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How to kill a child process after a given timeout in Bash?

Posted by: admin December 3, 2017 Leave a comment


I have a bash script that launches a child process that crashes (actually, hangs) from time to time and with no apparent reason (closed source, so there isn’t much I can do about it). As a result, I would like to be able to launch this process for a given amount of time, and kill it if it did not return successfully after a given amount of time.

Is there a simple and robust way to achieve that using bash?

P.S.: tell me if this question is better suited to serverfault or superuser.


(As seen in:
BASH FAQ entry #68: “How do I run a command, and have it abort (timeout) after N seconds?”)

If you don’t mind downloading something, use timeout (sudo apt-get install timeout) and use it like:

timeout 10 ping www.goooooogle.com

If you don’t want to download something, do what timeout does internally:

( cmdpid=$BASHPID; (sleep 10; kill $cmdpid) & exec ping www.goooooogle.com )

In case that you want to do a timeout for longer bash code, use the second option as such:

( cmdpid=$BASHPID; 
    (sleep 10; kill $cmdpid) \
   & while ! ping -w 1 www.goooooogle.com 
         echo crap; 
     done )

# Spawn a child process:
(dosmth) & pid=$!
# in the background, sleep for 10 secs then kill that process
(sleep 10 && kill -9 $pid) &

or to get the exit codes as well:

# Spawn a child process:
(dosmth) & pid=$!
# in the background, sleep for 10 secs then kill that process
(sleep 10 && kill -9 $pid) & waiter=$!
# wait on our worker process and return the exitcode
exitcode=$(wait $pid && echo $?)
# kill the waiter subshell, if it still runs
kill -9 $waiter 2>/dev/null
# 0 if we killed the waiter, cause that means the process finished before the waiter

sleep 999&
sleep 10
kill $t


I also had this question and found two more things very useful:

  1. The SECONDS variable in bash.
  2. The command “pgrep”.

So I use something like this on the command line (OSX 10.9):

ping www.goooooogle.com & PING_PID=$(pgrep 'ping'); SECONDS=0; while pgrep -q 'ping'; do sleep 0.2; if [ $SECONDS = 10 ]; then kill $PING_PID; fi; done

As this is a loop I included a “sleep 0.2” to keep the CPU cool. 😉

(BTW: ping is a bad example anyway, you just would use the built-in “-t” (timeout) option.)


Assuming you have (or can easily make) a pid file for tracking the child’s pid, you could then create a script that checks the modtime of the pid file and kills/respawns the process as needed. Then just put the script in crontab to run at approximately the period you need.

Let me know if you need more details. If that doesn’t sound like it’d suit your needs, what about upstart?


One way is to run the program in a subshell, and communicate with the subshell through a named pipe with the read command. This way you can check the exit status of the process being run and communicate this back through the pipe.

Here’s an example of timing out the yes command after 3 seconds. It gets the PID of the process using pgrep (possibly only works on Linux). There is also some problem with using a pipe in that a process opening a pipe for read will hang until it is also opened for write, and vice versa. So to prevent the read command hanging, I’ve “wedged” open the pipe for read with a background subshell. (Another way to prevent a freeze to open the pipe read-write, i.e. read -t 5 <>finished.pipe – however, that also may not work except with Linux.)

rm -f finished.pipe
mkfifo finished.pipe

{ yes >/dev/null; echo finished >finished.pipe ; } &

# Get command PID
while : ; do
    PID=$( pgrep -P $SUBSHELL yes )
    test "$PID" = "" || break
    sleep 1

# Open pipe for writing
{ exec 4>finished.pipe ; while : ; do sleep 1000; done } &  

read -t 3 FINISHED <finished.pipe

if [ "$FINISHED" = finished ] ; then
  echo 'Subprocess finished'
  echo 'Subprocess timed out'
  kill $PID

rm finished.pipe


Here’s an attempt which tries to avoid killing a process after it has already exited, which reduces the chance of killing another process with the same process ID (although it’s probably impossible to avoid this kind of error completely).

run_with_timeout ()

  echo "running \"$*\" with timeout $t"

  # first, run process in background
  (exec sh -c "$*") &
  echo $pid

  # the timeout shell
  (sleep $t ; echo timeout) &
  echo $waiter

  # finally, allow process to end naturally
  wait $pid
  echo $?
  ) \
  | (read pid
     read waiter

     if test $waiter != timeout ; then
       read status

     # if we timed out, kill the process
     if test $status = timeout ; then
       kill $pid
       exit 99
       # if the program exited normally, kill the waiting shell
       kill $waiter
       exit $status

Use like run_with_timeout 3 sleep 10000, which runs sleep 10000 but ends it after 3 seconds.

This is like other answers which use a background timeout process to kill the child process after a delay. I think this is almost the same as Dan’s extended answer (https://stackoverflow.com/a/5161274/1351983), except the timeout shell will not be killed if it has already ended.

After this program has ended, there will still be a few lingering “sleep” processes running, but they should be harmless.

This may be a better solution than my other answer because it does not use the non-portable shell feature read -t and does not use pgrep.


Here’s the third answer I’ve submitted here. This one handles signal interrupts and cleans up background processes when SIGINT is received. It uses the $BASHPID and exec trick used in the top answer to get the PID of a process (in this case $$ in a sh invocation). It uses a FIFO to communicate with a subshell that is responsible for killing and cleanup. (This is like the pipe in my second answer, but having a named pipe means that the signal handler can write into it too.)

run_with_timeout ()
  t=$1 ; shift

  trap cleanup 2

  F=$$.fifo ; rm -f $F ; mkfifo $F

  # first, run main process in background
  "[email protected]" & pid=$!

  # sleeper process to time out
  ( sh -c "echo $$ >$F ; exec sleep $t" ; echo timeout >$F ) &
  read sleeper <$F

  # control shell. read from fifo.
  # final input is "finished".  after that
  # we clean up.  we can get a timeout or a
  # signal first.
  ( exec 0<$F
    while : ; do
      read input
      case $input in
          test $sleeper != 0 && kill $sleeper
          rm -f $F
          exit 0
          test $pid != 0 && kill $pid
          test $pid != 0 && kill $pid
  ) &

  # wait for process to end
  wait $pid
  echo finished >$F
  return $status

cleanup ()
  echo signal >$$.fifo

I’ve tried to avoid race conditions as far as I can. However, one source of error I couldn’t remove is when the process ends near the same time as the timeout. For example, run_with_timeout 2 sleep 2 or run_with_timeout 0 sleep 0. For me, the latter gives an error:

timeout.sh: line 250: kill: (23248) - No such process

as it is trying to kill a process that has already exited by itself.