Sniffing io.Reader contents in Golang

The problem: reading a stream multiple times

I wanted to use ffmpeg to generate contact sheet for a video. This is the command I use to generate a thumbnail tile.

cat /path/to/video.mp4 | ffmpeg \
    -v error \
    -skip_frame nokey \  # use keyframes only (makes it fast)
    -ss 10 \  # skip the first 10 seconds
    -i - \
    -vf 'fps=1/60,scale=480:-1,tile=3x22' \  # 480px wide tiles in 3 columns every 60 seconds
    -frames 1 \
    -f image2pipe - \
    > thumbs.jpg

The tricky part is to calculate tile=3x22 argument. It's the grid (and the number of tiles) that determines how far into the video we're reading. If it's too small, the contact sheet summarize the whole video. If it's too many, the we get blank tiles at the end.

There's a way out: if we know the duration of the video, we can calculate how many tiles there should be, so that we can cover the whole video.

For that, I use ffprobe:

cat /path/to/video.mp4 | ffprobe \
    -v quiet \
    -i - \
    -print_format json \
    -show_entries format=duration

which returns the duration, and we can use that to calculate the size of the tile grid, for a given interval.

    "format": {
        "duration": "4059.051000"

I call ffmpeg from a CLI I've written in golang. I wanted to pipe the video stream to both ffprobe and ffmpeg, and reuse it without the caller knowing.

func generateThumbs(ctx context.Context, r io.Reader, w io.Writer) error {
    // ...

    cmd := exec.CommandContext(ctx, "ffprobe", /*...*/)
    cmd.Stdin = r

    // parse duration
    // use the duration to calculate ffmpeg args

    cmd := exec.CommandContext(ctx, "ffmpeg", /*...*/)
    cmd.Stdin = r  // reuse the video stream?
    cmd.Stdout = w

    // ...

Now we face a problem: whatever ffprobe reads from the video stream r is gone and ffmpeg cannot read it.

We need to find a way to sniff the video properties and put what we consume back where we found it.

Solution: io.TeeReader and io.MultiReader

Luckily, ffprobe doesn't need to read the whole file to determine the video properties. It only reads a few MBs from the beginning. It doesn't hurt to keep a couple of MBs of video in memory.

We can use io.TeeReader to keep those bits in a buffer. Then use a io.MultiReader to reconstruct the original stream by combining the buffer buf with the remainder of the input stream r. Then we pipe this to ffmpeg.

var buf bytes.Buffer  // keep the bits ffprobe needs in a buffer
tr := io.TeeReader(r, &buf)

cmd := exec.CommandContext(ctx, "ffprobe", /*...*/)
cmd.Stdin = tr  // use the tee reader

// ...

r = io.MultiReader(&buf, r)  // then combine it back (in the right order)

cmd := exec.CommandContext(ctx, "ffmpeg", /*...*/)
cmd.Stdin = r  // re-constructed input

Now the contraption works great. ffprobe reads a couple megs, finds the duration, then ffmpeg reads the whole file again and generates the thumbs.

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