Configuring Watch

As of TypeScript 3.8 and onward, the Typescript compiler exposes configuration which controls how it watches files and directories. Prior to this version, configuration required the use of environment variables which are still available.

Background

The --watch implementation of the compiler relies on Node’s fs.watch and fs.watchFile. Each of these methods has pros and cons.

fs.watch relies on file system events to broadcast changes in the watched files and directories. The implementation of this command is OS dependent and unreliable - on many operating systems, it does not work as expected. Additionally, some operating systems limit the number of watches which can exist simultaneously (e.g. some flavors of Linux). Heavy use of fs.watch in large codebases has the potential to exceed these limits and result in undesirable behavior. However, because this implementation relies on an events-based model, CPU use is comparatively light. The compiler typically uses fs.watch to watch directories (e.g. source directories included by compiler configuration files and directories in which module resolution failed, among others). TypeScript uses these to augment potential failures in individual file watchers. However, there is a key limitation of this strategy: recursive watching of directories is supported on Windows and macOS, but not on Linux. This suggested a need for additional strategies for file and directory watching.

fs.watchFile uses polling and thus costs CPU cycles. However, fs.watchFile is by far the most reliable mechanism available to subscribe to the events from files and directories of interest. Under this strategy, the TypeScript compiler typically uses fs.watchFile to watch source files, config files, and files which appear missing based on reference statements. This means that the degree to which CPU usage will be higher when using fs.watchFile depends directly on number of files watched in the codebase.

Configuring file watching using a tsconfig.json

The suggested method of configuring watch behavior is through the new watchOptions section of tsconfig.json. We provide an example configuration below. See the following section for detailed descriptions of the settings available.

{
// Some typical compiler options
"": "es2020",
"": "node"
// ...
},
// NEW: Options for file/directory watching
"watchOptions": {
// Use native file system events for files and directories
"": "useFsEvents",
"": "useFsEvents",
// Poll files for updates more frequently
// when they're updated a lot.
"": "dynamicPriority",
// Don't coalesce watch notification
// Finally, two additional settings for reducing the amount of possible
// files to track work from these directories
"": ["**/node_modules", "_build"],
"": ["build/fileWhichChangesOften.ts"]
}
}

For further details, see the release notes for Typescript 3.8.

Configuring file watching using environment variable TSC_WATCHFILE

Option Description
PriorityPollingInterval Use fs.watchFile, but use different polling intervals for source files, config files and missing files
DynamicPriorityPolling Use a dynamic queue where frequently modified files are polled at shorter intervals, and unchanged files are polled less frequently
UseFsEvents Use fs.watch. On operating systems that limit the number of active watches, fall back to fs.watchFile when a watcher fails to be created.
UseFsEventsWithFallbackDynamicPolling Use fs.watch. On operating systems that limit the number of active watches, fall back to dynamic polling queues (as explained in DynamicPriorityPolling)
UseFsEventsOnParentDirectory Use fs.watch on the parent directories of included files (yielding a compromise that results in lower CPU usage than pure fs.watchFile but potentially lower accuracy).
default (no value specified) If environment variable TSC_NONPOLLING_WATCHER is set to true, use UseFsEventsOnParentDirectory. Otherwise, watch files using fs.watchFile with 250ms as the timeout for any file.

Configuring directory watching using environment variable TSC_WATCHDIRECTORY

For directory watches on platforms which don’t natively allow recursive directory watching (i.e. non macOS and Windows operating systems) is supported through recursively creating directory watchers for each child directory using different options selected by TSC_WATCHDIRECTORY.

NOTE: On platforms which support native recursive directory watching, the value of TSC_WATCHDIRECTORY is ignored.

Option Description
RecursiveDirectoryUsingFsWatchFile Use fs.watchFile to watch included directories and child directories.
RecursiveDirectoryUsingDynamicPriorityPolling Use a dynamic polling queue to poll changes to included directories and child directories.
default (no value specified) Use fs.watch to watch included directories and child directories.

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Last updated: Jun 22, 2024