Topics: Red Hat / Linux, System Admin


A process is a running instance of a launched, executable program. A process consists of:

  • an address space of allocated memory,
  • security properties including ownership credentials and privileges,
  • one or more execution threads of program code, and
  • the process state.
The environment of a process includes:
  • local and global variables,
  • a current scheduling context, and
  • allocated system resources, such as file descriptors and network ports.
An existing (parent) process duplicates its own address space (fork) to create a new (child) process structure. Every new process is assigned a unique process ID (PID) for tracking and security. The PID and the parent's process ID (PPID) are elements of the new process environment. Any process may create a child process. All processes are descendants of the first system process, which is systemd(1) on a Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 system.

Through the fork routine, a child process inherits security identities, previous and current file descriptors, port and resource privileges, environment variables, and program code. A child process may then exec its own program code. Normally, a parent process sleeps while the child process runs, setting a request (wait) to be signaled when the child completes. Upon exit, the child process has already closed or discarded its resources and environment; the remainder is referred to as a zombie. The parent, signaled awake when the child exited, cleans the remaining structure, then continues with its own program code execution.

In a multitasking operating system, each CPU (or CPU core) can be working on one process at a single point in time. As a process runs, its immediate requirements for CPU time and resource allocation change. Processes are assigned a state, which changes as circumstances require.

The Linux process states are illustrated in the previous diagram and described in the following table.

Name Flag Kernel-defined state name and description
Running R

TASK_RUNNING: The process is either executing on a CPU or waiting to run. Process can be executing user routines or kernel routines (system calls), or be queued and ready when in the Running (or Runnable) state.

Sleeping S

TASK_INTERRUPTIBLE: The process is waiting for some condition: a hardware request, system resource access, or signal. When an event or signal satisfies the condition, the process returns to Running.


TASK_UNINTERRUPTIBLE: This process is also Sleeping, but unlike S state, will not respond to delivered signals. Used only under specific conditions in which process interruption may cause an unpredictable device state.


TASK_KILLABLE: Identical to the uninterruptible D state, but modified to allow the waiting task to respond to a signal to be killed (exited completely). Utilities frequently display Killable processes as D state.

Stopped T

TASK_STOPPED: The process has been Stopped (suspended), usually by being signaled by a user or another process. The process can be continued (resumed) by another signal to return to Running.


TASK_TRACED: A process that is being debugged is also temporarily Stopped and shares the same T state flag.

Zombie Z

EXIT_ZOMBIE: A child process signals its parent as it exits. All resources except for the process identity (PID) are released.


EXIT_DEAD: When the parent cleans up (reaps) the remaining child process structure, the process is now released completely. This state will never be observed in process-listing utilities.

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