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I want to run time command to measure time of several commands.

What I want to do is:

  • Measure the time of running of all of them added together
  • Write the time output to a file
  • Write the STDERR from the command I am measuring to STDERR

What I do NOT want to do is

  • Write the several commands into a separate script (why? because all of this is already a script that I am generating programatically, and creating ANOTHER temporary script would be more mess than I want)

What I tried so far:

/usr/bin/time --output=outtime -p echo "a"; echo "b";

Doesn't work, time is run only on the first one.

/usr/bin/time --output=outtime -p ( echo "a"; echo "b"; )

Doesn't work, ( is unexpected token.

/usr/bin/time --output=outtime -p { echo "a"; echo "b"; }

Doesn't work, "no such file or directory".

/usr/bin/time --output=outtime -p ' echo "a"; echo "b";'

Doesn't work, "no such file or directory".

time ( echo "a"; echo "b"; ) 2>outtime

Doesn't work, since it redirects all STDERR into outtime; I want only the time output there.

And of course,

time --output=outime echo "a";

Doesn't work, since --output=outime: command not found.

How can I do it?

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up vote 42 down vote accepted

Use sh -c 'commands' as the command, e.g.:

/usr/bin/time --output=outtime -p sh -c 'echo "a"; echo "b"'
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this is more sane than the previous answer, I am chosing this – Karel Bílek Aug 23 '12 at 11:35

Try this:

% (time ( { echas z; echo 2 } 2>&3 ) ) 3>&2 2>timeoutput
zsh: command not found: echas
% cat timeoutput                                
( { echas z; echo 2; } 2>&3; )  0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.004 total


First, we have to find a way to redirect the output of time. Since time is a shell builtin, it takes the full command line as the command to be measured, including redirections. Thus,

% time whatever 2>timeoutput
whatever 2> timeoutput  0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.018 total
% cat timeoutput 
zsh: command not found: whatever

[Note: janos's comment implies this is not the case for bash.] We can achieve the redirection of time's output by running time in a subshell and then redirecting the output of that subshell.

% (time whatever) 2> timeoutput
% cat timeoutput 
zsh: command not found: whatever
whatever  0.00s user 0.00s system 0% cpu 0.018 total

Now we have successfully redirected the output of time, but its output is mixed with the error output of the command we are measuring. To separate the two, we use an additional file descriptor.

On the "outside" we have

% (time ... ) 3>&2 2>timeout

This means: whatever is written to file descriptor 3, will be output to the same place file descriptor 2 (standard error) is outputting now (the terminal). And then we redirect standard error to the file timeout.

So now we have: everything written to stdout and fd 3 will go to the terminal, and everything written to stderr will go to the file. What's left is to redirect the measured command's stderr to fd 3.

% (time whatever 2>&3) 3>&2 2>timeout

Now, to make time measure more than one command, we need to run them in an(other!) subshell (inside parentheses). And to redirect the error output of all of them to fd 3, we need to group them inside curly brackets.

So, finally, we arrive at:

% (time ( { whatever; ls } 2>&3 ) ) 3>&2 2>timeoutput

That's it.

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Nice! I don't know in zsh, but in bash you can omit the outer brackets: time ( { echas z; echo 2 } 2>&3 ) 3>&2 2>timeoutput – janos Aug 22 '12 at 10:04
ok.... this look really, really insane. I like that. :) – Karel Bílek Aug 22 '12 at 12:46

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