I had the following script to alert me when someone sends me mail:

cd /var/mail
watch -g ls && cat end

end would be a blank file; when I am going home, I would modify the end file from another shell, and the script would end due to the -g switch.

I then realized that, rather than opening another shell, I could simply tell the script the time I'm going home, and it would modify the end file by itself at that time. When I do this and send watch into the background, the script terminates as expected. However, the shell starts all kinds of weird behaviour after the script has exited. Simplest buggy example:

( watch -g cat end ) &
sleep 2
echo y >> end

I thought I would use a different application to avoid this bug. However, both bash and konsole seem to have this issue on my system (Debian).

I should add that running the above code directly from the command line does seem to work as expected. Only yields this weird behaviour when run from within a script.


Two processes writing to the screen at the same time can mess up. Try appending


after echo y, it should reset the terminal back to normal. Maybe add a short sleep before it, too, so watch can't run after reset was run.

Update: If you aren't interested in the output of watch, just redirect both it stdout and stderr to nowhere:

( watch -g cat end >& /dev/null ) &

Then it won't clutter the screen and you won't need any reset.

  • But the watch is running in the background -- it shouldn't be writing to the screen in the first place... – Alex Jan 22 at 9:22
  • Why do you think so? Background processes can still write to the screen if their stdout goes there. Check the update for a cleaner solution. – choroba Jan 22 at 9:36
  • The reason I think so is because running it from the terminal doesn't produce any output. – Alex Jan 22 at 9:58
  • Watch can still write some invisible ANSI sequences to output. – choroba Jan 22 at 10:05

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