Pressing the button with Haskell

by Taylor Fausak on

On April Fools’ Day, Reddit announced the button. They explained that:

A button and timer will become active at /r/thebutton. The timer will count down from 60 seconds. If the button is pressed the timer will reset to 60 seconds and continue counting down. Only users logged into accounts created before 2015-04-01 can press the button.

You may only press the button once.

In the 22 days since then, the timer on the button has not dipped below 14 seconds. Over 800,000 users have pressed the button.

I have not yet pressed the button. As a programmer, I wanted to understand how the button works. So I wrote a Haskell program that watches the button and presses it when it hits the time you want. I called this program Hutton.

Assuming that you have Haskell installed, you can install and run Hutton like this:

$ cabal update
$ cabal install hutton
# hutton threshold username password
$ hutton 10 taylorfausak secret

That will connect to Reddit and listen to the button, printing out its state every second. Once the timer goes below the threshold, it will press the button. Hutton will get you the time that you want; if someone else presses it before you, you won’t end up with a 60-second press.

So how does Hutton work? First is uses Reddit’s API to log into your account. It grabs a modhash and a cookie. Both of these are necessary to use the API, which is how the button is pressed.

After that, it loads /r/thebutton to get two values: the current timestamp and a hash. Both of these are necessary to listen to the button. This is the last step of the setup.

Once it’s done that, it connects to a secure WebSocket. (Haskell’s websockets packge does not support secure WebSockets. I wrote Wuss, a wrapper that does support WSS.) The socket sends messages about the current state of the button. They look like this:

  "type": "ticking",
  "payload": {
    "participants_text": "810,483",
    "tick_mac": "9e32acfb0c1fb176424b124ece9325a1a19a2576",
    "seconds_left": 31.0,
    "now_str": "2015-04-23-14-21-21"

Hutton parses those messages and displays them to you in a tab-separated table.

If the seconds_left field is ever less than or equal to the threshold you set, Hutton will post to Reddit’s API. This is the same mechanism that the JavaScript on /r/thebutton uses. There is one key difference though: On /r/thebutton, the timer updates continuously. So if someone presses the button a second before you, the timer will reset and you will have pressed it at 60 seconds. This cannot happen with Hutton.

And that’s all it does. If you’re curious about exactly how it works, I encourage you to read the source. Hopefully it is approachable. If there is any interest, I can provide compiled binaries of Hutton.

If you’re still trying to figure out what the big deal is with the button, I can’t help you. I don’t know either.