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.


6 Answers 6


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)

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.


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.

  • Thanks. I was only after an alternative because I was unaware of tail -F. Always good to know options though.
    – Hugh
    May 15, 2016 at 2:39
  • I see two problematic things with less +F --follow-name: 1. it fails if the file does not exist at the time less is started. 2. less frequently crashes when the content of the file is replaced. Jul 12 at 8:31

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.

  • 1
    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, 2016 at 17:51
  • 4
    Watch takes over the whole screen, so it wouldn't duplicate messages, but it would remove the ability to scroll back.
    – Hugh
    Mar 31, 2016 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.

  • I've found it doesn't handle truncated and/or renamed rotated logs (I'm not sure which is upsetting it in my particular case) so the logs appear to stop at midnight unless I restart lnav. Am I missing some obvious switch or technique for it I wonder as this seems like something it should take in its stride? Jan 20, 2017 at 7:57
  • It depends on how the file is truncated. If you pass the -r flag to lnav it will reload the filename (and load any previously rotated out logs) Jan 20, 2017 at 16:12

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.


  • 1
    Yes it will -- multitail -f <name1> -f <name2> -f <name3> .... This example shows following several files simultaneously, which will be shown in separate windows. Jan 20, 2017 at 7:56

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