Command line emoji search

Sometimes, I find myself wanting to communicate in emoji.


How about this:

$ emoji chicken

$ emoji "which came first, the 🐔 or the 🥚"
which came first, the 🐔 or the 🍳

To start off, I’m going to use the data from muan’s emojilib on GitHub: github:muan/emojilib. Specifically, their list of keywords that relate to any given emoji: emojis.json1

We’ll fetch that file if we haven’t before and otherwise use a locally cached version:

cache_path = os.path.expanduser('~/.emoji.json')
remote_url = ''

if not os.path.exists(cache_path):
    with open(cache_path, 'w') as fout:
        response = requests.get(remote_url)

with open(cache_path, 'r') as fin:
    emoji = json.load(fin)

After that, there are two different ways that we can look up Emoji. We can either look them up by a semi official name or by keyword. This function will search through the both, matching on names first and then falling back to the first which matches the given keyword (this script isn’t designed to return choices for emoji, but rather just choose the first one that fits; because a Python dict isn’t ordered, this is actually non-deterministic):

def emoji_by_keyword(keyword):
    if keyword in emoji:
        return emoji[keyword]['char']

    for name in emoji:
        if name == 'keys':

        if keyword in emoji[name]['keywords']:
            return emoji[name]['char']

    return keyword

Following that, we can use regular expressions (the re module) to replace emoji in a string–if they’re set off :emoji: style (a la GitHub):

def emojify(string):
    return re.sub(
        lambda m : emoji_by_keyword(,

That’s a neat trick that I use from time to time: the second argument to re.sub can be either a literal string or a function. If it’s the latter, it’s given the match object for each replacement, which we can then pass along to emoji_by_keyword.

And finally, let’s mess with some command line arguments:

# Run replacement mode on stdin if no parameters
if len(sys.argv) == 1:
    for line in sys.stdin:

# Othwise, run through the list
    for arg in sys.argv[1:]:
        if ':' in arg:
            print(emojify(arg), end = ' ')
            print(emoji_by_keyword(arg), end = ' ')

There are three modes we can be operating in:

  • stdin mode, where we will read text from stdin and replace any :emoji: blocks with the corresponding emoji
  • String mode, where we find any :emoji: in each argument in each input and replace them
  • Single lookup mode, where we look up each argument as an individual emoji keyword, without the need for :

And, that’s it.

$ emoji fireworks fireworks fireworks

Since this is now one of my dotfiles, you can find the entire source here: emoji

  1. It’s under an MIT license, so all is well. ↩︎