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I wonder if there is something similar to an event listener in UNIX that a program can subscribe to? Specifically I want to know:

Start and end times of a user session
Start and end of the applications executed by that user

Any Tips?

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Using psacct

The events that you're looking for can be found through psacct. Specifically I'd take a look at the tool ac which shows accounting information on users. I touch on this in this U&L Q&A titled: Commands for determining level of usage of server.

NOTE: This is not a subscribe-able "service", rather a tracking & reporting infrastructure that you can ask it questions.

You can also use lastcomm (part of psacct, it has several tools in the suite) to find out when a given application was used by user X.

Example

$ lastcomm rm
rm                S     root     pts/0      0.00 secs Tue Nov 14 00:39
rm                S     root     pts/0      0.00 secs Tue Nov 14 00:39
rm                S     root     pts/0      0.00 secs Tue Nov 14 00:38 

You'll have to dig a bit into psacct but there's a lot of resources about it on U&L as well as google which should get you what you want.

Using auditd

The other tool, in the same vain as psacct's tracking & reporting approach is auditd. With auditd you can query to find out who and for how long program X was run.

Example

$ sudo ausearch -x /usr/bin/sudo | head -5
----
time->Sat Dec  7 21:15:15 2013
type=USER_AUTH msg=audit(1386468915.558:419): pid=2189 uid=1000 auid=1000 ses=1 subj=unconfined_u:unconfined_r:unconfined_t:s0-s0:c0.c1023 msg='op=PAM:authentication acct="saml" exe="/usr/bin/sudo" hostname=? addr=? terminal=/dev/pts/0 res=success'
----
time->Sat Dec  7 21:15:15 2013

NOTE: The above is finding all the entries where someone ran the tool /usr/bin/sudo.

References

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