Tail for Win32 freeware helps admins monitor log files in real time

There's no tail utility for Windows, but now there's freeware called Tail for Win32 that can monitor several files at a time in real time, so an admin can watch several related logs in side-by-side windows.

Many programs that run in Windows retain logs as plaintext files, since it's not practical to log aggressively to the system log.

For instance, Microsoft's own IIS typically writes its logs to delimited plaintext files because of the sheer volume of information generated. It's also possible to write IIS log files to a database, but this can be quite slow. Text files are usually easier to handle, more efficient and more widely used anyway.

Unix servers traditionally keep plaintext log files that can be browsed with any conventional text editor. Administrators who want to watch the progress of a log as new entries are written to it can use a utility called tail. This utility reads everything written to the bottom (or tail) of the file and prints it to a console window. Since there's no tail utility for Windows, Paul Perkins has written one -- Tail for Win32 -- and is sharing it for free.

Tail for Win32 can monitor several files at a time in real time, so an admin can watch several related logs in side-by-side windows. Files of any size can be examined; the program doesn't attempt to load the whole file into memory anyway, so you can start reading a log file that runs into the hundreds of megabytes without delays. You can also set the program to hunt for and display keywords. That way, anything that matches the keywords is displayed with a highlight. You can be alerted to matches via e-mail (your choice of SMTP or MAPI).

The program supports a plug-in architecture that allows a programmer to write custom handlers for given events. Should you want to expand or modify the program, the full source code is available.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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This was first published in February 2006

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