The scene is like, yesterday I need to check some api bug. So I logged into the log server. I opened up a tmux session, so I can reconnect to my work later.

I typed in tail -f data_log | grep keyword to debug. But didn't work it out at that moment. So I decided to keep this tmux session for later and closed the terminal pane.

And today my colleague told me my tmux session with tail -f data_log | grep keyword running has caused a hard disk exhaustion on that log server. Which makes me feel ashamed, self-blamed and confused.

As tail -f opens its own stdout file descriptor and redirect the newly added content of data_log to the terminal screen.

Can this stdout file descriptor receive infinite amount of data?
Where does this file descriptor store this large amount of data? Is there a real file to store them?
Does tmux have anything to do with this issue?
If tmux has nothing to do with this issue, if I opened a terminal running tail -f my_log, and used crontab to add 1 byte to my_log per second, does it mean that every second 2 bytes will be stored on my disk?(1 for tail and 1 for crontab task)?

1 Answer 1


It's possible that:

  1. data_log gets a huge amount of data written in to it each day.
  2. It is rotated, possibly using logrotate. Usual steps in rotation involve at least file renaming, followed by compression and deletion of the uncompressed log.
  3. tail -f (GNU at least, likely others as well), by default continues to read the old file even if it was moved or deleted. If a file was deleted, but a program has an open file handle to it, Linux keeps the data on disk, marking the space unavailable.
  4. This means that log rotation will not result in increased disk space like it should, but rather that the compressed log and the uncompressed but deleted log are both taking up space.

Do this long enough and and it's possible your server could run out of space despite measures like log rotation, or attempts by others to manually delete the logs.

  • 2
    and for GNU tail, option -F will close the old fd and open the freshly rotated file, avoiding this issue
    – A.B
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 4:55
  • @A.B , I read the manual of tail(GNU), it says -F same as --follow=name --retry, and explanation for retry is keep trying to open a file even when it is or becomes inaccessible; useful when following by name, i.e., with --follow=name , the description is confusing to me. So without -F, tail -f will read the deleted file, will logrotate open a new file with the same name? Where does system writing the newly added log? Can tail -f show the newly added log?
    – ZengJuchen
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 6:03
  • 2
    quoting man: With --follow (-f), tail defaults to following the file descriptor, which means that even if a tail'ed file is renamed, tail will continue to track its end. This default behavior is not desirable when you really want to track the actual name of the file, not the file descriptor (e.g., log rotation). Use --follow=name in that case. That causes tail to track the named file in a way that accommodates renaming, removal and creation. . --follow=name <=> -F
    – A.B
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 6:18
  • 2
    @Zen See also unix.stackexchange.com/a/291935/260978 for a nice clarification on -f vs -F.
    – Olorin
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 7:35

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