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Linux Process Management Simplified

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Linux Process Management Simplified

Linux process management is necessary in server administration if you want to have system that is both healthy and well-tuned.

· Performance Zone ·
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In server administration, it is very important to understand how running processes work in detail, from high load to slow response time processes. There comes a time when your server may start to become so slow or fail to respond, and as a consequence, it will require immediate attention.

When is the time to kill a process or renice it, and how do we monitor the currently running processes and how these processes affect the system load? Let’s see how Linux process management will help us tune the system.

Process Types

Before we start talking about Linux process management, we should review process types. These are the common types of processes you will see:

  • Parent process executes the fork() system call. The process that invoked fork is the parent process. Every process except process 0 has one parent process.

  • Child process is created by the parent process.

  • Orphan process is a process whose parent process has finished or terminated, though it remains running itself.

  • Daemon process is usually created by a process forking a child process and then exiting. The parent process of a daemon is often, but not always, the init process.

  • Zombie process has completed execution but still has an entry in the process table. This entry is still needed to allow the parent process to read its child’s exit status.

The difference between orphan process and zombie process is that orphan process is still executing, but its parent process has died. They do not become zombie processes; instead, they are adopted by init.

Tuning Performance With Memory Management

Memory usage always critical to the life cycle of a system, and if you are maintaining your server or troubleshooting a particular service or application, you will always need to remember that the use of memory is a critical resource to your system.

The first command that we will use in Linux process management is a free command: $ free –m.

The –m option shows the values in megabytes:

linux process managment free command

Our main concern is in buff/cache.

The importance of this part is based on the fact that it accounts for the associated buffers and caches to illustrate what memory is currently used and reserved. The first value indicates how much memory is being used; the second value tells us how much memory is available to our applications

This means 536 megabytes are used while 1221 megabytes are available.

The second line is about swapping. Swapping typically occurs when memory usage is impacting performance. As we can see from the previous example, the first value tells us that there is a total amount of system swap set at 3070 megabytes, with the second value indicating how much swap is being used 0 and the third value showing the amount of swap that is still available to the system as a whole 3070 megabyte.

We can say from the above values that this is a healthy system and no swap used, so while we are talking about swap, let’s discover what the proc directory can tell us about swap.

$ cat /proc/swaps:

linux process managment swaps

This shows the total and used swap size.

$ cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness:

linux process managment swappiness

This command shows a value from 0 to 100. This numeric percent implies that if your system has a value of 30 like ours, it will begin to use swap memory at 70 percent occupation of RAM.

Notice: The default value for all Linux systems for this value is between 30 and 60, and you can modify it with another value between 0 and 100 with $ echo 50 > /proc/sys/vm/swappiness or using the sysctl command with $ sudo sysctl -w vm.swappiness=50.

Changing the swap value using the above commands is not permanent, as you reboot your system. To persist it, you have to write it on the /etc/sysctl.conf file like this: $ nano /etc/sysctl.conf.


linux process managment persist swappiness


The level of swaps controls the tendency of the kernel to move a process out of the physical RAM onto a swap disk.

Choosing the best swap value for your system requires some experimentation so that you can choose the best value for your server.

Managing Virtual Memory With Vmstat

Another important command used in Linux process management is vmstat. The vmstat command is used often in Linux process management. It gives a summary reporting associated with memory, processes, and paging.

$ vmstat -a (-a is used to get all active and inactive processes):

linux process managment vmstat command

This is a list of the important columns output from this command:

  • si: This column shows the value swapped in from disk.

  • so: This column shows the value swapped out to disk.

  • bi: This column shows the value sent to block devices.

  • bo: This column shows the value received from block devices.

  • us: This column shows the user time.

  • sy: This column shows the system time.

  • id: This column shows the idle time.

Our main concern about si and co columns is where the si column shows page-ins while the so column provides page-outs.

A better way to look at this is by viewing the output with a delay option like this:

$ vmstat 2 5:

linux process managment vmstat delay

2 is the delay in seconds and 5 is the number of times vmstat is called. It shows five updates of the command and all data is presented in kilobytes.

Page-in (si) is generally expected when you have started an application and the information is paged-in. Page-out (so) also happens, and this is particularly so during periods when the kernel is freeing up memory.

Checking the System Load With the Top Command

In Linux process management, the top command gives a lot of information related to tasks associated with the kernel. The display is a real-time data and the highest load factors are expressed as a percentage of CPU or memory. However, it is important to realize that the top may take these values above the expected percentile range. This is because all individual cores are expressed as a percentage and multiple instances of these cores are totaled.

For example, a dual core system may have the first core at 40 percent and the second core at 70 percent. In this case, the top may show a combined result of 110 percent, but you will not know the individual values for each core.

$ top -c:

linux process managment top command

We use -c to show the command line or the executable path behind that process.

The top command refreshes the data automatically; however, try to observe it for a few minutes before making any decisions.

Keep in mind that certain processes are spawned. Known as child-processes, they will have a tendency to be displayed individually like HTTPD and PHP-fpm.

A series of child processes can be seen using a significant amount of RAM.

The results provided by top should not be the only evidence you will want to review before making a final action.

Monitoring Disk I/O With Iotop

The system can begin to slow down as a result of heavy disk I/O activities, so it is important to monitor disk I/O activities. That means you need to figure out which processes or users cause this disk activity.

The iotop command in Linux process management helps us to monitor disk I/O in real-time. You can install it if you don’t have it.

Running $ yum install iotop without any options will result in a list of all existing processes regardless of their disk I/O activities, so if you want iotop to only list processes that cause to disk I/O activity, you should use -o.

$ iotop -o:

linux process managment iotop command

The iotop command displays a list of all processes and threads and a measurement of disk activity (total disk read and actual disk read) so you can quickly identify what is impacting any current I/O activity across the system.

Checking Processes With the Ps Command

We’ve talked about ps command before on a previous post and how to order the processes by memory usage and CPU usage, so I recommend you to review this post about basic Linux commands.

Checking Performance With Iostat and Lsof

iostat command gives you a CPU utilization report; it can be used with –c option to display the CPU utilization report.

 $ iostat -c:

linux process managment iostat command

The output result is easy to understand, but if the system is getting busy, you will see an increase in %iowait, which is used to report on an increase in waiting time for any I/O requests to be completed. 

From this command, you can check the read and write operations so you should have a solid knowledge of what is hanging your disk and take the right decision.

Additionally, the lsof command is used to list the open files:

linux process managment lsof command

It will show you which command are using the file, the process ID, the user, and the name of the file that is open.

Calculating the System Load

Calculating system load is very important in Linux process management. The system load is a measure of the amount of processing for the system which is currently performing. It is not the perfect way to measure system performance, but it gives you some evidence.

The load is calculated like this:

Actual Load = Total Load (uptime) / Number of CPUs.

You can calculate the uptime by reviewing uptime command or top command.

$ uptime:

linux process managment uptime command

$ top:

The server load is expressed as a value based on 1 minute, 5 minute, and 15 minute read times.

We can see that for this system, the average load was 0.00 (at 1 minute), 0.01 (at 5 minutes), and 0.05 (at 15 minutes).

When load increases, processors are queued, and if there are multiple processor cores, the load is evenly distributed across the server’s cores to balance the work

The ideal load for a server is generally agreed to be set at a value of 1. This does not mean a high load as soon as this value is reached or exceeded, but if you do begin to see double-digit responses for some period of time, then yes, this is a high load.

pgrep and systemctl

You can get the process ID using the pgrep command followed by the service name.

 $ pgrep servicename 

linux process managment pgrep command

This command shows the process ID or PID.

Note: if this command shows more than process ID, like httpd or SSH, the smallest process ID is the parent process ID.

On the other hand, you can use the systemctl command to get the main PID like this:

 $ systemctl status <service_name> .service  

linux process managment systemctl command

There are more ways to obtain the required process ID or parent process ID, but this one is easy and straight.

Managing Services with systemd

If we are going to talk about Linux process management, we should take a look at systemd. The systemd is responsible for controlling how services are managed on modern Linux systems like CentOS 7.

You can start, stop and check the status like this:

$ systemctl status <service_name>.service
$ systemctl stop <service_name>.service
$ systemctl start <service_name>.service

Instead of using the chkconfig command to enable and disable a service during the boot, you can use the systemctl command:

$ systemctl enable <service_name>.service
$ systemctl disable <service_name>.service

Systemd also ships with its own version of the top command, and in order to show the processes that are associated with a specific service, you can use the system-cgtop command like this:

 $ systemd-cgtop 

linux process managment systemd-cgtop

As you can see, all associated processes, path, the number of tasks, the % of CPU used, memory allocation, and the inputs and outputs related.

This command can be used to output a recursive list of service content, like this:

 $ systemd-cgls 

linux process managment systemd-cgls

This command gives us very useful information that can be used to make your decision.

Nice and Renice Processes

The niceness of a process is a numeric hint to the kernel about how the process should be treated in relation to other processes contending for the CPU. A high nice value means a low priority for your process so how nice you are going to be to other users, and that’s the name come from.

The nice range is from -20 to +19.

Nice command sets the nice value for the process at creation time, while renice command adjusts the value later and takes process ID as a parameter.

$ nice –n 5./myscript increases the nice means lower priority by 5.

$ sudo renice -5 2213:

linux process managment renice command

This command decrease the nice value means increased priority.

The owner of the process can increase its nice value (lower priority) but cannot lower it (high priority) while root user can do both.

Sending the Kill Signal

All we’ve discussed, Linux process management is used to get the top running processes, which processes make high CPU load, which one eats the memory is to send that process ID to kill command.

The process ID does have other uses, but our primary concern is to remove a service or application causes problem by issuing a termination signal (SIGTERM). You can review the previous post about signal and jobs bash scripting.

$ kill process ID is called safe kill. However, depending on your situation, a better solution can be to force a service or application to hang up, and thereby enable an automatic reload of the service like this: $ kill -1 process ID.

Sometimes, the safe kill and reload fail to do anything. In that case, you can send kill signal SIGKILL by using the -9 option, which is called forced kill: $ kill -9 process ID.

There are no cleanup operations or safe exit with this command and not preferred. However, you can do something more proper by using the pkill command: $ pkill -9 serviceName.

linux process managment pkill command

And you can use the pgrep command to ensure that all associated processes killed.

$ pgrep serviceName:

linux process managment pkill -9

I hope you have a good idea about Linux process management and how to take good actions to make the system healthy.

linux ,monitoring ,process management ,performance

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