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How to webcam on Linux

I wanted to keep an eye on a family pet when I was out the house so installed Debian on an old box and set about investigating the weird and wonderful world of webcams on Linux1.

I stuck both single and multiple webcam configs on GitHub.

My requirements

  1. A webcam that takes a photo on detecting motion.
  2. Keep archive of past photos2.
  3. The most recent photo is uploaded to my server.

What I did

After a bit of a Googling, I decided on a piece of a software called webcam. Here’s how I got up and running:

Install webcam

apt-get install webcam

Create a .webcamrc

touch ~/.webcamrc

Example .webcamrc

Run webcam


Assuming you don’t get any errors your webcam should now be watching for changes. You can view the latest photo at your.server.com/webcam/capture.jpg and a local archive can be found at ~/webcam.

On investigating webcam software that supported multiple webcams I discovered Motion which seems to be the go-to webcam software for Linux that does all the things. After a day of messing about it with I got it working but found it did way more than I needed it to. I’ll stick my config on GitHub when I get the chance.

EDIT (1/10/13) My Motion config is now on GitHub.

Things I need to add to this post: ssh-agent + ssh-add; how webcam resolution is dependant on whether you’re using one USB bus for multiple webcams; managing your local archive with cron.

  1. When I was younger in the days of Mandrake Linux I did try and get various webcams working, to little success.

  2. You can do loads of cool things with an archive! Shall experiment with ffmpeg.