Recently I was working on a project where I needed to quickly and reliably detect changes to the contents of a directory, and when a change was detected run a series of commands.
There are any number of file differential tools, the venerable diff chief among them, and I think they would certainly do the job. They would certainly do a very complete job allowing for a comparison of every line of every file and be able to show exactly what changed where. But for what I needed to do, this seemed overkill.
Ultimately what I needed to know was if something had changed, not specifically what had changed. To that end, I realized what I needed was a view of the directory, not a view of the files themselves. I needed to know if a file had been changed, added or removed. Looking at a directory listing, I could easily see that something had been changed compared to an earlier listing sample. And then it donned on me -- I could solve this with a hash.
The MD5 hash is a fairly simple and very quick to execute hashing function which takes any input it is given and generates a hash value. Most POSIX systems include an md5 command that can be run from the command line which will output the hash value as a string. By capturing the hash value of the directory and comparing it each time the script is run, it becomes fairly easy to see when something has changed.
To make this work, I just needed to pipe the contents of the my directory using ls -la into the MD5 command and save the resulting string to a file.
ls -la | bash
The final logic for the script looked something like this. I've done this extract to remove the bulk of the script which is all of the actions being run.
ls -la $postdir | md5
echo "Last Hash: $lasthash" echo "This Hash: $thishash"
if [ "$lasthash" != "$thishash" ] then echo "Directory value has changed" echo "Do your actions here..." echo "$thishash" > "$hashfile" else echo "Match!" fi ```