4.7. Processes

FreeBSD is a multi-tasking operating system. Each program running at any one time is called a process. Every running command starts at least one new process and there are a number of system processes that are run by FreeBSD.

Each process is uniquely identified by a number called a process ID (PID). Similar to files, each process has one owner and group, and the owner and group permissions are used to determine which files and devices the process can open. Most processes also have a parent process that started them. For example, the shell is a process, and any command started in the shell is a process which has the shell as its parent process. The exception is a special process called init(8) which is always the first process to start at boot time and which always has a PID of 1.

To see the processes on the system, use ps(1) and top(1). To display a static list of the currently running processes, their PIDs, how much memory they are using, and the command they were started with, use ps(1). To display all the running processes and update the display every few seconds in order to interactively see what the computer is doing, use top(1).

By default, ps(1) only shows the commands that are running and owned by the user. For example:

% ps PID TT STAT TIME COMMAND 298 p0 Ss 0:01.10 tcsh 7078 p0 S 2:40.88 xemacs mdoc.xsl (xemacs-21.1.14) 37393 p0 I 0:03.11 xemacs freebsd.dsl (xemacs-21.1.14) 72210 p0 R+ 0:00.00 ps 390 p1 Is 0:01.14 tcsh 7059 p2 Is+ 1:36.18 /usr/local/bin/mutt -y 6688 p3 IWs 0:00.00 tcsh 10735 p4 IWs 0:00.00 tcsh 20256 p5 IWs 0:00.00 tcsh 262 v0 IWs 0:00.00 -tcsh (tcsh) 270 v0 IW+ 0:00.00 /bin/sh /usr/X11R6/bin/startx -- -bpp 16 280 v0 IW+ 0:00.00 xinit /home/nik/.xinitrc -- -bpp 16 284 v0 IW 0:00.00 /bin/sh /home/nik/.xinitrc 285 v0 S 0:38.45 /usr/X11R6/bin/sawfish

The output from ps(1) is organized into a number of columns. The PID column displays the process ID. PIDs are assigned starting at 1, go up to 99999, then wrap around back to the beginning. However, a PID is not reassigned if it is already in use. The TT column shows the tty the program is running on and STAT shows the program's state. TIME is the amount of time the program has been running on the CPU. This is usually not the elapsed time since the program was started, as most programs spend a lot of time waiting for things to happen before they need to spend time on the CPU. Finally, COMMAND is the command that was used to start the program.

ps(1) supports a number of different options to change the information that is displayed. One of the most useful sets is auxww. a displays information about all the running processes of all users. u displays the username of the process' owner, as well as memory usage. x displays information about daemon processes, and ww causes ps(1) to display the full command line for each process, rather than truncating it once it gets too long to fit on the screen.

The output from top(1) is similar. A sample session looks like this:

% top last pid: 72257; load averages: 0.13, 0.09, 0.03 up 0+13:38:33 22:39:10 47 processes: 1 running, 46 sleeping CPU states: 12.6% user, 0.0% nice, 7.8% system, 0.0% interrupt, 79.7% idle Mem: 36M Active, 5256K Inact, 13M Wired, 6312K Cache, 15M Buf, 408K Free Swap: 256M Total, 38M Used, 217M Free, 15% Inuse PID USERNAME PRI NICE SIZE RES STATE TIME WCPU CPU COMMAND 72257 nik 28 0 1960K 1044K RUN 0:00 14.86% 1.42% top 7078 nik 2 0 15280K 10960K select 2:54 0.88% 0.88% xemacs-21.1.14 281 nik 2 0 18636K 7112K select 5:36 0.73% 0.73% XF86_SVGA 296 nik 2 0 3240K 1644K select 0:12 0.05% 0.05% xterm 175 root 2 0 924K 252K select 1:41 0.00% 0.00% syslogd 7059 nik 2 0 7260K 4644K poll 1:38 0.00% 0.00% mutt ...

The output is split into two sections. The header (the first five lines) shows the PID of the last process to run, the system load averages (which are a measure of how busy the system is), the system uptime (time since the last reboot) and the current time. The other figures in the header relate to how many processes are running (47 in this case), how much memory and swap space has been used, and how much time the system is spending in different CPU states.

Below the header is a series of columns containing similar information to the output from ps(1), such as the PID, username, amount of CPU time, and the command that started the process. By default, top(1) also displays the amount of memory space taken by the process. This is split into two columns: one for total size and one for resident size. Total size is how much memory the application has needed and the resident size is how much it is actually using at the moment. In this example, mutt has required almost 8 MB of RAM, but is currently only using 5 MB.

top(1) automatically updates the display every two seconds. A different interval can be specified with -s.

All FreeBSD documents are available for download at http://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/

Questions that are not answered by the documentation may be sent to <freebsd-questions@FreeBSD.org>.

Send questions about this document to <freebsd-doc@FreeBSD.org>.