I wish to prepend a timestamp to each line of output from a command. For example:


would become

[2011-12-13 12:20:38] foo
[2011-12-13 12:21:32] bar
[2011-12-13 12:22:20] baz

...where the time being prefixed is the time at which the line was printed. How can I achieve this?

up vote 212 down vote accepted

moreutils includes ts which does this quite nicely:

command | ts '[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]'

It eliminates the need for a loop too, every line of output will have a timestamp put on it.

$ echo -e "foo\nbar\nbaz" | ts '[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]'
[2011-12-13 22:07:03] foo
[2011-12-13 22:07:03] bar
[2011-12-13 22:07:03] baz

You want to know when that server came back up you restarted? Just run ping | ts , problem solved :D.

  • 6
    How have I not known about this?!?!?! This complements tail -f amazingly! tail -f /tmp/script.results.txt | ts – Bruno Bronosky Mar 5 '15 at 22:51
  • What about in cygwin? Is there something similar? It doesn't appear Joey's moreutils are there. – CrazyPenguin Mar 7 '16 at 19:19
  • 3
    if I don't have ts command, what should I use? – ekassis Jan 16 '17 at 11:48
  • If it's not working, try redirecting stderr to stdout e.g. ssh -v 2>&1 | ts – jchook Mar 20 '17 at 19:02
  • Note that if you want fractional seconds, use "%.S". See man ts. – Steve Jorgensen Nov 10 '17 at 10:32

Firstly, if you are expecting these timestamps to actually represent an event, bear in mind that since many programs perform line buffering (some more aggressively than others), it is important to think of this as close to the time that the original line would have been printed rather than a timestamp of an action taking place.

You may also want to check that your command doesn't already have an inbuilt feature dedicated to doing this. As an example, ping -D exists in some ping versions, and prints the time since the Unix epoch before each line. If your command does not contain its own method, however, there are a few methods and tools that can be employed, amongst others:

POSIX shell

Bear in mind that since many shells store their strings internally as cstrings, if the input contains the null character (\0), it may cause the line to end prematurely.

command | while IFS= read -r line; do printf '[%s] %s\n' "$(date '+%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S')" "$line"; done

GNU awk

command | gawk '{ print strftime("[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]"), $0 }'


command | perl -pe 'use POSIX strftime; print strftime "[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S] ", localtime'


command | python -c 'import sys,time;sys.stdout.write("".join(( " ".join((time.strftime("[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]", time.localtime()), line)) for line in sys.stdin )))'


command | ruby -pe 'print Time.now.strftime("[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S] ")'
  • 2
    One problem here is that many programs turn on even more output buffering when their stdout is a pipe instead of the terminal. – cjm Dec 13 '11 at 18:02
  • 2
    @cjm - True. Some output buffering can be alleviated by using stdbuf -o 0, but if the program is manually handling its output buffering, it won't help (unless there is an option to disable/reduce the size of the output buffer). – Chris Down Dec 13 '11 at 22:46
  • 2
    For python, you can disable line buffering with python -u – ibizaman Nov 21 '16 at 22:01
  • @Bwmat No. ... for x in sys.stdin iterates over lines without buffering them all into memory first. – Chris Down Dec 26 '16 at 12:36
  • Do this and you get buffering... for a in 1 1 1 1 1; do sleep 1; echo; done | python -c 'import sys,time;sys.stdout.write("".join(( " ".join((time.strftime("[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]", time.gmtime()), line)) for line in sys.stdin )))' – ChuckCottrill Jan 4 at 0:06

For a line-by-line delta measurement, try gnomon.

It is a command line utility, a bit like moreutils's ts, to prepend timestamp information to the standard output of another command. Useful for long-running processes where you'd like a historical record of what's taking so long.

Piping anything to gnomon will prepend a timestamp to each line, indicating how long that line was the last line in the buffer--that is, how long it took the next line to appear. By default, gnomon will display the seconds elapsed between each line, but that is configurable.

gnomon demo

Ryan's post does provide an interesting idea, however, it fails in several regards. While testing with tail -f /var/log/syslog | xargs -L 1 echo $(date +'[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]') $1 , I noticed that timestamp stays the same even if stdout comes later with difference in seconds apart. Consider this output:

[2016-07-14 01:44:25] Jul 14 01:44:32 eagle dhclient[16091]: DHCPREQUEST of on wlan7 to port 67 (xid=0x411b8c21)
[2016-07-14 01:44:25] Jul 14 01:44:34 eagle avahi-daemon[740]: Joining mDNS multicast group on interface wlan7.IPv6 with address fe80::d253:49ff:fe3d:53fd.
[2016-07-14 01:44:25] Jul 14 01:44:34 eagle avahi-daemon[740]: New relevant interface wlan7.IPv6 for mDNS.

My proposed solution is similar, however provides proper time-stamping and uses somewhat more portable printf rather than echo

| xargs -L 1 bash  -c 'printf "[%s] %s\n" "$(date +%Y-%m-%d\ %H:%M:%S )" "$*" ' bash

Why bash -c '...' bash ? Because due to -c option, first argument gets assigned to $0 and won't show up in the output. Consult your shell's manual page for the proper description of -c

Testing this solution with tail -f /var/log/syslog and (as you probably could guess) disconnecting and reconnecting to my wifi, has shown the proper time-stamping provided by both date and syslog messages

Bash could be replaced by any bourne-like shell, could be done with either ksh or dash , at least those that have -c option.

Potential issues:

The solution requires having xargs ,which is available on POSIX compliant systems, so most Unix-like systems should be covered. Obviously won't work if your system is non-POSIX compliant or doesn't have GNU findutils

I would have preferred to comment above but I can't, reputationally. Anyway, the Perl sample above can be unbuffered as follows:

command | perl -pe 'use POSIX strftime; 
                    select((select(STDERR), $| = 1)[0]);
                    print strftime "[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S] ", localtime'

The first '$|' unbuffers STDOUT. The second one sets stderr as the current default output channel and unbuffers it. Since select returns the original setting of $|, by wrapping the select inside a select, we also reset $| to its default, STDOUT.

And yes, you can cut 'n paste as is. I multi-lined it for legibility.

And if you really want to get precise (and you have Time::Hires installed):

command | perl -pe 'use POSIX strftime; use Time::HiRes gettimeofday;
                    select((select(STDERR), $| = 1)[0]);
                    $ms=substr(q(000000) . $ms,-6);
                    print strftime "[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S.$ms]", localtime($s)'
  • 1
    Works like a charm, without having to install any non-standard packages. – Jay Taylor Oct 18 at 20:53

Most of answers suggest to use date, but it's slow enough. If your bash version is greater than 4.2.0 it's better to use printf instead, it's a bash builtin. If you need to support legacy bash versions you can create log function depends on bash version:

# Bash version in numbers like 4003046, where 4 is major version, 003 is minor, 046 is subminor.
printf -v BV '%d%03d%03d' ${BASH_VERSINFO[0]} ${BASH_VERSINFO[1]} ${BASH_VERSINFO[2]}
if ((BV > 4002000)); then
log() {
    ## Fast (builtin) but sec is min sample for most implementations
    printf "%(${TIMESTAMP_FORMAT})T %5d %s\n" '-1' $$ "$*"  # %b convert escapes, %s print as is
log() {
    ## Slow (subshell, date) but support nanoseconds and legacy bash versions
    echo "$(date +"${TIMESTAMP_FORMAT}") $$ $*"

See speed differences:

user@host:~$time for i in {1..10000}; do printf "%(${TIMESTAMP_FORMAT})T %s\n" '-1' "Some text" >/dev/null; done

real    0m0.410s
user    0m0.272s
sys     0m0.096s
user@host:~$time for i in {1..10000}; do echo "$(date +"${TIMESTAMP_FORMAT}") Some text" >/dev/null; done

real    0m27.377s
user    0m1.404s
sys     0m5.432s

UPD: instead of $(date +"${TIMESTAMP_FORMAT}") it's better to use $(exec date +"${TIMESTAMP_FORMAT}") or even $(exec -c date +"${TIMESTAMP_FORMAT}") too speedup execution.

You can do this with date and xargs:

... | xargs -L 1 echo `date +'[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]'` $1


xargs -L 1 tells xargs to run the proceeding command for every 1 line of input, and it passes in the first line as it does so. echo `date +'[%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S]'` $1 basically echoes the date with the input argument at the end of it

  • 1
    The solution is close, but doesn't timestamp properly when it comes to output separated by long periods of time. Also , you're using backticks and haven't quoted $1 . That's not good style. Always quote the variables. In addition, you're using echo , which is not portable . It's alright, but may not properly work on some systems. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Jul 14 '16 at 7:56
  • After testing this, it appears you're absolutely right... do you know of any way to make date get reevaluated every line, or is it pretty much hopeless? – Ryan Jul 18 '16 at 1:14

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