing to a file works fine, but since the Twitter and Mastodon credentials are made up, Twitter and Mastodon won't actually accept them.

$ botfriend.test.publisher
# GOOD Number Jokes file
# FAIL Number Jokes twitter: [{u'message': u'Bad Authentication data.', u'code': 215}]
# FAIL Number Jokes mastodon: {u'error': u'The access token is invalid'}

Bots that keep a backlog: Boat Names

Some comedians can come up with original jokes on the fly, over and over again. Others keep a Private Joke File: a list of jokes assembled ahead of time which they can dip into as necessary.

Instead of writing a bunch of generator code in a Botfriend bot, you can generate a backlog of posts, however you like. It's easy to create a bot that simply posts items from its backlog, in order, one at a time.

If your style is more writing than programming, you can just write the backlog in a text editor. This way you can create a Botfriend bot without writing any code at all.

Let's make a simple backlog bot that posts interesting names for boats, taken from the website Ten Thousand Boat Names. (What I'm about to describe is exactly how my real bot Boat Names works.)

First, make a directory for the bot:

$ mkdir bots/boat-names

This bot is so simple that you don't need any code to program its behavior. Just create an empty file, so that Botfriend knows this is a bot and not some random directory.

$ touch bots/boat-names/

Just like Number Jokes, Boat Names needs a bot.yaml to tell it where to post and how often. Create bots/boat-names/bot.yaml and put this text in there:

name: Boat Names
    file: boat-names.txt
    mean: 480
    stdev: 15

The schedule here is a little different than in the first example bot. The first example's posts will come exactly one hour apart. This bot posts every eight hours (480 minutes), on average, but there is some random variation--usually up to fifteen or thirty minutes in either direction.

Now, running botfriend.bots will list both of your bots.

$ botfriend.bots
# boat-names
# number-jokes

Running will tell both bots to post something if they want, but Boat Names can never post anything, because it has no backlog and no logic for generating new posts. It can't come up with its own jokes -- you have to help it.


The botfriend.backlog.load script lets you add items to a bot's backlog from a file. The simplest way to do this is with a text file containing one post per line.

Let's create a backlog file. This can go anywhere, but I recommend keeping it in the same directory as the rest of the bot, in case something goes wrong and you need to recreate it. Open up a file bots/boat-names/backlog.txt and put a few boat names in it:

Cozy Cat
Hull # 14
Always On Vacation
Sea Deuce
Bay Viewer
Clean Livin'
Goodnight Moon
Innocent Dream

Now you can load the backlog:

$ botfriend.backlog.load boat-names --file=bots/boat-names/backlog.txt
# LOG | Backlog load script | Appended 13 items to backlog.
# LOG | Backlog load script | Backlog size now 13 items

Once there are items in the backlog, will work:

# LOG | Boat Names | file | Published 2019-01-20 03:15 | Honukele

The script will summarize a bot's current backlog. It'll show you how many items are in the backlog and what's coming up next.

$ boat-names
# Boat Names | 12 posts in backlog
# Boat Names | LA PARISIENNE


The botfriend.backlog.clear script will completely erase a bot's backlog.

$ bin/backlog.clear boat-names
# Boat Names | About to clear the backlog for Boat Names.
# Boat Names | Sleeping for 2 seconds to give you a chance to Ctrl-C.

$ bin/ boat-names
#  Boat Names | No backlog.

Bots that keep state: Web Words

Sometimes a bot needs to do something that takes a long time, or something that might be annoying if it happened frequently. Botfriend allows this difficult or annoying thing to be done rarely. The results are stored in the bot's state for later reference.

Let's create one more example bot. This one's called "Web Words". Its job is to download random web pages and pick random phrases from them.

$ mkdir bots/web-words

We're going to split the "download a random web page" part of the bot from the "pick a random phrase" part. The "pick a random phrase" part will run every time the bot is asked to post something. The "download a random web page" part will only run once a day, because it involves making a bunch of HTTP requests to random domain names. But once you have a web page downloaded, it's quick and easy to pull a random chunk out of it.

This time let's start with the bot.yaml file:

name: "Web Words"
schedule: 60
state_update_schedule: 1440
      filename: "web-words.txt"

This bot will post according to its schedule, once an hour (60 minutes). But there's another thing that's going to happen once a day (every 1440 minutes): a "state update".

Here's the code for Web Words. Put this in bots/web-words/

import random
import re
from olipy import corpora
import requests
from import TextGeneratorBot

class WebWords(TextGeneratorBot):
    """A bot that pulls random words from a random webpage."""

    def update_state(self):
        """Choose random domain names until we find one that hosts a web page
        larger than ten kilobytes.
        new_state = None
        while not new_state:

            # Make up a random URL.
            word = random.choice(corpora.words.english_words['words'])
            domain = random.choice(["com", "net", "org"])
            url = "http://www.%s.%s/" % (word, domain)

      "Trying to get new state from %s" % url)
                response = requests.get(url, timeout=5)
                potential_new_state = response.content
                if len(potential_new_state) < 1024 * 10:
                    # This is probably a generic domain parking page.
          "That was too small, trying again.")
                new_state = response.content
            except Exception, e:
      "That didn't work, trying again.")
        return new_state

    def generate_text(self):
        """Choose some words at random from a webpage."""
        webpage = self.model.state

        # Choose a random point in the web page that's not right at the end.
        total_size = len(webpage)
        near_the_end = int(total_size * 0.9)
        starting_point = random.randint(0, near_the_end)

        # Find some stuff in the webpage that looks like words, rather than HTML.
        some_words = re.compile("([A-Za-z\s]{10,})")

        match =[starting_point:])
        if not match:
            # Because we didn't find anything, we're choosing not to post
            # anything right now.
            return None
        data = match.groups()[0].strip()
        return data

Bot = WebWords

The first time you tell Botfriend to post something for this bot, Botfriend will call the update_state() method. This method may try several times to find a web page it can use, but it will eventually succeed.

$ web-words
Web Words | Trying to get new state from
Web Words | That was too small, trying again.
Web Words | Trying to get new state from
Web Words | That didn't work, trying again.
Web Words | Trying to get new state from
Web Words | That was too small, trying again.
Web Words | Trying to get new state from
Web Words | Success!
Web Words | file | Published 2019-01-10 01:45 | e experimental group

Once the state is in place, running again won't download a whole new web page every time. Instead, Web Words will choose another random string from the webpage it's already downloaded.

$ web-words --force
Web Words | file | Published 2019-01-10 01:46 an old superstition

This bot's state expires in one day (this was set in its bot.yaml). 24 hours after update_state() is called for the first time, running will cause Botfriend to call that method again. A brand new web page will be downloaded, and for the next 24 hours all of the Web Words posts will come from that new web page. - Showing the state

This script simply prints out a bot's current state.

$ web-words

botfriend.state.refresh - Refreshing the state

You can use this script to forcibly refresh a bot's state by calling update_state(), even if the bot's configured state_update_schedule says it's not time to call that method yet.

$ botfriend.state.refresh web-words
# Web Words | Trying to get new state from
# ...

botfriend.state.set - Setting the state to a specific value

You can use this script to set a bot's state to a specific value, rather than setting the state by calling the update_state() method. Here, instead of telling Web Words to pick random strings from a web page, we're telling it to pick random strings from its own source code.

$ bin/state.set web-words --file=bots/web-words/

$ bin/post web-words --force
Web Words | file | Published 2019-01-21 1:56 | olipy import corpora

botfriend.state.clear - Clearing the state

This script will completely erase a bot's script, making it as though update_state() has never been called.

$ bin/state.clear web-words

More examples

The the botfriend source repository includes complete source code for about ten bots, including the three covered in this document and several actual bots that I run. To try them out, check out the repository and copy the contents of its bots.sample directory into your bots directory.

$ git clone
$ cp -r botfriend/bots.sample/* bots
$ ls bots
# a-dull-bot   boat-names         frances-daily   postcards
# ama          botfriend.sqlite     roller-derby
# anniversary  crowd-board-games  link-relations  serial-entrepreneur
# best-of-rhp  euphemism          number-jokes    web-words

Every bot directory contains a file explaining how that bot works and which special features of Botfriend (if any) it uses.

Here are the example bots:

  • A Dull Bot - A simple text generation bot.
  • I Am A Bot. AMA! - A bot that keeps complex state for the sake of not repeating a joke.
  • Anniversary Materials - A text generation bot that uses a lot of different types of input.
  • Best of RHP - A Twitter-specific bot that does nothing but selectively retweet another account.
  • Boat Names - A simple bot that posts from a backlog. The second example bot described in this document.
  • Crowd Board Games - A bot that parses an RSS feed and creates a post for every entry.
  • Euphemism Bot - A text generation bot that builds its posts from a grammar.
  • Frances Daily - A bot whose posts are scheduled for specific dates and times, rather than randomly or every-so-often. On some days, there are no posts at all.
  • Link Relations - A bot that periodically scrapes a web page and posts about anything new it finds.
  • Number Jokes - The first example bot described in this help document, a simple text generator bot.
  • Roy's Postcards - A bot that posts images as well as text.
  • Deathbot 3000 - A backlog-based bot that loads its backlog in a custom format and formats it dynamically, rather than loading in strings and posting the strings.
  • Serial Entrepreneur - A complex text generator bot.
  • Web Words - The third example bot described in this help document. A bot that keeps randomly selected web pages as state.

Posting on a regular basis

Once you have a few bots, you'll need to run the script regularly to keep new content flowing. The best way to do this is to set up a cron job to schedule the script to run every few minutes. Don't worry about posting too often. Bots that need to post something will post when they're ready. Bots that don't need to post anything right when is run, will be quiet, and bide their time.

Here's what my cron script looks like:

source $HOME/scripts/botfriend/env/bin/activate

Here's how I use a cron job to run it every five minutes

*/5 * * * * /home/leonardr/scripts/botfriend/cron 2> /home/leonardr/scripts/botfriend_err

Any errors that happen during the run are appended to a file, botfriend_err, which I can check periodically.

That's pretty much it. The rest of this document is just talking about some advanced features of Botfriend, which you probably won't need your first time out.

Sophisticated configuration

Let's take another look at the bot.yaml file for the "Number Jokes" bot:

name: Number Jokes
schedule: 60
    filename: number-jokes.txt

The name option should be self-explanatory -- it's the human-readable name of the bot. Now let's take a detailed look at the other two options.


The schedule configuration option controls how often your bot should post. There are basically three strategies.

  1. Set schedule to a number of minutes. (This is what Number Jokes does.) Your bot will post at exact intervals, with that number of minutes between posts.
  2. Give schedule a mean number of minutes. Your bot will post at randomly determined intervals, with approximately that number of minutes between posts, but with a fair amount of random variation.
  3. To fine-tune the randomness, you can specify a stdev to go along with the mean. This sets the standard deviation used when calculating when the next post should be. Set it to a low number, and posts will nearly mean minutes apart. Set it to a high number, and the posting schedule will vary widely.

You can omit schedule if your bot schedules all of its posts ahead of time (like Frances Daily does).


There's a related option, state_update_schedule, which you only need to set if your bot keeps internal state, like Web Words does. This option works the same way as schedule, but instead of controlling how often the bot should post, it controls how often your update_state() method is called.

Other configuration settings

Certain types of bots have other specific configuration settings. A subclass of RetweetBot, like Best of RHP, will use a special configuration setting called retweet-user. This controls which Twitter account the bot retweets. Your bot can define its own custom configuration options--the configuration object is parsed as YAML and passed into the Bot constructor as the config argument. You can look in there and pick out whatever information you want.


If you put a file called default.yaml in your Botfriend directory (next to botfriend.sqlite), all of your bots will inherit the values in that file.

Almost all my bots use the same Mastodon and Twitter client keys (but different application keys), and all my Mastodon bots are hosted at I keep these configuration settings in default.yaml so I don't have to repeat them in every single bot.yaml file. My default.yaml looks like this:

  mastodon: {api_base_url: '', client_id: a, client_secret: b}
  twitter: {consumer_key: c, consumer_secret: d}

This way, inside a given bot.yaml file, I only have to fill in the information that's not specified in default.yaml:

name: My Bot
  access_token: efg
  access_token: hij
  access_token_secret: klm
 mean: 120

Programmatic access to an API

Sometimes you'll need to use a site's API for more than just posting to the site. Every bot has a number of publishers configured through its publish settings, and the corresponding Publisher objects are available from inside aBotasself.publishers. Once you have aPublisherobject, the raw API client will always be available asPublisher.api`.

See the IAmABot constructor for an example. This bot needs a Twitter API client to get its data, so it looks through self.publishers until it finds the Twitter publisher, and grabs its .api, storing it for later.


There are a lot of features of Botfriend that I've barely touched or not mentioned at all: bots that retweet other Twitter accounts, bots that get their posts by scraping a web page for their content, scripts for republishing posts that weren't posted properly the first time.

But the features I've covered are the main ones you need to get started and to see the power of Botfriend. I hope you enjoy it!

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