Lee Byron

tillaunch control

I need to run a command every time a particular file changed. In the past I’ve used tools like watchman to do this, and found them heavyweight. In this particular case, I could safely assume I was running on macOS and wanted to avoid the dependency of installed software. Then I learned about launchctl.

The man page for launchctl is not particularly helpful, so it required some searching and experimenting to understand. This, along with launchd, are a powerful system for configuring services within the operating system. One way launchd determines that a service should be started is by watching for changes to a file. Perfect.

A “service” is any executable program (like a shell script or a JavaScript file) and a configuration plist file placed in a specific location. For example, lets set up a service that runs a website builder every time a source file is updated.

Here, ~/Library/LaunchAgents/com.leebyron.website-agent.plist defines the name of my agent, the program to run, where to write standard output, and the path to watch. Changes to that path will run my program. Note that the program is not run inside a shell, so a node script needs to provide a full path to the node executable, rather than a executable “hash bang”.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">

Finally, tell launch control about this service. You’ll need to know your uid number (which you can find by running the id command). Replace “500” here with whatever your uid happens to be.

launchctl bootstrap gui/500/ ~/Library/LaunchAgents/com.leebyron.website-agent.plist

To remove this service, replace bootstrap with bootout:

launchctl bootout gui/500/ ~/Library/LaunchAgents/com.leebyron.website-agent.plist