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CL-INOTIFY - Binding to the Linux inotify(7) API.

Copyright (C) 2011-15 Olof-Joachim Frahm

Released under a Simplified BSD license.

Working, but unfinished.

Build Status

Uses CFFI, binary-types (from my Github or see CLiki) and trivial-utf-8. Doesn't require iolib, because I don't need most of the functionality, although it might add some implementation independence (patches which can be conditionally compiled are most welcome; in any case patches are always welcome). The tests require fiveam.

Similar packages are inotify and cl-fsnotify.

This document helps only with the aspects of this binding, so reading the man-page and other information on the inotify-facility may be needed. Reading the next sections and the docstrings of exported symbols should get you going, otherwise the source itself may also be of some value.


Macros make keeping track easier, so the following example is straightforward:

> (with-inotify (inotify T ("." :all-events))
>   (do-events (event inotify :blocking-p T)
>     (format T "~A~%" event)))
> =>
> ...

(Tilde-expansion has to happen at another level, else I would've used that.)

The first parameter is (per convention) the symbol to which the queue is bound, the second is the parameter to MAKE-INOTIFY. The &REST list consists of parameter lists for the WATCH-function, which is called for every list before the &BODY is executed. We don't actually need to UNWATCH every watched path as closing the queue will also take care of that.


You don't have to use macros: all functionality is available in function form, although some care should be taken as currently no cleanup handler is registered for opened queues, or rather their file handles.

> (use-package '#:cl-inotify)
> (defvar *tmp*)
> (setf *tmp* (make-notify))
> (watch *tmp* "/var/tmp/" :all-events)
> (next-events *tmp*)
> (close-inotify *tmp*)


So this section deals in depth with the various bits which make the examples above tick.

After loading the library use MAKE-INOTIFY to create a new event queue. The NONBLOCKING argument sets the SB-POSIX:O-NONBLOCK bit on the stream so we don't block while reading. Nevertheless, EVENT-AVAILABLE-P works either way (by using CL:LISTEN, or a custom function which works directly on the file descriptor).

The result of MAKE-INOTIFY is used with WATCH and UNWATCH, the first being used to watch a file or directory, the second to stop watching it. The FLAGS parameter of WATCH is described in the notify(7) man-page; you can use a combination of the flags (as keywords) to create a suitable bitmask. The types INOTIFY-ADD/READ-FLAG, INOTIFY-READ-FLAG and INOTIFY-ADD-FLAG are also defined and can be examined.

For example, to watch for modified or closed files in a directory, call (WATCH inotify "foo/" '(:modify :close)).

The result of WATCH is a handle (currently a FIXNUM, but I wouldn't rely on that) which can be fed to UNWATCH and can be translated from events with EVENT-PATHNAME/FLAGS.

To finally get the events from the queue, use READ-EVENT (which blocks) or NEXT-EVENT (which doesn't block). EVENT-AVAILABLE-P does what it should do, NEXT-EVENTS retrieves all currently available events as a list and DO-EVENTS (nonblocking) iterates over available events.

The enhanced API registers all watched paths in a hashtable, so you can use PATHNAME-HANDLE/FLAGS to check if a pathname (exact match) is being watched and LIST-WATCHED to return all watched paths as a list. EVENT-PATHNAME/FLAGS may be used to get the pathname and flags for a read event.

UNWATCH has to be called with the path or the handle of the watched file or directory (a path will be looked up in the same table as with PATHNAME-HANDLE/FLAGS).

The raw API, which doesn't register watched paths, consists of READ-RAW-EVENT-FROM-STREAM, READ-EVENT-FROM-STREAM, WATCH-RAW and UNWATCH-RAW. They are just a thin wrapper around the C functions, but they're exported in case someone doesn't like the upper layers.


In case you want to use epoll or select on the event queue you can access the file descriptor yourself and then use the normal functions afterwards. Currently no such functionality is integrated here, however the following sketch shows how something can be accomplished using iolib:

(with-unregistered-inotify (inotify T ("." :all-events))
  (flet ((inotify-input (&rest rest)
           (declare (ignore rest))
           (format T "~{~A~%~}" (next-events inotify))))
    (iolib:with-event-base (event-base)
      (iolib:set-io-handler event-base (inotify-fd inotify) :read #'inotify-input)
      (iolib:event-dispatch event-base))))

Note that we perform all inotify business only when something happens in that directory, so instead of doing nothing, we could actually do useful work, e.g. communicating with a process: This snippet was extracted from a function which uses behaviour to monitor a LaTeX process for written files to get the output file name without relying on heuristics about the generated filename. As it stands you have to split this into threads, or use IOLIB:EVENT-DISPATCH with a timeout while periodically checking the process status.


Here follows a list of valid keywords for the INOTIFY-FLAG type:

  • :CLOSE
  • :OPEN
  • :MOVE
  • :ISDIR

The INOTIFY-EVENT structure has the slots WD, MASK, COOKIE and NAME (with default CONC-NAME: INOTIFY-EVENT-).


The REGISTERED-INOTIFY-INSTANCE includes the previous structure and only adds the WATCHED slot under the same CONC-NAME.


  • more functionality to examine read events
  • extend to other APIs?
  • make things more implementation independent (partly done, still needs fd-streams everywhere, or skip them entirely)
  • (maybe) don't use the libc for this, direct syscall
  • (maybe) add iolib replacement for io functions
  • the nonblocking mode is pretty useless, because for one the READ functions still block and also LISTEN seems to work just fine and it's not even needed for multiplexing, so why keep this in?