I would like to execute a command in bash every 30 seconds and have it run as a background job. Form this post, I gather that using the watch command is useful. However every time I attempt to background it, it stops.

watch -n 1 'date >> dateFile.txt'

works. I can cat dateFilet.txt and see a bunch of lines.

watch -n 1 'date >> dateFile.txt' &


[1]+ Stopped watch -n 1 'date >> dateFile.txt'

executing bg returns the same line again.

What am I doing wrong? How do I fix it? What I eventually want to do is source a file every minute or so to keep certain variables in my bash session up to date.

  • Please edit your question and clarify that you need to source a file. That has a whole set of problems of its own and the valid solutions for your date example will not work. I would remove the date altogether and make the question specifically about sourcing variable definitions from a file every few seconds. – terdon Nov 5 '14 at 18:48
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    watch is curses based and doesn't have a daemon option. I'd say it's clearly not intended for this purpose (perhaps because doing this with the shell is simple enough, see sputnick's while true suggestion -- except what you actually want to do here is a complication as per terdon's comment). – goldilocks Nov 5 '14 at 18:50
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    You don't want to source a file to keep vars up to date - and you especially do not want to do that every thirty seconds. That's what the prompt does. Put the definitions in there. That's it's job. – mikeserv Nov 5 '14 at 19:12
  • @mikeserv that's a clever trick and deserves being made into an answer. It's probably the only way the OP can do what they want. – terdon Nov 5 '14 at 19:16
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    @terdon - it's no trick - that's really any prompt's primary purpose. It provides constantly re-evaluated variable information. Not all of it has to be printed every time... – mikeserv Nov 5 '14 at 19:20

In bash, you can do this easily using the PROMPT_COMMAND variable (from man bash):


If set, the value is executed as a command prior to issuing each primary prompt.

So, if you add something like this to your ~/.bashrc:

PROMPT_COMMAND=". /path/to/file"

You will have any variables defined in that file available.

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In your crontab :

* * * * * date >> dateFile.txt & sleep 30; date >> dateFile.txt &

Straightforward, no ? =)

(Better put the full PATH of the date command)

Another solution:

while true; do date >> dateFile.txt & sleep 30; done
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  • These are both reasonable suggestions but neither will help the OP source a file and have the variables sourced available in their current shell session. – terdon Nov 5 '14 at 18:47
  • The OP question is not that clear, I use the own OP example command – Gilles Quenot Nov 5 '14 at 18:52
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    Your answer is a good one (+1) WRT most of the question. The qualifier ("I want to source environment variables into my current shell via a background process") is not possible anyway. – goldilocks Nov 5 '14 at 18:58
  • Absolutely, I'm not saying it's your fault. That's why I also asked the OP to clarify. – terdon Nov 5 '14 at 19:14

What I eventually want to do is source a file every minute or so to keep certain variables in my bash session up to date.

  • You cannot do that from a child process.
  • You cannot do that from a parent process.
  • You cannot do that from any process other than the one you want it to affect.

Changing a process's environment is the same as changing a process's private memory (in fact, that's exactly what would be involved). Absolutely not allowed! That's why IPC is such an elaborate realm.

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