flock -x -w 5 ~/counter.txt 'COUNTER=$(cat ~/counter.txt); echo $((COUNTER + 1)) > ~/counter.txt'

How would I pass multiple commands to flock as in the example above?

As far as I understand, flock takes different flags (-x for exclusive, -w for timeout), then the file to lock, and then the command to run. I'm not sure how I would pass two commands into this function (set variable with locked file's contents, and then increment this file).

My goal here is to create a somewhat atomic increment for a file by locking it each time a script tries to access the counter.txt file.

4 Answers 4


Invoke a shell explicitly.

flock -x -w 5 ~/counter.txt sh -c 'COUNTER=$(cat counter.txt); echo $((COUNTER + 1)) > ~/counter.txt'

Note that any variable that you change is local to that shell instance. For example, the COUNTER variable will not be updated in the calling script: you'll have to read it back from the file (but it may have changed in the meantime), or as the output of the command:

new_counter=$(flock -x -w 5 ~/counter.txt sh -c 'COUNTER=$(cat counter.txt); echo $((COUNTER + 1)) | tee ~/counter.txt')
  • awesome, thanks so much! The explanation you provided definitely saved me from another hour of headaches
    – d-_-b
    Dec 29, 2013 at 20:17

Or you can flock a file descriptor

exec {counterfd}<~/counter.txt
flock -x -w 5 "$counterfd"
COUNTER=$(cat ~/counter.txt)
echo "$COUNTER" >~/counter.txt
exec {counterfd}<&-

This also has the benefit of allowing you to use the counter variable directly, unlike subshell based approaches.

  • Please would you explain the exec {counterfd}? On its own, Debian errors not found, but it returns 0 with the redirection. Very odd. Nov 14, 2019 at 11:21

The flock tool is a little tricky to use and the man page is pretty short. The man page provides three ways to use the tool:

  • flock [options] <file|directory> <command> [command args]
  • flock [options] <file|directory> -c <command>
  • flock [options] <file descriptor number>

The way this question is worded I would definitely use the third form of flock. If you go further down in the man page for flock there are some examples which show the exact syntax for using the third form:

 flock -n 9 || exit 1
 echo "commands executed under lock..."
 echo "go here..."
) 9>/tmp/mylockfile

I added the #!/bin/bash.

I have successfully used this form of flock.


I had an interesting use case. I had to run my python script as cronjob using flock, every 30 minute. And due to some root path related stuff inside my python script instead of

python /home/myfolder/script.py

I needed to do

cd /home/myfolder/ && python script.py

To pass both commands in crontab -

*/30 * * * * cd /home/myfolder/ /usr/bin/flock -w 0 /home/myfolder/my-file.lock && python my_script.py > /dev/null 2>&1

It worked for me.

  • Ok, but this technically solves the issue of running multiple commands while locking though not running multiple commands while locking.
    – Kusalananda
    Sep 2, 2021 at 20:24
  • Can you please be more specific about your comment? I might have understood it wrongly. It would help me improve my approach. Sep 3, 2021 at 13:41
  • Sorry. It seems that you solved the issue of running two separate commands while using flock by rearranging the command in such a way that you run the first command (cd) before invoking flock. This results in locking only while executing the single command python. Hence my comment above. You also have a syntax error in your second crontab schedule (after the argument to cd there should be a && or ;).
    – Kusalananda
    Sep 3, 2021 at 17:57

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