Introduction to Linux Process Management

In this article we will cover the basics of process management in Linux. This topic is of particular importance if you are responsible for administering a system which has not yet been proven stable, that is not fully tested in its configuration. You may find that as you run software, problems arise requiring administrator intervention. This is the world of process management

Process Management

Any application that runs on a Linux system is assigned a process ID or PID. This is a numerical representation of the instance of the application on the system. In most situations this information is only relevant to the system administrator who may have to debug or terminate processes by referencing the PID. Process Management is the series of tasks a System Administrator completes to monitor, manage, and maintain instances of running applications.


Process Management beings with an understanding concept of Multitasking. Linux is what is referred to as a preemptive multitasking operating system. Preemptive multitasking systems rely on a scheduler. The function of the scheduler is to control the process that is currently using the CPU. In contrast, symmetric multitasking systems such as Windows 3.1 relied on each running process to voluntary relinquish control of the processor. If an application in this system hung or stalled, the entire computer system stalled. By making use of an additional component to pre-empt each process when its “turn” is up, stalled programs do not affect the overall flow of the operating system.

Each “turn” is called a time slice, and each time slice is only a fraction of a second long. It is this rapid switching from process to process that allows a computer to “appear’ to be doing two things at once, in much the same way a movie “appears” to be a continuous picture.

Types of Processes

There are generally two types of processes that run on Linux. Interactive processes are those processes that are invoked by a user and can interact with the user. VI is an example of an interactive process. Interactive processes can be classified into foreground and background processes. The foreground process is the process that you are currently interacting with, and is using the terminal as its stdin (standard input) and stdout (standard output). A background process is not interacting with the user and can be in one of two states – paused or running.

The following exercise will illustrate foreground and background processes.
1. Logon as root.
2. Run [cd \]
3. Run [vi]
4. Press [ctrl + z]. This will pause vi
5. Type [jobs]
6. Notice vi is running in the background
7. Type [fg %1]. This will bring the first background process to the foreground.
8. Close vi.

The second general type of process that runs on Linux is a system process or Daemon (day-mon). Daemon is the term used to refer to process’ that are running on the computer and provide services but do not interact with the console. Most server software is implemented as a daemon. Apache, Samba, and inn are all examples of daemons.

Any process can become a daemon as long as it is run in the background, and does not interact with the user. A simple example of this can be achieved using the [ls –R] command. This will list all subdirectories on the computer, and is similar to the [dir /s] command on Windows. This command can be set to run in the background by typing [ls –R &], and although technically you have control over the shell prompt, you will be able to do little work as the screen displays the output of the process that you have running in the background. You will also notice that the standard pause (ctrl+z) and kill (ctrl+c) commands do little to help you.