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I'd like to be able to set an inactivity timer for a terminal window (OSX) - so if I hadn't typed anything for n minutes it would give a 'beep/alert/run script' - is there a as-yet-unfound-by-me-terminal command/command-line-fu that does this?

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Why do you want to do this? Is this for something like keeping an ssh session alive? – terdon Jul 19 '13 at 14:58
Actually to remind me that I have open sessions open and that I should either be working on them or close them... I suspose you could use to keep a session alive... – Joe Jul 19 '13 at 20:05

3 Answers 3

Inactivity timer

Running a delayed command is simple: sleep <sleep time>; run_a_command

Wrapping that in start/stop timer functions:

INACTIVITY_CMD='echo -ne \a'
function inactivity-start-timer () {

function inactivity-stop-timer () {
    kill $INACTIVITY_PID > /dev/null 2>&1

You can add that your shell rc file. Now you need to run inactivity-start-timer before every prompt and inactivity-stop-timer before every command execution. (You don't want a beep if the command takes too long, do you?) Also this assumes you have the system bell on, otherwise put another command into INACTIVITY_CMD.


I am guessing you use bash? In that case there is PROMPT_COMMAND to run a command before every prompt. But nothing built-in to run before every command execution. There is a known trick to get that here. So add this also to your .bashrc:


preexec () {

preexec_invoke_exec () {
    [ -n "$COMP_LINE" ] && return  # do nothing if completing
    [ "$BASH_COMMAND" = "$PROMPT_COMMAND" ] && return # don't cause a preexec for $PROMPT_COMMAND
 local this_command=`history 1 | sed -e "s/^[ ]*[0-9]*[ ]*//g"`;
 preexec "$this_command"
trap 'preexec_invoke_exec' DEBUG


If you use zsh on the other hand its simpler:

autoload -Uz add-zsh-hook
add-zsh-hook precmd inactivity-start-timer
add-zsh-hook preexec inactivity-stop-timer
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Not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but GNU Screen has silence monitoring, and tmux does something similar with the monitor-silence command.

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I thought this was an interesting thing to figure out. I don't have BSD, so I solved the problem on Linux. There is something like inotify for BSD, called kqueue(2), but I don't know if there are convenient monitor tools like inotifywait for that kernel fascility.

The idea is to monitor the standard output of a terminal which is a file.

myterm=/dev/`ps -o tty= | head -n1`
if [ $# -eq 0 ] && [ -r $myterm ] && [ ! -d $myterm ]; then

function time_out {
    echo timeout


while $loop; do
    inotifywait $terminal -qq -t $timeout -e MODIFY || time_out
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