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Orchestrating Shell Commands with Prefect

Harness the power of the Prefect CLI to execute and schedule shell commands as Prefect flows. This guide shows how to use the watch and serve commands to showcase the CLI's versatility for automation tasks.

Here's what you'll learn:

  • Running a shell command as a Prefect flow on-demand with watch.
  • Scheduling a shell command as a recurring Prefect flow using serve.
  • The benefits of embedding these commands into your automation workflows.


Before you begin, ensure you have:

  • A basic understanding of Prefect flows. Start with the Getting Started guide if you're new.
  • A recent version of Prefect installed in your command line environment. Follow the instructions in the docs if you have any issues.

The watch command

The watch command wraps any shell command in a Prefect flow for instant execution, ideal for quick tasks or integrating shell scripts into your workflows.

Example usage

Imagine you want to fetch the current weather in Chicago using the curl command. The following Prefect CLI command does just that:

prefect shell watch "curl"

This command makes a request to, a console-oriented weather service, and prints the weather conditions for Chicago.

Benefits of watch

  • Immediate feedback: Execute shell commands within the Prefect framework for immediate results.
  • Easy integration: Seamlessly blend external scripts or data fetching into your data workflows.
  • Visibility and logging: Leverage Prefect's logging to track the execution and output of your shell tasks.

Deploying with serve

When you need to run shell commands on a schedule, the serve command creates a Prefect [deployment](/concepts/deployments/ for regular execution. This is an extremely quick way to create a deployment that is served by Prefect.

Example usage

To set up a daily weather report for Chicago at 9 AM, you can use the serve command as follows:

prefect shell serve "curl" --flow-name "Daily Chicago Weather Report" --cron-schedule "0 9 * * *" --deployment-name "Chicago Weather"

This command schedules a Prefect flow to fetch Chicago's weather conditions daily, providing consistent updates without manual intervention. Additionally, if you want to fetch the Chicago weather, you can manually create a run of your new deployment from the UI or the CLI.

To shut down your server and pause your scheduled runs, hit ctrl + c in the CLI.

Benefits of serve

  • Automated scheduling: Schedule shell commands to run automatically, ensuring critical updates are generated and available on time.
  • Centralized workflow management: Manage and monitor your scheduled shell commands inside Prefect for a unified workflow overview.
  • Configurable execution: Tailor execution frequency, concurrency limits, and other parameters to suit your project's needs and resources.

Next steps

With the watch and serve commands at your disposal, you're ready to incorporate shell command automation into your Prefect workflows. You can start with straightforward tasks like observing cron jobs and expand to more complex automation scenarios to enhance your workflows' efficiency and capabilities.

Check out the tutorial and explore other Prefect docs to learn how to gain more observability and orchestration capabilities in your workflows.