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If a run the watch command containing an alias, it will not expand the alias. I have tried both with single quote and double quotes, in fact given the following alias:

# alias ll
alias ll='ls -l --color=tty'

The following command will fail

# watch ll
sh: ll: command not found

Shouldn't command line expansion work in this case?

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2 Answers 2

Aliases are only expanded as the first argument, or after another alias with a trailing space on the end of the command.

From bash's help alias:

A trailing space in VALUE causes the next word to be checked for alias substitution when the alias is expanded.

To do this, try the following:

alias watch='watch '
alias ll='ls -l --color=tty'
watch ll

Bear in mind that some versions of watch strip colours by default, on some versions this can be stopped by using --color or -G.

For some other situations where this is inconvienient, you might want to use an array instead, for example:

ll=(ls -l --color=tty)

# Each of the program arguments are passed separately to watch
watch "${ll[@]}"
# All of the program arguments are passed as one argument to watch
watch "${ll[*]}"
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This is absolutely awesome answer! Thanks and +1 of course. –  ztank1013 Nov 25 '11 at 12:47

I thought here basic problem is while executing watch, the argument is given to "sh -c" which means if alias ll is not defined in sh(dash shell's) environment then it will not expand it. But I was wrong and this is not the case, Chris' answer above is right.

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Not exactly. Try watch 'alias ll="ls -l --color=tty"; type ll; ll'. –  Chris Down Nov 25 '11 at 12:54
+1 for immediate response to verify it. I was wrong above. –  Sachin Divekar Nov 25 '11 at 12:58
@ChrisDown, so even if watch uses "sh -c" the your explanation is applicable for sh too. Am I right? –  Sachin Divekar Nov 25 '11 at 13:02
That depends on what shell is being used as sh. Notice that this does work: sh -c $'alias ll="ls -l --color=tty"\ntype ll\nll' –  Chris Down Nov 25 '11 at 13:10

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