Jul 1, 2022 2 min read

Using Watch Command in Linux

Table of Contents

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

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 in Linux. I’ve included a screen capture to show how the highlighting behaves.

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.

Christopher Murray
Christopher works as a Software Developer in Orlando, FL. He loves open source, Taco Bell, and a Chi-weenie named Max.
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