Most simple uses of Watchman will invoke the watchman binary and process its output. Sometimes it is desirable to avoid the overhead of an extra process and talk directly to your watchman service.

The watchman service runs as a single long-lived process per user. The watchman binary will take care of spawning the server process if necessary.

The server will create a unix domain socket for communication with its clients. The location of the socket depends on compile time options and command line flags. It is recommended that you invoke watchman get-sockname to discover the location, or if you are being invoked via a trigger (since version 2.9.7) you will find the location in the $WATCHMAN_SOCK environmental variable.

Watchman Protocol

The unix socket implements a request-response protocol with PDUs encoded in either JSON or BSER representation. Some watchman commands (notably subscribe and log-level) allow the watchman service to unilaterally send any number of PDUs to the client, and require more stateful handling.

JSON encoding

The JSON encoding represents a request or a response as a single line of compact JSON encoded data. The newline is used to detect the end of the PDU.

Requests from the client are always represented as a JSON array.

Responses from the server are always represented as a JSON object.

Sending the since command is simply a matter of formatting it as JSON. Note that the JSON text must be a single line (don’t send a pretty printed version of it!) and be followed by a newline \n character:

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["since", "/path/to/src", "n:c_srcs", "*.c"] <NEWLINE>

BSER encoding

BSER is a local-only binary serialization format that can represent the same data types as JSON, but in a more compact form and not be limited to UTF-8 representation of strings.

When you make a request using BSER, the server will respond in BSER encoding.

You can read more about BSER in the BSER specification.

Reporting Errors and Warnings

If a Response includes a field named error it indicates that the request was not successful. The error field, if present, is a string value that can be presented to the user.

If a Response includes a field named warning it indicates that there is some condition that should be reported back to the user so that the system can operate more effectively. Tools should display this to the user as an advisory. At the time of writing, this can be triggered due to overflowing the system limits on file watching resources. These are important to address so that events are not missed and thus so that correctness and system performance are maintained.

The warning message contains a link to this documentation that provides advice on tuning and resolving the issue.