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How can I display a real-time countdown timer on the Linux terminal? Is there an existing app or, even better, a one liner to do this?

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regarding SU hold: I think this falls under "computer software" without "asking for a shopping or product recommendation". I'm not asking for recommendations; I'm asking if something even exists. When I initially asked the question, I was anticipating maybe a "yeah there is this built-in -nix script". If I can restructure the question, I will. –  tir38 Jun 26 '13 at 17:40
That's what I tried to do. It is on topic after my edit as far as I am concerned and I have voted to reopen it. –  terdon Jun 26 '13 at 17:41
@terdon thanks, I see how that is a better question. –  tir38 Jun 28 '13 at 2:19

9 Answers 9

up vote 40 down vote accepted

I'm not sure why you need beep, if all you want is a stopwatch, you can do this:

while true; do echo -ne "`date`\r"; done

That will show you the seconds passing in realtime and you can stop it with Ctrl+C. If you need greater precision, you can use this to give you nanoseconds:

while true; do echo -ne "`date +%H:%M:%S:%N`\r"; done

Finally, if you really, really want "stopwatch format", where everything starts at 0 and starts growing, you could do something like this:

date1=`date +%s`; while true; do 
   echo -ne "$(date -u --date @$((`date +%s` - $date1)) +%H:%M:%S)\r";

For a countdown timer (which is not what your original question asked for) you could do this (change seconds accordingly):

seconds=20; date1=$((`date +%s` + $seconds)); 
while [ "$date1" -ne `date +%s` ]; do 
  echo -ne "$(date -u --date @$(($date1 - `date +%s` )) +%H:%M:%S)\r"; 

You can combine these into simple commands by using bash (or whichever shell you prefer) functions. In bash, add these lines to your ~/.bashrc (the sleep 0.1 will make the system wait for 1/10th of a second between each run so you don't spam your CPU):

function countdown(){
   date1=$((`date +%s` + $1)); 
   while [ "$date1" -ne `date +%s` ]; do 
     echo -ne "$(date -u --date @$(($date1 - `date +%s`)) +%H:%M:%S)\r";
     sleep 0.1
function stopwatch(){
  date1=`date +%s`; 
   while true; do 
    echo -ne "$(date -u --date @$((`date +%s` - $date1)) +%H:%M:%S)\r"; 
    sleep 0.1

You can then start a countdown timer of one minute by running:

countdown 60

You can countdown two hours with:

countdown $((2*60*60))

or a whole day using:

countdown $((24*60*60))

And start the stopwatch by running:

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Given the thorough, well explained answer, I gotta give you the check mark! –  tir38 Jun 28 '13 at 2:19
I added these nice functions to my .zshrc right after I read your answer. Today I used countdown the first time and noticed a rather high CPU usage. I added a sleep 0.1 (I don't know if a sleep time of a fractional second is supported on all systems) which improved that a lot. The drawback is of course a less accurate display accuracy, but I can live with a deviation of max. 100ms. –  mpy Jul 5 '13 at 14:45
@mpy thanks for mentioning that. I am getting ~3% CPU usage when doing this in bash, I can live with that (though it is higher than I expected and I have also added the sleep to my own .bashrc). –  terdon Jul 5 '13 at 14:59
Just found this answer. I found putting the carriage return at the beginning of the echo statement in the stopwatch function was handy as it meant killing the stopwatch didn't overwrite the current stopwatch time: echo -ne "\r$(date -u --date @$((date +%s - $date1)) +%H:%M:%S)"; –  mkingston Jun 16 at 12:51
@orip fair enough, done. –  terdon Nov 19 at 12:47

I've used this one:

  set -- $*
  secs=$(( ${1#0} * 3600 + ${2#0} * 60 + ${3#0} ))
  while [ $secs -gt 0 ]
    sleep 1 &
    printf "\r%02d:%02d:%02d" $((secs/3600)) $(( (secs/60)%60)) $((secs%60))
    secs=$(( $secs - 1 ))


 countdown "00:07:55"

Here's a source.

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I ended up writing my my own shell script: github gist

# script to create timer in terminal
# Jason Atwood
# 2013/6/22

# start up
echo "starting timer script ..."
sleep 1 # seconds

# get input from user
read -p "Timer for how many minutes?" -e DURATION
DURATION=$(( $DURATION*60 )) # convert minutes to seconds

# get start time
START=$(date +%s)

# infinite loop
while [ -1 ]; do
clear # clear window

# do math
NOW=$(date +%s) # get time now in seconds
DIF=$(( $NOW-$START ))  # compute diff in seconds
ELAPSE=$(( $DURATION-$DIF ))    # compute elapsed time in seconds
MINS=$(( $ELAPSE/60 ))  # convert to minutes... (dumps remainder from division)
SECS=$(( $ELAPSE - ($MINS*60) )) # ... and seconds

# conditional
if [ $MINS == 0 ] && [ $SECS == 0 ] # if mins = 0 and secs = 0 (i.e. if time expired)
then # blink screen
for i in `seq 1 180`; # for i = 1:180 (i.e. 180 seconds)
clear # flash on
setterm -term linux -back red -fore white # use setterm to change background color
echo "00:00 " # extra tabs for visibiltiy

sleep 0.5

clear # flash off
setterm -term linux -default # clear setterm changes from above
echo "00:00" # (i.e. go back to white text on black background)
sleep 0.5
done # end for loop
break   # end script

else # else, time is not expired
echo "$MINS:$SECS"  # display time
sleep 1 # sleep 1 second
fi  # end if
done    # end while loop 
share|improve this answer
Nice script, +1. Just so you know, that is a countdown timer, not a stopwatch. –  terdon Jun 25 '13 at 12:17
ha you're right, thats what I really wanted. I'll update my naming. –  tir38 Jun 26 '13 at 17:31

I was looking for the same thing and ended up writing something more elaborate in Python:

This will give you a simple 10-second countdown:

sudo pip install termdown
termdown 10

Source: https://github.com/trehn/termdown

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While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. –  Doktoro Reichard Jun 6 at 8:21
@DoktoroReichard: Well, this is a download link. –  harrymc Jun 6 at 10:42
doesn't work with python 3.x –  Suhaib Jun 20 at 2:18
@Suhaib: It should and does for me. Please raise an issue on GitHub with more info. –  trehn Jun 27 at 9:23

This is for a stopwatch with hundredths of second

#!/usr/bin/awk -f
func z() {
  getline < y
  return $0
  y = "/proc/uptime"
  x = z()
  while (1)
    printf "%s\r", z() - x


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def stopwatch ( atom = .01 ):
    import time, sys, math

    start = time.time()
    last = start
    sleep = atom/2
    fmt = "\r%%.%sfs" % (int(abs(round(math.log(atom,10))))  if atom<1 else "")
    while True:
        curr = time.time()
        subatom = (curr-last)
        if subatom>atom:
            # sys.stdout.write( "\r%.2fs" % (curr-start))
            sys.stdout.write( fmt % (curr-start))
            last = curr

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Another approach

countdown=60 now=$(date +%s) watch -tpn1 echo '$((now-$(date +%s)+countdown))'

If one wants a signal when it hits zero, one could e.g. build it with a command that returned a non-zero exit status at zero and combine it with watch -b, or something, but if one wants to build a more elaborate script, this is probably not the way to go; it is more of a "quick and dirty one-liner" type solution.

I like the watch program in general. I first saw it after I had already written countless while sleep 5; do loops to different effects. watch was demonstrably nicer.

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For future reference, there is a command line tool called µTimer with very straightforward command line options for a countdown/count-up timer.

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If you would like a compile-able program for whatever reason, the following would work:

#include <iostream>
#include <string>
#include <chrono>

int timer(seconds count) {
  auto t1 = high_resolution_clock::now();
  auto t2 = t1+count;
  while ( t2 > high_resolution_clock::now()) {
    std::cout << "Seconds Left:" <<
    std::endl <<
      duration_cast<duration<double>>(count-(high_resolution_clock::now()-t1)).count() << 
    std::endl << "\033[2A\033[K";
  std::cout << "Finished" << std::endl;
  return 0;

This can be used in other programs as well and easily ported, if a bash environment isn't available or you just prefer using a compiled program


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While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. –  Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Aug 18 at 18:06
Thanks for the input! –  elder4222 Aug 18 at 22:19

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