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13 Ways to Tail a Log File on Windows & Linux

13 Ways to Tail a Log File

It turns out there are a bunch of people on stackoverflow looking for ways to tail a log file but there don’t appear to be many lists of all the different helpful tools to do this. Well I LOVE lists. Check out some tools I found that make tailing a log file a walk in the park:

The standard linux “Tail” command

The de facto standard for linux systems is the ever handy “tail” command. Need I say more?

$ tail -f /var/log/syslog -f /var/log/myLog.log

  • Quick and easy
  • No additional installation required
  • Can be used with multiple –f filenames in the same window as shown in the script example above
  • Unix only. See Tail for Win32 at the bottom of this post for a port to Windows.

tail log file

Windows Powershell

Powershell is one of the most overlooked windows apps for ops. This approach doesn’t have any extra features, but can be perfect for opening a quick commandlet window and keeping an eye on the status of a file.

Use the following simple syntax to show the tail end of a log file in realtime.

Get-Content myTestLog.log –Wait

You can also filter the log right at the command line using regular expressions:

Get-Content myTestLog.log -wait | where { $_ -match “WARNING” }

  • Quick and easy to get going
  • Practically zero learning curve
  • No additional installation necessary for newer windows machines
  • Requires Windows Powershell (duh!)
  • Slow for large files
  • Basic functionality but some 3rd party extensions are available. For example, you need multiple cmdlet windows to monitor multiple files
Server monitoring tools

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Stackify

Stackify provides all the tools you need to support your applications. Including simple web based access to view and tail log files.

  • Remotely tail log files via web browser
  • Search log files
  • Supported for Windows & Linux systems
  • Free trial, low monthly cost


Vim log file tailing

Vim (Using Tail Bundle Plugin)

Developed by Martin Krischik. Install this handy-dandy plugin for Vim to use quote “the best tail plugin you can get”.

  • Vim die-hards can tail log files without ever leaving their favorite editor!
  • Multiple file tailing using tabs
  • “Preview” window updated according to your Vim usage
  • Read the open issues on the google code page before installing

Emacs

To tail a file in emacs: start emacs, hit M-x (Alt and x keys together), and type tail-file. Then, enter the filename to tail. The net result is that this will spawn an external tail -f process.

Multitail for UNIX log files

MultiTail

Developed by Folkert van Heusden. This is one of the more complete UNIX offerings in my humble opinion.

  • Still under active development – most recent version released just 3 weeks ago (at time of writing)
  • Uses wildcard matching to see if a more recently spawned logfile needs to be monitored
  • Uses regular expressions for filtering
  • Source code available in public SVN repository.
  • All major UNIX platforms supported.


BareTail log tailing for Windows

BareTail

Developed by Bare Metal Software. The “Bare” in the name might prompt some to ask: “How can you get any more bare than regular Tail?” It turns out the name is a carryover from the software development group that built it and this tool provides a color-coded GUI above and beyond good ‘ole Unix Tail.

  • Developed for Windows
  • Monitors multiple files using tabs
  • Configurable highlighting
  • Allows instant scrolling to any point in the file, even for large files
  • Free demo. Registered license is $25.

LogTail

Developed by John Walker of Fourmilab. This tool doesn’t appear to have been supported in a long time (the website is dated 1997) and may not play well with the latest distros of Unix. You have been warned.

  • Allows you to monitor multiple log files on multiple servers at once.
  • Automatically checks if the monitored process has spawned a fresh log file and adjusts monitoring accordingly
  • Old script (circa 1997) may not play well with newer Unix distros/Perl patches (built withi Perl 4.0, patch level 36)
  • UNIX only.


TraceTool error logging

TraceTool

Developed by Thierry Patent. (CodeProject Page). This is a great option for .Net developers needing to build their own log tailing feature. The code comes with a lot of power and features, but might not be as good a choice if you simply want to run a quick program and be off on your merry way.

  • Powerful tool with lots of customizability via code
  • There is a learning curve, depending on how far you want to take TraceTool. Check out the “TraceTool Overview” screenshot on the CodeProject page and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Not a quick fix. If you simply want to open a quick executable and see the tail of a few log files, pick something else. This will take you some time to set up and get configured.
  • With great power comes great responsibility. The CodeProject How-To page has comments from users experiencing several different kinds of problems. Yet despite any problems users have, they consistently ranked the page highly, with an average vote of 4.97 at the time of writing this.
  • Source code is readily available for download, but you’ll need a .Net development environment setup to compile it.
  • Windows only.


Server monitoring with Snaketail

SnakeTail.net

Developed by SnakeNest. Looks can be deceiving – I thought this Google Project was long dead, but was pleasantly surprised that bugs are still being fixed as recent as January, 2013.

  • Low memory & CPU footprint even with large files
  • Customizable shortcut keys to jump around files quickly
  • Can tail a log directory where the latest log files are stored
  • Windows-only.


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Notepad++

Hardcore fans of Notepad++ often like to work in it all day, every day. Now you can tail a log file in windows without every leaving Notepad++ by using the Document Monitor plugin (granted – hardcore fans probably already know all about this!):

  1. Open Notepad++ then from the top menu select “Plugins > Plugin Manager > Show Plugin Manager”, then check the option for “Document Monitor”, then click “Install”.
  2. Notepad++ will prompt you to restart the program (not restart your computer)
  3. Upon opening Notepad++ again, select “Plugins” and you should now see the “Document Monitor > Start to monitor” option. This will refresh the view of your document automatically every 3 seconds.


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inotail

Developed by Tobias Klauser. A basic tool with minimal options compared to the others on this list.

  • Git and Github repos available.
  • Uses the inotify API to determine if a file needs to be reread


tail windows log files

Tail for Win32

Developed by Paul Perkins
This is a quick and dirty way to use the Unix Tail command you’re used to on windows systems. Many folks might consider this completely unnecessary on a windows system with the prevalence of Powershell these days, but it does provide a couple nice features you wouldn’t otherwise have:

  • Highlighted keyword matching
  • Can send email notifications when keywords are found

Have any other tools we should add to the list? Please comment and let us know!

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  • http://www.hyfather.com Nikhil Mungel

    Great writeup.
    Instead of `tail-mode` in emacs, I prefer the `auto-revert-tail` minor mode that has the ability to display the file in its entirely as well as tail a file. Makes searching for an expression a lot easier, for example.

  • sabo fx

    Thanx! This was very informative!

  • mauro cendon

    thx

  • CH4:D

    Some corporate network security settings prevent Tail for WIndows from picking up changes in a log file. e.g. some companies disable auto folder refresh if your pc is connected to their network.