I want to find the age of the oldest file in a certain directory or return 0 if there aren't any files in this directory. I also need a one-line command doing it. So far this is my command for finding the age in seconds of the oldest file in the directory:

expr $(($(date +%s) - $(stat -c %Y $(ls -lt /path/to/dir/ | tail -1 | awk '{print $NF}'))))

The problem is that if there are no files it is returning the following error:

$ expr $(($(date +%s) - $(stat -c %Y $(ls -lt /path/to/dir/ | tail -1 | awk '{print $NF}'))))
stat: cannot stat ‘0’: No such file or directory
-bash: 1554373460 - : syntax error: operand expected (error token is "- ")

So in this case I want the command to return just 0 and to suppress the error printout.

  • 2
    Out of curiosity, why does it have to be in one line? It's much less readable & maintainable that way. – Jeff Schaller Apr 4 at 10:30
  • I am passing this line to specialized software. Then according to the output of the command, I can trigger an alarm and if I make it on more than a single line, I need to write more complex logic. The idea is to check a specific directory where there should not be any files for more than 20 seconds, I want to trigger an alarm if the age of the oldest file is more than 30 seconds. – Georgе Stoyanov Apr 4 at 10:39
  • also I would be very happy if you have any ideas, how I can simplify my command for finding the age of the oldest file – Georgе Stoyanov Apr 4 at 10:41
  • ls -lt | tail -1 will give you the oldest file; you can parse out the date or go through the stat stuff without having to do a single line shell loop – mpez0 Apr 4 at 20:06
  • @mpez0 this is exactly what I am doing, check my original post. – Georgе Stoyanov Apr 5 at 7:52

If it must be one line:

stat -c %Y ./* 2>/dev/null | awk -v d="$(date +%s)" 'BEGIN {m=d} $0 < m {m = $0} END {print d - m}'
  • stat -c %Y ./* 2>/dev/null print the timestamp of all files, ignoring errors (so no files results in no output)
  • With awk:

    • -v d="$(date +%s)" save the current timestamp in a variable d
    • BEGIN {m=d} initialize m to d
    • $0 < m {m = $0} keeping track of the minimum in m
    • END {print d - m} print the difference.
  • unfortunately, it does return 0 no matter if the directory is empty or it has more than one file – Georgе Stoyanov Apr 4 at 10:55
  • @George ah, oops, I inverted the check for min – muru Apr 4 at 11:03

With zsh and perl:

perl -le 'print 0+-M $ARGV[0]' /path/to/dir/*(N-Om[1])

(add the D glob qualifier if you also want to consider hidden files (but not . nor ..)).

Note that for symlinks, that considers the modification time of the file it resolves to. Remove the - in the glob qualifiers to consider the modification time of the symlink instead (and use (lstat$ARGV[0] && -M _) in perl to get the age of the symlink).

That gives the age in days. Multiply by 86400 to get a number of seconds:

perl -le 'print 86400*-M $ARGV[0]' /path/to/dir/*(N-Om[1])
  • (N-Om[1]): glob qualifier:
    • N: turns on nullglob for that glob. So if there's no file in the directory, expands to nothing causing perl's -M to return undef.
    • -: causes next glob qualifiers to apply on the target of symlinks
    • Om: reverse (capital) order by modification time (so from oldest to newest like ls -rt)
    • [1]: select first matching file only
  • -M file: gets the age of the content of the file.
  • 0+ or 86400* force a conversion to number (for the undef case).
  • I am getting just 0 as an output even though it should show me a couple of thousands of seconds, both commands actually gives me the same output and on another machine I am getting an error: -bash: syntax error near unexpected token '(', the one giving me an error is running a rather old version of perl: v5.16.3 – Georgе Stoyanov Apr 4 at 14:39
  • 2
    @GeorgеStoyanov, the syntax is for zsh, not bash. – Stéphane Chazelas Apr 4 at 15:37
  • I missed that part :) Thanks for the answer @Stephane – Georgе Stoyanov Apr 5 at 7:50

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