Seeing When a File Was Last Used Problem


You want to see when a file was last accessed or modified.


The result of File.stat contains a treasure trove of metadata about a file. Perhaps the most useful of its methods are the two time methods mtime (the last time anyone wrote to the file), and atime (the last time anyone read from the file).

	open("output", "w") { |f| f << "Here's some output.
" }
	stat = 
	stat.mtime # => Thu Mar 23 12:23:54 EST 2006
	stat.atime # => Thu Mar 23 12:23:54 EST 2006
	open("output", "a") { |f| f << "Here's some more output.
" }
	stat = File.stat("output")
	stat.mtime # => Thu Mar 23 12:23:56 EST 2006
	stat.atime # => Thu Mar 23 12:23:54 EST 2006
	open("output") { |f| contents = }
	stat = File.stat("output")
	stat.mtime # => Thu Mar 23 12:23:56 EST 2006
	stat.atime # => Thu Mar 23 12:23:58 EST 2006



A file's atime changes whenever data is read from the file, and its mtime changes whenever data is written to the file.

There's also a ctime method, but it's not as useful as the other two. Contrary to semi-popular belief, ctime does not track the creation time of the file (there's no way to track this in Unix). A file's ctime is basically a more inclusive version of its mtime. The ctime changes not only when someone modifies the contents of a file, but when someone changes its permissions or its other metadata.

All three methods are useful for separating the files that actually get used from the ones that just sit there on disk. They can also be used in sanity checks.

Here's code for the part of a game that saves and loads the game state to a file. As a deterrent against cheating, when the game loads a save file it performs a simple check against the file's modification time. If it differs from the timestamp recorded inside the file, the game refuses to load the save file.

The save_game method is responsible for recording the timestamp:

	def save_game(file)
	 score = 1000
	 open(file, "w") do |f|

The load_game method is responsible for comparing the timestamp within the file to the time the filesystem has associated with the file:

	def load_game(file)
	 open(file) do |f|
	 score = f.readline.to_i
	 time =
	 difference = ( 
File.stat(file).mtime - time).abs
	 raise "I suspect you of cheating." if difference > 1
	 "Your saved score is #{score}."

This mechanism can detect simple forms of cheating:

	# => "Your saved score is 1000."
	# Now let's cheat by increasing our score to 9000
	open("game.sav", "r+b") { |f| f.write("9") }
	# RuntimeError: I suspect you of cheating.

Since it's possible to modify a file's times with tools like the Unix touch command, you shouldn't depend on these methods to defend you against a skilled attacker actively trying to fool your program.

See Also

  • An example in Recipe 3.12, "Running a Code Block Periodically," monitors a file for changes by checking its mtime periodically
  • Recipe 6.20, "Finding the Files You Want," shows examples of filesystem searches that make comparisons between the file times



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