pgrep and pkill – Linux scripting process management friends

Often when inspecting an UNIX server as a sysadmin you need to find and kill a (hung) process running with a certain command line arguments.

Traditional solution is to search through ps process listing output using grep command:

ps -Af|grep -i "xcmd"
... list of all processes running on the server matching xcmd here ...

Even though chaining commands is something UNIX philosophy encourages there exist specific commands for finding processes and killing them. pgrep searches from processes and pkill kills them. The sister commands use the same syntax.

Here is an example. We have a cron script which will open a SSH tunnel for the background. Then this tunnel is used to communicate with remote server by other processes in the same script. Sometimes, however, SSH tunnel can hang due to network reasons. The tunnel is started with command in this is used in one of /etc/cron.d scripts:

# daemon mode + do not open remote shell
ssh -fN -L

(If you are planning to create more robust solution it is suggested to use lock files instead where the process id is written each time the background process is started. However, here we discuss about the solution which is quick to implement and easy to understand.)

First we note this problem by inspecting the process list by the traditional means:

ps -Af|grep -i ssh

And in the output we see the bad process – we verify it is not working as the tunneled port indeed does not communicate with the remote server:

root      8292     1  0 09:37 ?        00:00:00 ssh -L -fN

Now we can see if pgrep also can find this process by matching full command line (-f switch)

pgrep -f 'ssh'

And now, we simply put a command at the beginning of our cron script to kill the previous tunnel, regardless if it is hung or not, wen running the script. Please note that the side effect is that this will kill all other SSH commands with the same command line on the server: in our case it does not matter, as the tunnel should be only started and maintained by this one cron script.


# Kill existing pipes if they are hung
pkill -f 'ssh'

ssh -L -fN

# script goes here...



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4 thoughts on “pgrep and pkill – Linux scripting process management friends

  1. Pingback: Timeouting commands in shell scripts

  2. Shorter simpler,

    pgrep -f httpd | xargs kill -9

    But, in most cases you want to use, service servicename

    # service apache2 restart

  3. Anyone figure out how to do a targeted pgrep/pkill inline in a script that includes a -option in the pattern? Like this:

    if $(pgrep -f “ssh -f” > /dev/null 2>&1) ; then

    But like this (in a uniform way across a script):

    PGREPCOMMAND=’pgrep -f “ssh -f”>/dev/null 2>&1′
    if $($PGREPCOMMAND) ; then
    echo YUP

    pgrep: invalid option — ‘”‘
    Usage: pgrep [-flvx] [-d DELIM] [-n|-o] [-P PPIDLIST] [-g PGRPLIST] [-s SIDLIST]


    How does one properly quote a pgrep command like that?


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