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Unix command watch runs the specified command repeatedly and displays the output on stdout so you can watch it change over time. By default, the command is run every 2 seconds, although this is adjustable with the -n secs argument. Since the command is passed to sh -c, you may need to encase it in quotes for it to run correctly.

watch [options] command [command options]

Run the specified command repeatedly (by default, every two seconds) and display the output so you can watch it change over time. The command and any options are passed to sh -c, so you may need to use quotes to get correct results.

For example you can use watch command with ping to see if the site is up.


-d, --differences[=cumulative]

Highlight changes between iterations. If cumulative is specified, the highlighting remains on the screen throughout, giving a cumulative picture of the changes.

-h, --help

Display help message and exit.

-n secs, --interval=secs

Run the command every secs seconds.

-t, --no-title

Do not display the header or the blank line following the header.

-v, --version

Print version information and exit.


watch "ps aux | grep php"

This will generate a list of processes every 2 seconds, filter for all lines that contain the word "PHP", and display the results on the screen. The output might look something like this:

Every 2s: ps aux | grep php                             Tue Jan 30 14:56:33 2007

reconst  30028  0.0  0.0  7044 2596 ?        S    Jan23   0:00 vim -r core/html_api.php
cinonet  28009  0.0  0.2 20708 11064 ?       SN   Jan25   0:30 php5.cgi
donoiz   23810  0.0  0.2 22740 10996 ?       SN   Jan27   0:30 php.cgi 43/pdf

The watch command is useful for viewing changes over time, like repeatedly running the ls -l command to watch a file's size change, or running ps as in the above example to monitor certain processes continuously.


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[Jan 16, 2020] Watch Command in Linux

Jan 16, 2020 |

Last Updated on January 10, 2020 By Abhishek Leave a Comment

Watch is a great utility that automatically refreshes data. Some of the more common uses for this command involve monitoring system processes or logs, but it can be used in combination with pipes for more versatility.
watch [options] [command]
Watch command examples
Watch Command <img src="" alt="Watch Command" srcset=";ssl=1 800w,;ssl=1 300w,;ssl=1 768w" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" data-recalc-dims="1" />

Using watch command without any options will use the default parameter of 2.0 second refresh intervals.

As I mentioned before, one of the more common uses is monitoring system processes. Let's use it with the free command . This will give you up to date information about our system's memory usage.

watch free

Yes, it is that simple my friends.

Every 2.0s: free                                pop-os: Wed Dec 25 13:47:59 2019

              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:       32596848     3846372    25571572      676612     3178904    27702636
Swap:             0           0           0
Adjust refresh rate of watch command

You can easily change how quickly the output is updated using the -n flag.

watch -n 10 free
Every 10.0s: free                               pop-os: Wed Dec 25 13:58:32 2019

              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:       32596848     4522508    24864196      715600     3210144    26988920
Swap:             0           0           0

This changes from the default 2.0 second refresh to 10.0 seconds as you can see in the top left corner of our output.

Remove title or header info from watch command output
watch -t free

The -t flag removes the title/header information to clean up output. The information will still refresh every 2 seconds but you can change that by combining the -n option.

              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:       32596848     3683324    25089268     1251908     3824256    27286132
Swap:             0           0           0
Highlight the changes in watch command output

You can add the -d option and watch will automatically highlight changes for us. Let's take a look at this using the date command. I've included a screen capture to show how the highlighting behaves.

Watch Command <img src="" alt="Watch Command" data-recalc-dims="1"/>
Using pipes with watch

You can combine items using pipes. This is not a feature exclusive to watch, but it enhances the functionality of this software. Pipes rely on the | symbol. Not coincidentally, this is called a pipe symbol or sometimes a vertical bar symbol.

watch "cat /var/log/syslog | tail -n 3"

While this command runs, it will list the last 3 lines of the syslog file. The list will be refreshed every 2 seconds and any changes will be displayed.

Every 2.0s: cat /var/log/syslog | tail -n 3                                                      pop-os: Wed Dec 25 15:18:06 2019

Dec 25 15:17:24 pop-os dbus-daemon[1705]: [session uid=1000 pid=1705] Successfully activated service 'org.freedesktop.Tracker1.Min
Dec 25 15:17:24 pop-os systemd[1591]: Started Tracker metadata extractor.
Dec 25 15:17:45 pop-os systemd[1591]: tracker-extract.service: Succeeded.


Watch is a simple, but very useful utility. I hope I've given you ideas that will help you improve your workflow.

This is a straightforward command, but there are a wide range of potential uses. If you have any interesting uses that you would like to share, let us know about them in the comments.

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