In this blog post I’ll go over a quick tutorial on Unix Processes. We’ll start with some theory and then go into some real world examples. It’s meant to be quick, to the point, and provide the necessary information to have a good understanding about how Unix Processes are designed.
SSH’ing into a Unix Machine
Let’s start with a common scenario. This scenario is to simply
ssh into another Unix machine. From a Unix process perspective what happens?
$ ssh lloydrochester.com Last login: Sun Nov 29 16:15:19 2020 from 126.96.36.199 lloydrochester.com$ who lloydroc pts/0 2020-11-29 17:17 (188.8.131.52)
- A successful login will start a session which all processes will be a part of.
- The shell will establish a controlling terminal. The user can provide input through STDIN to processes for commands.
- When commands are run from the shell they will be put into process groups. Only one process in a process group will be the leader.
- Only one process group will be running in the foreground. Only the foreground process group is granted the controlling terminal.
- Optionally, more process groups can be run in the background.
Brief Theory on Unix Processes
A process will have an ID (pid), a parent process ID (ppid), and a process group ID (pgid).
A process group is a collection of processes and has a pgid, a session ID (sid) to which it belongs, and will be running in the foreground or background. A single process in the process group will be the process group leader. The process group leader has the same process (pid) as the (pgid).
The session is a collection of multiple process groups. One of the process groups will be the session leader.
The controlling terminal is established for the session and is granted to the foreground process group. This ensures that only the foreground process group can read from standard input and progress groups in the background are prohibited access.
As a side note, signals can be sent to an individual process or the process group as a whole. This depends on the signal itself.
Attributes of a Process:
- Process ID
- Parent Process ID
- Process Group ID
- Session ID
Attributes of a Process Group:
- Foreground of Background
- Session ID
- The process group leader is the process where with PGID=PID
Attributes of a Session
- Controlling Terminal
- The session leader is the process where the SID=PID
Example 1 - A Command runs as a Process
$$ in a shell is the process ID of the current shell. Let’s first examine the shell process.
$ ps -p $$ -o "pid ppid pgid sid command" PID PPID PGID SID COMMAND 2948273 2948272 2948273 2948273 -zsh
From this we can see that the shell
zsh has PID=SID=PGID. Thus, this shell is the session leader and is the process group leader. As for the parent process of the shell:
$ ps -p 2948272 -o "pid ppid pgid sid command" PID PPID PGID SID COMMAND 2948272 2948270 2948270 2948270 sshd: lloydroc@pts/0
Now let’s run a process in the background with the
$ sleep 30 &  2948815 $ ps -p 2948815 -o "pid ppid pgid sid command" PID PPID PGID SID COMMAND 2948815 2948273 2948815 2948273 sleep 30
sleep command has the PPID of the
shell. Also, notice it is running in a different PGID and it is the leader of this process group because the PID=PGID.
Let’s look at everything under the shell process:
$ pstree 2948273 zsh─┬─pstree └─sleep
We have only two processes running under the shell: the
pstree itself and the
Example 2 - Examine the NGINX Process
Let’s look at
nginx processes. The
nginx process is a popular web server which has a master and worker process running on my machine. This process is running as a daemon under the
$ pidof nginx 2465659 2465658 $ ps -p 2465658 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command tty" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND TT 2465658 1 2465658 2465658 root nginx: master process /usr/ ? $ ps -p 2465659 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command tty" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND TT 2465659 2465658 2465658 2465658 http nginx: worker process ? $ pstree -p 2465658 nginx(2465658)───nginx(2465659)
We can see that the two processes have no
tty as they are daemons. The worker is in the same process group and session as the master. The master is the session and process group leader. The worker process is a child of the master process.
Example 3 - Examine the Postfix Process
Let’s look at
postfix a mail server.
$ pidof /usr/lib/postfix/bin/master 2706371 $ pstree -p 2706371 master(2706371)─┬─anvil(2947817) ├─pickup(2948209) ├─proxymap(2949292) ├─qmgr(2706373) ├─smtpd(2948645) ├─smtpd(2949291) ├─smtpd(2949293) └─tlsmgr(2706572) $ ps -p 2706371 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND 2706371 1 2706371 2706371 root /usr/lib/postfix/bin/master -w $ ps -p 2947817 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND 2947817 2706371 2706371 2706371 postfix anvil -l -t unix -u $ ps -p 2948209 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND 2948209 2706371 2706371 2706371 postfix pickup -l -t unix -u
We can see the master
postfix process is running under the root user. The other child processes are running as different users in the same process group. These processes are in the same session.
Example 4 - Commands piped together become Processes
Here we can see how the shell will split commands using the
| operator into separate processes and in their own process group.
$ find $HOME -type f 2>/dev/null | xargs cat | sort | uniq > lotsoflines &  2949631 2949632 2949633 2949634 $ pstree -p 2949631 find(2949631) $ ps -p 2949631 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND 2949631 2948273 2949631 2948273 lloydroc find /home/lloydroc -type f $ ps -p 2949632 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND 2949632 2948273 2949631 2948273 lloydroc xargs cat $ ps -p 2949633 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND 2949633 2948273 2949631 2948273 lloydroc sort $ ps -p 2949634 -o "pid ppid pgid sid user command" PID PPID PGID SID USER COMMAND 2949634 2948273 2949631 2948273 lloydroc uniq
We have 4 commands split between
|. We can see that each process is in the same PGID and SID. The first command is the leader of the process group.