Mastering the pkill Command in Linux

pkill Command in Linux

Linux, known for its versatility and powerful command-line tools, offers administrators fine-grained control over processes. Among these tools, the pkill command stands out as a robust and indispensable tool for managing processes. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive deep into the intricacies of the pkill command, exploring its various features and applications. By the end of this article, you will possess the expertise to wield pkill confidently in your Linux administration tasks.

Understanding the Basics

Explaining Process Termination

Before we dive into the world of pkill, let’s ensure that the foundation is solid. Process termination is a fundamental concept in Linux system administration. Processes, whether they are applications or system services, can be started and stopped as needed. Properly managing these processes is vital for system stability and performance.

The Difference Between pkill and kill Commands

To grasp the power of pkill, it’s essential to understand how it differs from the standard kill command. While both are used for process termination, pkill simplifies the process by allowing you to target processes using their names, saving you the trouble of identifying and inputting specific process IDs (PIDs).

Syntax of the pkill Command

Let’s start with the basics: the syntax of the pkill command. To use pkill, you typically follow this format:

pkill [options] <process_name>
  • options: These are various flags and modifiers that enhance the functionality of pkill.
  • <process_name>: The name of the process you want to terminate.

Common Options and Flags

Here are some of the most commonly used options and flags with pkill:

  • -o: Matches the oldest process if multiple processes have the same name.
  • -n: Matches the newest process if multiple processes have the same name.
  • -x: Requires an exact match for the process name.
  • -i: Performs a case-insensitive match.
  • -u <username>: Matches processes owned by a specific user.
  • -P <parent_pid>: Matches processes with a specific parent process ID.
  • -t <terminal>: Matches processes associated with a specific terminal.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s get hands-on with pkill.

Practical Examples

Terminating Processes by Name

Basic Syntax:

Killing processes by name is where pkill shines. The basic syntax is as follows:

pkill <process_name>

Here, <process_name> represents the name of the process you want to terminate. It’s important to note that this will terminate all processes with a matching name.

Example 1: Killing a Runaway Firefox Process

Imagine you have an unresponsive Firefox browser window, and you want to terminate it without resorting to forceful measures. pkill allows you to do just that. In this case, you would use the following command:

pkill firefox

This will gracefully terminate all running Firefox processes.

Example 2: Stopping a Stuck Python Script

In another scenario, you might have a misbehaving Python script that refuses to exit. Using pkill, you can gracefully stop it. Let’s say the script is called “”:


By running this command, pkill will locate and terminate the Python script named “”

Terminating Processes by Other Attributes

While killing processes by name is convenient, pkill offers even more advanced capabilities.

Using Regular Expressions:

With pkill, you can use regular expressions to match processes more flexibly. Regular expressions are patterns that allow you to match multiple processes based on a pattern. For example, to kill all processes whose names start with “myapp,” you can use the following command:

pkill 'myapp.*'

This command will match any process with a name starting with “python.”

Using Signal Numbers:

The pkill command also allows you to send a specific signal to the target processes. By default, pkill sends the SIGTERM signal, which is a graceful termination signal. However, if you need to use a different signal, you can specify it using the -SIG option, where SIG is the signal name or number.

Example 4: Sending a Specific Signal to a Process

Suppose you have a misbehaving process and want to send it a SIGHUP signal to reload its configuration:

pkill -SIGHUP <process_name>

Here, replace <process_name> with the name of the process you wish to signal. This can be particularly useful for service management and custom actions.

Tips and Best Practices

Using pkill Safely and Responsibly

While pkill is a powerful tool, it should be used responsibly to avoid causing system instability or data loss. Here are some safety tips:

  • Avoid Overuse: Be selective when using pkill. Don’t terminate processes unless necessary.
  • Know the Consequences: Understand the impact of terminating a process, especially system-critical processes.
  • Keep Backups: Before terminating a process, make sure to back up any critical data or configurations.
  • Test on Non-Production Systems: If you’re unsure about the effect of a pkill command, test it on a non-production system first.

Creating Custom Aliases for pkill

To streamline your workflow, consider creating custom aliases for frequently used pkill commands. Aliases are shortcuts that allow you to execute complex commands with a single word or phrase.

To create a custom alias, add the following line to your shell’s configuration file (e.g., .bashrc or .zshrc):

alias myalias="pkill <process_name>"

Replace <process_name> with the name of the process you want to target. After saving the configuration file, reload it or open a new terminal session to use your alias.

Automating Process Management with pkill

For repetitive or scheduled tasks, consider using automation tools to manage processes with pkill. Tools like cron (for scheduled tasks) and shell scripts (for custom automation) can execute pkill commands at specified intervals.

For example, you can create a shell script that periodically checks and terminates processes that consume excessive resources:

#!/bin/bash while true; do pkill -o -u <username> -9 <process_name> sleep 600 # Sleep for 10 minutes done

This script will run indefinitely, checking for and terminating processes owned by <username> that match <process_name> every 10 minutes.

Monitoring Processes with pkill

pkill can also be used to check if a specific process is running. This can be useful for scripting and automation. To determine whether a process is running, you can use pkill as follows:

if pkill -0 <process_name>; then echo "<process_name> is running." else echo "<process_name> is not running." fi


In the realm of Linux system administration, the pkill command is a Swiss army knife for managing processes. Its ability to terminate processes by name, attributes, or even send specific signals makes it an essential tool for any Linux administrator. With the knowledge and insights gained from this guide, you are now well-equipped to harness the power of pkill in your day-to-day tasks.

Remember, while pkill is a versatile tool, it should be used responsibly and judiciously. Always be cautious when terminating processes and ensure that you are targeting the correct processes to maintain system stability.

With pkill at your disposal, you have the capability to efficiently manage processes, troubleshoot issues, and automate tasks in your Linux environment. So go ahead, explore the world of pkill, and discover the convenience and efficiency it brings to your Linux administration endeavors.

Marshall Anthony is a professional Linux DevOps writer with a passion for technology and innovation. With over 8 years of experience in the industry, he has become a go-to expert for anyone looking to learn more about Linux.

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