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When I try to tail -f catalina.out, I get the error:

tail: inotify cannot be used, reverting to polling: Too many open files 

I tried the answer in this post: Too many open files - how to find the culprit

lsof | awk '{ print $2; }' | sort -rn | uniq -c | sort -rn | head

When I ran the above command, the output was

17 6115

13 6413

10 6417

10 6415

9 6418

9 6416

9 6414

8 6419

4 9 

4 8

I don't see any process having 1024 files open. Isn't the number of files open 17,13,10,10,9? Or am I understanding it wrong? And all these were bash,sshd,apache2, tomcat had number 4.

I also did lsof | grep tail | wc -l which returned 20. These numbers aren't huge, so why does tail -f catalina.out fail?

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I think that answer is not complete (it doesn't say anything about the maximum limit of files open on the system).

There are two limits regarding the maximum number of open files:

  1. Maximum limit of files open per process.

    • You can see which is the value of this limit using: ulimit -n
    • You can change this limit using: ulimit -n new_limit_number
    • Here is a command to get the top 10 processes having many files open:

      lsof | awk '{ print $2; }' | sort -rn | uniq -c | sort -rn | head
  2. Maximum limit of files open per system.

    • You can see which is the value of this limit using: cat /proc/sys/fs/file-max
    • You can change this limit using: echo new_limit_number > /proc/sys/fs/file-max
    • Count all open file handles: lsof | wc -l
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Most likely, you've run out of your inotify watches. Probably, you're running some file synchronization tools(eg. Dropbox) in background?

In Linux, the internal implementation of tail -f command uses the inotify mechanism by default, so as to monitor file changes. If you've run out of all the inotify watches(8192 by default), then inotify -f have to switch to polling to detect changes to that file.

Of course, you can modify the maximum number of inotify watches.


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sysctl fs.inotify.max_user_instances would get limit per user for inotify.

I experienced it, and all limit system wide were high enough, but setting by user are usually relatively low by default, you can increase it in sysctl.conf and reload it whit sysctl -p.

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Check your kernel version, it might be this bug:

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