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Understanding Process States in Linux

In Linux, every process that gets executed goes through different states, providing information about the current condition of the process. This article explores these process states and how they can be determined using the ps x command.

What are Process States?

Process states in Linux signify the current status or condition of a process in the system's lifecycle. These states help system administrators in monitoring and managing the processes effectively. Knowing the process states can aid in understanding whether a process is running smoothly, waiting for some resource, or is terminated.

Using ps x to View Process States

The ps x command in Linux is useful for getting a detailed view of processes, including their current states. The x option ensures that the command lists processes without a controlling terminal, revealing more processes than the basic ps command would.

ps x

This command will list the processes along with their states, represented by a single character code in the output.

Understanding Process States

Below is a table representing various process states available in Linux and what each state signifies:

RRunning or Runnable: The process is either currently running or ready to run.
SInterruptible Sleep: The process is waiting for an event or condition to be fulfilled to proceed.
DUninterruptible Sleep: The process is waiting for an event to complete but cannot be interrupted.
TStopped: The process has been stopped, usually by receiving a signal.
ZZombie: The process has completed execution but hasn't been removed from the process table.
IIdle: The process is being created.

Examples of Reading Process States

While interpreting the process state you only need to read the first character for the state of the process. The meaning of rest of the characters is explained below.

Running or Runnable State (R)

  • A process with the R state is either executing or in the run queue waiting for CPU time.

Interruptible Sleep State (S)

  • If a process is in the S state, it means it is waiting for an event or a condition to be met, and it can be woken up by a signal.

Uninterruptible Sleep State (D)

  • A D state signifies that the process is waiting for I/O operations to complete and cannot be interrupted, even by signals.

Stopped State (T)

  • Processes in the T state have been stopped due to signals like SIGSTOP or SIGTSTP.

Zombie State (Z)

  • Z state processes have terminated but are still in the process table because the parent process hasn’t read their exit status.

Idle State (I)

  • Processes in the I state are in the process of being created and are thus idle.

Interpreting States In-Depth

When executing the ps x command, you might observe something like this:

1234 ? Ss 0:00 /usr/bin/someprocess
5678 ? Ssl 0:01 /usr/bin/anotherprocess

Here, the STAT column represents the state of the process. The first character in this column denotes the process state (e.g., S for Interruptible Sleep), and the subsequent characters provide additional information about the process.

Deciphering Additional Characters in Process State

Here are the explanations for various characters that might follow the main state character:

lMulti-threaded process (using CLONE_THREAD, like kthread)
sSession leader
<High-priority process (not nice to other processes)
NLow-priority process (nice to other processes)
LHas pages locked into memory
sProcess is a session leader
lMulti-threaded process
+Process is in the foreground process group

Examples of Reading Additional Characters in Process State:


  • The process is in an Interruptible Sleep state (S) and is a session leader (s).


  • The process is in an Interruptible Sleep state (S), is a session leader (s), and is multi-threaded (l).


  • The process is in a Running or Runnable state (R) and is high-priority (<).


Understanding process states in Linux is crucial for effective system monitoring and management. Using the ps x command, administrators and users can get detailed insights into the current state of processes, allowing for informed decisions regarding process management and troubleshooting. Recognizing each state and its implications ensures smoother operation and better resource allocation within a Linux environment. Whether you are diagnosing issues or optimizing system performance, knowledge of process states is invaluable.

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