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Murder Most Fowl - page 2

Dealing with SIGHUP

  • June 16, 2006
  • By Carla Schroder
Man page authors tend to wobble between addressing end users and ace programmers. That's why you see statements like "the do list is executed as long as the last command in list returns a non-zero exit status." Which is as helpful as saying "send the process a SIGHUP". But not to worry, for today we shall peel off the mask of mystery that covers these deep dark subjects.

This falls under the heading of signals and process control. For us ace admins and users, our primary concerns are starting, stopping, and restarting services, and stopping runaway or hung processes with as little disruption as possible. Because signal-handling varies on different operating systems and different command shells, we'll stick to Linux and the bash shell.

Signals are used to communicate with daemons and processes. Any active task is a process, while daemons are background services that lurk in wait to respond to certain events, or to run scheduled tasks. A program must have some sort of signal handler programmed into it to trap and respond to signals. The signal man page describes the various signals and what they do. Signals are sent by the kill command. kill -l displays a list of signals and their numbers.

All daemons and processes have a Process ID (PID), as this ps command shows:

$ ps aux
USER       PID %CPU %MEM TTY  STAT  COMMAND
root         1  0.0  0.1  ?    S    init [2]
105       7783  0.0  0.2  ?    Ss   /usr/bin/dbus-daemon --system
hal       7796  0.0  0.7  ?    Ss   /usr/sbin/hald
postfix   7957  0.0  0.2  ?    S    qmgr -l -t fifo -u -c
nagios    8371  0.0  0.2  ?    SNs  /usr/sbin/nagios /etc/nagios/nagios.cfg

This output is slimmed down, you'll see more lines and columns on your system. If something is sucking up all your CPU or memory you'll see what it is in the %CPU and %MEM columns. A quicker way to find a runaway process is with the top command, because by default the processes using the most CPU are displayed on top. We can play with this a bit with the yes command:

$ yes carla is teh awesum 

This repeats "carla is teh awesum" at high speed until you stop it. It should drive your CPU usage into the red zone:

$ top
...
  PID USER      PR  NI  VIRT  RES  SHR S %CPU %MEM    TIME+  COMMAND
12144 carla     25   0 31592  17m  13m R 93.4  3.5   0:50.26 konsole
22236 carla     15   0  2860  468  400 S  4.3  0.1   0:00.97 yes

Interestingly, credit for hammering the CPU goes to Konsole, not yes, because yes is running inside Konsole. If you drop to a "real" console (Ctrl+alt+f2) you'll see yes with the big numbers.

There are a number of ways to stop yes. If you go back to the shell it's running in, just hit CTRL+c. Or you can stop it with the kill command in a second shell, either by PID or by name:

$ kill 22236
$ killall yes

CTRL+c sends a SIGINT (2), or a terminate interrupt from the keyboard. kill and killall both send a SIGTERM (15) by default. SIGTERM (15) can be caught and either ignored, or interpreted in a different way, so when it works unpredictably, you can blame the process you're trying to kill.

Killing a parent process will usually, but not always, kill its children as well. How do you know what the child processes are? Use the -f flag with ps:

$ ps axf
22371 ?        R      2:35  _ konsole [kdeinit]
22372 pts/3    Ss     0:00  |   _ /bin/bash
24322 pts/3    S+     0:00  |   |   _ yes carla is teh awesum
22381 pts/4    Rs     0:00  |   _ /bin/bash
24323 pts/4    R+     0:00  |   |   _ ps axf
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