Working with the time command, I came across a situation where I should use the built-in time rather than the external GNU time command /usr/bin/time. So, how can I do this? I saw somewhere that using enable and/or command would help, but they didn't.

This is a use case:

watch "time ls"

which uses the external /usr/bin/time command, which I don't want! This happens when time invokes the internal bash function when I run time ls on a terminal, like this:

$ time ls

Please note that the exact opposite request has been answered here:

There is a lot of difference with two commands. The internal time is more precise (which I want), but the external command has more options (which I do not need).

  • watch 'bash -c "builtin time ls"' perhaps? Aug 14, 2015 at 13:23
  • 1
    see here on how to force bash to use builtins, see answer2 by Petr Utzl: builtin time should do the trick.
    – FelixJN
    Aug 14, 2015 at 13:34
  • 3
    @Fiximan, time is not a builtin in bash, it's a reserved word of the language so you can time pipelines (like time foo | bar) or compound commands (like time for i in...;done) Aug 14, 2015 at 15:09

1 Answer 1


By default, watch runs your command with /bin/sh -c '...' so the output you see is how /bin/sh interprets the time command. Your /bin/sh apparently doesn't have a builtin time.

To run the command with a different shell, use the -x option to get rid of the default, then add your own explicit invocation of the shell whose builtin you want.

watch -x bash -c 'time ls'
watch -x zsh -c 'time ls'

No matter how you run watch, the command you're watching is not a child of the shell that ran the watch command, so that shell's settings aren't directly relevant.

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