An interesting annoyance that just plagued a coworker:

If you less a file that's being appended to, you can hit shift-f to start following the output stream in real time. Then, to stop following the output, you hit ctrl-c, after which you can navigate and search the file as usual.

This does not work when using journalctl. Say you want to follow your nginx log - you'd run journalctl -u nginx, and then the usual shift-f to start following the output. However, when you press ctrl-c, less immediately terminates, rather than exiting the "follow" mode and returning to "navigation" mode as it does when following a file.

Needless to say, this is incredibly annoying. Why is this, and how do I restore the normal functionality?

  • 4
    It's because of the default options that systemd passes to less (see man journalctl section Environment)... Same question as here... Sep 12, 2016 at 16:18

1 Answer 1


As answered over on ServerFault, this is because less is invoked with the K flag, which causes it to die upon recieving a ^C character, rather than returning to its command prompt.

To remedy this, export the variable SYSTEMD_LESS="FRSXM" into your environment. This is the standard set of flags that systemd passes to less, minus the problematic K that makes it impossible to break out of follow mode.

  • 1
    With systemd 241 on Debian 10. I had to set both SYSTEMD_PAGER='less -FRSXM' and SYSTEMD_LESS='FRSXM'.
    – alexia
    Nov 21, 2020 at 23:21

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