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I have some logs being generated using a timed rotating file logger. This logs to a file called tool.log, and at midnight, moves this to tool.log.<date> and starts a new tool.log.

I have a tail -f tool.log running on the machine to keep an eye on the logs, but at midnight, when tool.log is renamed to tool.log.<date>, tail continues to watch the renamed file.

What I'm hoping for is a tool that is similar to tail, but will continue to monitor the file named tool.log, rather than following the inode.

Does something like this exist? If not, I can write my own in Python for this purpose.

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up vote 85 down vote accepted

Some implementations of tail have an option for this; here's the description from the man page for GNU tail:

same as --follow=name --retry

-f, --follow[={name|descriptor}]
output appended data as the file grows; -f, --follow, and --follow=descriptor are equivalent

keep trying to open a file even when it is or becomes inaccessible; useful when following by name, i.e., with --follow=name

As this option isn't specified by POSIX, you can't depend on it everywhere. Some known implementations:

  • GNU - has -F as described above
  • Mac OS X, FreeBSD and NetBSD - have a similar -F option with the same effect
  • OpenBSD - -f is enough (if the file is replaced (i.e., the inode number changes), tail will reopen the file and continue)
  • Solaris - no equivalent
  • Busybox - -F is available in recent versions, but must be compiled with ENABLE_FEATURE_FANCY_TAIL (it's not compiled-in by default)
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Alternative is tail -F command.

The -F option implies --follow=name with --retry option, so tail is watching your file even if it has been deleted and created again.

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Another alternative would be to use the watch command, which will repeat any command every n seconds, every 2 seconds in this example:

watch -n2 "tail tool.log"

Use Ctrl+C to quit the command when you're finished viewing the log.

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This seems like it would create a lot of duplicate messages if the log scrolled slower than the refresh timer, and would miss some messages if it scrolled faster. – Bobson Mar 31 at 17:51
Watch takes over the whole screen, so it wouldn't duplicate messages, but it would remove the ability to scroll back. – Hugh Mar 31 at 20:15

lnav is another fantastic tool that follows the filename.

You can also point it to a directory and it will tail all the files in that directory, in addition to all kinds of other neat features.

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Since you have asked for alternative:

The less utility could be an alternative for tail -F.

It will have to be run as follows: less --follow-name filename.log and press Shift + F.

This will give you same results as tail -F.

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Thanks. I was only after an alternative because I was unaware of tail -F. Always good to know options though. – Hugh May 15 at 2:39

I'm not sure if multitail will handle your specific case, but I bet it does. multitail does pretty much everything you could want tail to do.

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