Run A Command When A File Changes


Running this on the command line will execute a command whenever a file changes in the current directory:

fswatch -o -r . | xargs -I{} echo "do something here"

I use it during development to trigger build scripts when source files change.

It can be limited to specific file extensions like this:

fswatch -e ".*" -i "\.css$" -i "\.html$" . \
    | xargs -I{} echo "do something here"

Details - First Example

  • fswatch - this is the command that does the watching. Instructions for installing it on Mac, Windows, and *nix are on the fswatch site

  • -o - (lowercase letter "o") send only one signal per batch of changes fswatch sees

  • -r - sets the process to be recursive so files in sub-directories are watched as well

  • . - tells the process to start watching in the current directory. This could also be another path like ~/Desktop

  • | - pipes the output of fswatch to xargs

  • xargs - receives the signal from fswatch and executes commands based on it's parameters

  • I{} - tells xargs to replace any occurrence of the string {} with the value that it received from fswatch. Without this, xargs would pipe the output from fswatch directly to the echo command. That's useful in some instances, but not what I'm looking for in most of the time

  • echo "do something here" - The command that gets run when xargs receives a signal from fswatch. Switch this out with whatever you need to have run. My main use case is to replace this with a script to automatically build whatever it is that I'm working on

Details - Second Example

  • This example uses regular expressions to filter that paths that fswatch keeps an eye on

  • The example is split to multiple lines with the \ at the end of the first line. I'm doing that to help get everything visible for the sample. In practice, I run everything on one line like the first example

  • The methodology is to start by excluding everything with -e ".*" and then setting up the patters to include via the -i flag

  • You can setup multiple include statements to watch for multiple patters (e.g. this example which watching for both .css and .html files)

  • The -r flag does not appear to be necessary when using regular expressions like this


  • I use -o because the way files are saved can result in multiple triggers for a single save. I'm generally looking for a single signal for each time I press save. This helps reduce the number of multiple triggers, but does not eliminate it

  • The value that's sent when the -o flag is in place is the number of paths that changed in the batch

  • Removing -o will send one message for every change it sees with the path that changed

  • In this StackOverflow answer some folks mention problems with the regex matching in 2019-2020. It's unclear if that was resolved

  • My original notes included running the commands from xargs like this xargs -n1 /bin/bash -lc 'echo "hit". The -l flag on bash is to use it as if there's a login shell and the -c flag is how you pass in a command. The specific command was xargs -n1 /bin/bash -lc 'vagrant ssh -c ls' which would send a command to a vagrant instance. I haven't checked if that can be done with the I{} approach. Leaving that here as note in case it turns out to be useful

  • Check out the official docs if you need more info


I also have this in my notes for a multi-line approach in a script. Need to check it out a little more and write it up after verifying the functionality


fswatch -0 . | while read -d "" event
    echo $event