# # Selecting processes from ps with grep
APLawrence.com -  Resources for Unix and Linux Systems, Bloggers and the self-employed

'ps' and 'grep'

I've removed advertising from most of this site and will eventually clean up the few pages where it remains.

While not terribly expensive to maintain, this does cost me something. If I don't get enough donations to cover that expense, I will be shutting the site down in early 2020.

If you found something useful today, please consider a small donation.



Some material is very old and may be incorrect today

© August 2013 Anthony Lawrence

2013/08/16

When faced with the task of finding something in "ps", old Unix hands will almost automatically type "ps -e | grep" and follow that with whatever they are looking for. I can tell you that after so many years of doing that, it's almost reflexive. We may know that there are other ways, but it's the old saying: walk too close to a habit and it will bite you.

The good thing is that most of the time that habit just wags its tail and gives us what we want. Even when there is a playful little snap of the teeth accompanying the tail wagging, we're often doing that at the command line and can ignore any superfluous output. It's when our grepping is buried in a script that the results may turn tragic.

There are a LOT of things that can go wrong with "ps -e | grep". I'll try to cover the most damaging things, but I might miss one or two. If you take away nothing else from what follows, make it this: test scripts carefully and do not assume anything!

Some alternates

There are other ways to get processes matching some string. For example, on Linux:


# ps -C watcher
  PID TTY          TIME CMD
 9153 ?        00:00:00 watcher
# ps -C sshd 
  PID TTY          TIME CMD
 2246 ?        00:00:01 sshd
 5435 ?        00:00:00 sshd
 5577 ?        00:00:00 sshd
# pgrep -l sshd
2246 sshd
5435 sshd
5577 sshd
 

But "-C" is different on Mac OS X:

 ps -C sshd
ps: illegal argument: sshd
usage: ps [-AaCcEefhjlMmrSTvwXx] [-O fmt | -o fmt] [-G gid[,gid...]]
          [-g grp[,grp...]] [-u [uid,uid...]]
          [-p pid[,pid...]] [-t tty[,tty...]] [-U user[,user...]]
       ps [-L]
 

OS X ps has a -C flag, but it isn't for showing processes. The "pgrep" will work, though.

OS X has another little gotcha.

$ ps -e |grep taskgated
 1403 ??         0:00.01 /usr/libexec/taskgated -s
 1432 ttys001    0:00.00 grep taskgated
 

Most non-BSD Unix folk would have expected one line, not two. To get that from OS X, add -c:

$ ps -ec |grep taskgated
 1403 ??         0:00.01 taskgated
 

There are other ways to get rid of unwanted lines. Section 3.10 of Unix - Frequently Asked Questions suggests

 ps ux | awk '/name/ && !/awk/ {print $2}'
 

and you might see this:

ps aux | grep something | grep -v grep
 

This is a clever way (though harder to type):

ps aux | grep [s]shd
 

In case you don't see why it's because the "grep" line will contain "grep [s]shd" (with the brackets) which won't match what grep is looking for.

But in all cases, watch your switches. On Linux, for example:

# ps a
  PID TTY      STAT   TIME COMMAND
 2833 hvc0     Ss+    0:00 /sbin/getty -8 38400 hvc0
 3257 pts/1    Ss     0:00 /bin/bash
 3271 pts/1    S      0:00 sudo su -
 3274 pts/1    S      0:00 su -
 3275 pts/1    S      0:03 -su
 5578 pts/0    Ss     0:00 -bash
 5584 pts/0    S+     0:00 screen -D -r
12201 pts/1    R+     0:00 ps a
# ps -a
  PID TTY          TIME CMD
 3271 pts/1    00:00:00 sudo
 3274 pts/1    00:00:00 su
 3275 pts/1    00:00:03 bash
 5584 pts/0    00:00:00 screen
12202 pts/1    00:00:00 ps
 

Those would be identical on OS X!

Before we get too deep into ps idiosyncrasies here, you may want to take a look at I_WANT_A_BROKEN_PS and How "ps" works and why.

Let's move on to look at a scripting problem:

#!/bin/bash
X=`ps -e | grep $1`
# -ec on Mac
echo $X
 

Nothing wrong with that, right? Look, it works:

$ ./t.sh vim
1474 ttys001 0:00.00 /bin/bash ./t.sh vim 1475 ttys001 0:00.00 /bin/bash
./t.sh vim 1477 ttys001 0:00.00 grep vim 1462 ttys002 0:00.01 vim foops
 

OK, what about this?

$ ./t.sh taskgated
1480 aa ab bh dl ds dt ex me pj pt re sc t1 t2 tp tt xt zz 0:00.01 taskgated
 

What's all that "aa ab bh" stuff? Here, let's see if this helps:

$ ls ??
aa	bh	ds	ex	pj	re	t1	tp	xt
ab	dl	dt	me	pt	sc	t2	tt	zz
 

You have to be careful with pulling in the output of "ps" and randomly echoing it. The "ps" lines for daemons will include a "?" in the controlling tty column, so if you did "x=`ps -e | grep whatever`", the returning line would have a "?" (on Mac OS X, two "??"). If your script then does "echo $x", the ? mark or marks will match one or two character file names that happen to be present in your current directory. As this is directory dependent, your script might appear to work correctly initially and then break later.

You can get unexpected results with "pgrep" too.

Another thing that can bite you is the width of the listing. What you see with "ps" at command line is not necessarily what "grep" sees.

$ ps -e
# partial output
...
 1589 ??         0:00.01 /System/Library/Frameworks/CFNetwork.framework/Version
 1629 ??         0:00.23 /System/Library/CoreServices/System Events.app/Content
 1644 ??         0:00.39 /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Fram
...
$ ps -e | grep .
...
 1589 ??         0:00.01 /System/Library/Frameworks/CFNetwork.framework/Versions/A/Support/cookied
 1629 ??         0:00.23 /System/Library/CoreServices/System Events.app/Contents/MacOS/System Events -psn_0_1069317
 1644 ??         0:00.48 /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Frameworks/Metadata.framework/
  Versions/A/Support/mdworker -s mdworker -c MDSImporterWorker -m com.apple.mdworker.shared
...
 

Without more instructions, "ps -e" stops at your terminal width. When it is piped, it does not. That could lead to more matches than you expected.


If you found something useful today, please consider a small donation.



Got something to add? Send me email.





(OLDER)    <- More Stuff -> (NEWER)    (NEWEST)   

Printer Friendly Version

->
-> Selecting processes from ps with grep


Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

Take Control of Preview

Take Control of High Sierra

Photos: A Take Control Crash Course

iOS 10: A Take Control Crash Course

iOS 8: A Take Control Crash Course





More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence





Printer Friendly Version

Have you tried Searching this site?

This is a Unix/Linux resource website. It contains technical articles about Unix, Linux and general computing related subjects, opinion, news, help files, how-to's, tutorials and more.

Contact us


Printer Friendly Version





I was taught that the human brain was the crowning glory of evolution so far, but I think it’s a very poor scheme for survival (Kurt Vonnegut).




Linux posts

Troubleshooting posts


This post tagged:

Basics

Linux

Unix



Unix/Linux Consultants

Skills Tests

Unix/Linux Book Reviews

My Unix/Linux Troubleshooting Book

This site runs on Linode