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Previous: 38.5 The ps Command Chapter 38
Starting, Stopping, and Killing Processes
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38.6 The Controlling Terminal

In article 38.5 , we pointed out that the ps command needs special options (-x for BSD and -e for System V) to list processes without a controlling terminal.

But just what is a controlling terminal? Just what it sounds like: the terminal from which the process was started. In the ps listing, this is usually given as a tty , or terminal id. That ps entry usually corresponds to a serial port, or a pty (41.8 ) . A pty or "pseudo-terminal" is a construct that makes a window or network login (1.33 ) look to the operating system just like a terminal.

In the ps listing, a tty might appear as t1 for /dev/tty1 , p3 for /dev/ttyp3 , or as some other designation, such as co for /dev/console , the full screen display of a workstation before any window system is started. Processes without a controlling terminal show a question mark (? ).

How does a process "lose" its controlling terminal? Easy. Some processes, such as system "daemons" (1.14 ) never had one - they were started by system scripts that weren't started from any terminal, or they disconnected themselves from their controlling terminals. But it's also possible that you started a process running in the background, logged out, and logged back later or on another terminal to find it still running without a controlling terminal.

The tty command can be used to report which "terminal" you're currently connected to. For example:

% tty


/dev/ttyp2

Running tty without a controlling terminal gives the message not a tty .

- TOR


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