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Every application and service on your Linux machine runs as a process. Your web browser, email client, Spotify, Zoom, Slack, LibreOffice, your desktop environment...they all run as processes. And, for the most part, those processes run fairly smoothly. Every so often, however, you might find a process (an application or a service) that goes astray and either slows down your system or causes other problems (such as a locked-up desktop).
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When that happens, you need to be able to kill those runaway processes. Now, most Linux desktop environments include a GUI tool that makes killing a process a simple matter of selecting the process and then selecting Kill.
That's all fine and good, but what happens when you can't access the GUI because a runaway process is gobbling up your system memory? That's when you turn to the command line.
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I'm going to show you two simple ways to kill a Linux process from the command line. You'll be surprised at how easy it actually is.
The first method I will show you uses the kill command. The kill command kills processes by way of their PID (process ID). A typical kill command looks like this:
Where PID is the process ID for the process in question.
You're probably asking yourself, "Where do I locate the PID?" Good question. Here's how. Let's say the problem application is the Firefox web browser. To kill Firefox with the kill command, open a terminal window and locate the PID with:
ps aux |grep firefox
The breakdown of the above command is simple:
Of course, in the case of Firefox, you'll see a process for every single tab you have open. To actually kill Firefox, you need to locate the PID of the very first listed. That listing will look something like this:
jack 21960 7.6 2.5 14450944 825944 ? SNl Jun12 122:44 firefox
The PID is the first number (directly to the right of the username). So, for the above example, the kill command would be:
The above command should kill Firefox.
This method is considerably easier. Instead of using the PID of the process, you use the name of the process. So, if we want to kill the process named firefox, the command would be:
If you want to be safe, you can force killall to verify that you want to kill the command using the interactive option like so:
killall -i firefox
Answer y to the question, and the Firefox process will be killed.
Believe it or not, that's how easy it is to kill a runaway process (or any process, for that matter) on Linux. Yes, there are more options available for each of those commands, but what I've outlined above will get you started. To learn more about each command, read the man pages with man kill and man killall.