The Magic of --follow

Follow? Follow!

Mar 13, 2024

I recently discovered the joy of using the --follow flag. Let me tell you a little bit more about what I mean.

One of the tools at my work involves running a test script that both (1) takes a long time to run and (2) generates a lot of output.

When I first started working with it, I naively ran the script as-is:


I came back 1 hour later to find that it had printed a huge mess of a test report to stdout. The report had so many lines to the point that the oldest ones had already been truncated by my terminal. This was not very useful to me nor my senior who was asking me where the hell the test results were.

On my second try, I tried a slightly smarter approach. I redirected the script’s output to a file instead of stdout this time:

./ > ~/test-results.txt

Now the script would write the test results to a file for safe-keeping. I re-ran it and left for another hour. When I came back, it was a simple matter of grepping the TXT file for any failed test cases and transferring the file off of my remote desktop to send to my team:

grep -i fail ~/test-results.txt
scp ~/test-results.txt

This worked out, but now I had a new problem: Unlike in the naive approach, I couldn’t see the script output in real-time anymore. This made it difficult to figure out what was actually happening over the course of that 1 hour. To get the output, I could repeatedly tail the results file but that gets kind of annoying after a while. That’s when I discovered the magic of --follow. Here’s what I did:

I re-ran the original command in my terminal:

./ > ~/test-results.txt

And in another terminal, I ran:

tail -f ~/test-results.txt

The -f flag is short-hand for --follow which continuously updates the output with the latest lines at the end of a file. Now I had the best of both worlds: I could monitor the progress of the test script in real-time and have those results saved to a file that I could analyze in post.

Perhaps something this simple doesn’t merit a full-blown blog post, but I still feel proud of my little discovery, no matter how much it pales in comparison to the arcane commands of the shell gurus. Also, I haven’t written a post in over half a year, so now is as good a time as any to start again. Until next time!