Shortening the edit-build-test cycle as much as possible can greatly increase your productivity. This post presents an useful trick to run make, or any other command, every time a file is modified. I mainly use this when working with LaTeX to compile a PDF upon save, but I can imagine many other use-cases.

Without further ado, here’s the command as a make rule:

.PHONY: watch

# other rules ...

    while true; do \
        find . -type d -not -path "./.git*" -not -path "./build*" \
            | xargs inotifywait \
                --event move,modify,close_write,moved_to,create,delete \
                --exclude "./.git/\|./build/*" ; \
            make ; \

So that invoking make alone builds the project, while make watch starts this continuous edit-build loop. For example, I used this in my pandoc template for beamer so that I can write slides in Markdown using vim or emacs on the left half of the screen and a PDF preview on the right half. Thanks to this trick, the PDF preview is updated as soon as I save even faster than Overleaf!

The central part of this command is the inotifywait part: this little program simply waits until a file or folder is created, deleted, or modified in one of the paths that we specified as argument (more on this in a minute). When this happens, inotifywait just terminates, and at this point the following command, in this case make, is triggered. Finally, all of this is enclosed into a while true loop to repeat forever.

To tell inotifywait where to watch for changes we use find to look for all folders in the current path, excluding .git, build and everything below them (apparently, excluding files from find is far from trivial).

This only works on Linux, but a similar version can be written for OS X and Windows as well using fswatch instead of inotifywait.