Mastering the ‘ps’ Command: Install and Usage in Linux

Mastering the ‘ps’ Command: Install and Usage in Linux

Image of a Linux terminal illustrating the installation of the ps command used for displaying information about active processes

Are you keen on monitoring your Linux processes? If you’re like a vigilant security guard, the ‘ps’ command in Linux can be your best companion. It can help you keep an eye on your system’s activities, but you might be wondering how to install and use it effectively. Luckily, it’s readily available on most package management systems, making the installation straightforward once you grasp the process.

In this guide, we will navigate you through the process of installing and using the ‘ps’ command in Linux. We’ll provide instructions for both APT and YUM-based distributions, delve into compiling ‘ps’ from the source, and installing a specific version. Finally, we’ll guide you on how to use the ‘ps’ command and ensure it’s installed correctly.

So, let’s get started and master the ‘ps’ command in Linux!

TL;DR: How Do I Install and Use the ‘ps’ Command in Linux?

In most Linux distributions, the 'ps' command comes pre-installed, you can verfiy this with the command, ps --version. However, if it is not installed, you can add it via the procps package and the command, sudo yum install procps-ng or sudo apt-get install procps. To use it, simply type ps in your terminal. For more detailed process information, use ps aux.


# Output:
# PID TTY          TIME CMD
# 19380 pts/1    00:00:00 bash
# 19490 pts/1    00:00:00 ps

This command will display the PID (Process ID), TTY (terminal type), TIME (CPU time), and CMD (command name). The ‘ps’ command is a powerful tool that can provide a wealth of information about your system’s processes.

But there’s much more to the ‘ps’ command than meets the eye. Continue reading for a deep dive into its installation and usage, and to explore more advanced features and options.

Understanding and Installing the ‘ps’ Command

The ‘ps’ command in Linux is a process viewer that allows you to monitor the processes running on your system. It provides valuable information such as the process ID, user ID, CPU usage, and command line. It’s a vital tool for system administrators and anyone looking to understand what’s happening behind the scenes in their Linux system.

Installing ‘ps’ using APT

For Debian-based distributions like Ubuntu, you can use the APT package manager to install ‘ps’. However, in most cases, the ‘ps’ command comes pre-installed. You can verify its installation by running the ‘ps’ command itself.


# Output:
# PID TTY          TIME CMD
# 19380 pts/1    00:00:00 bash
# 19490 pts/1    00:00:00 ps

In case ‘ps’ is not installed, you can install it using the following command:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install procps

# Output:
# Reading package lists... Done
# Building dependency tree
# Reading state information... Done
# procps is already the newest version (2:3.3.12-3ubuntu1.2).
# 0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.

Installing ‘ps’ using YUM

For Red Hat-based distributions like CentOS, you can use the YUM package manager to install ‘ps’. Similar to APT, you can verify its installation by running the ‘ps’ command.

If not installed, use the following command to install ‘ps’:

sudo yum update
sudo yum install procps-ng

# Output:
# Loaded plugins: fastestmirror
# Loading mirror speeds from cached hostfile
#  * base:
#  * extras:
#  * updates:
# Resolving Dependencies
# --> Running transaction check
# ---> Package procps-ng.x86_64 0:3.3.10-26.el7 will be installed
# --> Finished Dependency Resolution

These commands will ensure that the ‘ps’ command is installed on your system, ready to help you monitor and manage your processes.

Installing ‘ps’ Command from Source Code

Sometimes, you might need to install the ‘ps’ command from the source code. This could be due to the need for a specific version not available in your distribution’s repositories, or perhaps for the learning experience. Here’s how to do it:


tar xvf procps-3.2.7.tar.gz
cd procps-3.2.7
sudo make install

This will download the source code, extract it, compile it, and install it on your system.

Installing Different Versions of ‘ps’ Command

Installing from Source

As we’ve seen above, you can install a specific version of the ‘ps’ command from the source code. Simply replace the version number in the download URL with the version you need.

Using Package Managers


For APT-based distributions, you can install a specific version of a package using the following syntax:

sudo apt-get install procps=version

Replace ‘version’ with the version number you want to install.


For YUM-based distributions, you can list all available versions of a package using the following command:

yum --showduplicates list procps-ng

Then, you can install a specific version using the following syntax:

sudo yum install procps-ng-version

Replace ‘version’ with the version number you want to install.

Version Comparison

Different versions of ‘ps’ command have different features. For example, version 3.3.10 introduced the ‘-C’ option to filter processes by command name, while version 3.3.12 improved the output format.

VersionKey FeaturesCompatibility
3.3.10Introduced ‘-C’ optionCompatible with most distributions
3.3.12Improved output formatCompatible with latest distributions

Basic Usage and Verification

Using ‘ps’ Command

Once installed, you can use the ‘ps’ command to view your system’s processes. For example, the following command will display all processes:

ps -e

# Output:
# PID TTY          TIME CMD
# 1 ?        00:00:02 systemd
# 2 ?        00:00:00 kthreadd
# 3 ?        00:00:00 ksoftirqd/0
# ...

Verifying Installation

You can verify the installation of the ‘ps’ command by simply running it with the ‘–version’ option:

ps --version

# Output:
# procps-ng version 3.3.10

This will display the version of the ‘ps’ command installed on your system, confirming that the installation was successful.

Exploring Alternatives to ‘ps’ Command

While the ‘ps’ command is a powerful tool for monitoring processes in Linux, there are other commands that can provide a more dynamic or detailed view of your system’s activities. Let’s explore two of these alternatives: the ‘top’ command and the ‘htop’ command.

Using ‘top’ Command

The ‘top’ command provides a real-time, dynamic view of the processes running on your system. It’s like a live feed of your system’s activities.


# Output (truncated):
# top - 15:10:19 up  1:00,  1 user,  load average: 0.00, 0.01, 0.05
# Tasks:  88 total,   1 running,  87 sleeping,   0 stopped,   0 zombie
# %Cpu(s):  0.7 us,  0.3 sy,  0.0 ni, 98.9 id,  0.1 wa,  0.0 hi,  0.0 si,  0.0 st
# KiB Mem :  1023844 total,   662552 free,    86896 used,   265396 buff/cache
# KiB Swap:  1048572 total,  1048572 free,        0 used.   860524 avail Mem
# ...

The ‘top’ command provides a wealth of information, including system uptime, number of tasks, CPU usage, and memory usage. However, it can be overwhelming for beginners due to its dynamic nature and the amount of information displayed.

Using ‘htop’ Command

The ‘htop’ command is an advanced, interactive process viewer. It provides a more user-friendly and colorful display than ‘top’. However, it may not be installed by default on your system. You can install it using your package manager (e.g., ‘sudo apt-get install htop’ or ‘sudo yum install htop’).


# Output (truncated):
# 1  [|||||||                                               7.4%]     Tasks: 31, 84 thr; 1 running
# 2  [|||                                                  3.0%]     Load average: 0.07 0.02 0.00 
# 3  [|||                                                  2.5%]     Uptime: 00:04:23
# 4  [|||                                                  2.5%]     
# Mem[|||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||2.74G/3.74G]     
# Swp[                                                      0K/2.00G]

The ‘htop’ command provides an overview of your system’s resource usage and running processes. It’s more intuitive to navigate, as you can use your keyboard’s arrow keys to scroll through the list of processes.

Comparing ‘ps’, ‘top’, and ‘htop’

Each of these commands has its strengths and weaknesses. The ‘ps’ command is straightforward and easy to use, but it only provides a static snapshot of your processes. The ‘top’ command provides a dynamic view, but it can be overwhelming due to the amount of information displayed. The ‘htop’ command provides a user-friendly, interactive view, but it may not be installed by default on your system.

‘ps’Easy to use, Available by defaultStatic snapshot
‘top’Dynamic view, Available by defaultOverwhelming for beginners
‘htop’User-friendly, Interactive viewNot installed by default

Ultimately, the best command for monitoring processes in Linux depends on your specific needs and preferences.

Common Issues and Solutions with ‘ps’ Command

While using the ‘ps’ command, you might encounter some issues. This section discusses some common problems and their solutions to help you navigate these potential roadblocks.

Issue: ‘ps’ Command Not Found

If you encounter a ‘command not found’ error when trying to use the ‘ps’ command, it means that the command is not installed on your system or not available in your PATH.


# Output:
# bash: ps: command not found

To resolve this issue, ensure that the ‘ps’ command is installed on your system. If it’s not, install it using your package manager. If it’s installed but not available in your PATH, you may need to add it manually.

Issue: ‘ps’ Command Returns No Output

If the ‘ps’ command returns no output, it means that there are no processes matching your query. For example, if you use the ‘-C’ option with a command that is not currently running, ‘ps’ will return no output.

ps -C non_existent_command

# Output:
# (blank)

To resolve this issue, ensure that the command or process you’re querying is currently running on your system.

Issue: ‘ps’ Command Returns Too Much Output

If the ‘ps’ command returns too much output, it means that your query is too broad. For example, if you use the ‘-e’ option, ‘ps’ will display all processes on your system, which can be overwhelming.

ps -e

# Output:
# PID TTY          TIME CMD
# 1 ?        00:00:02 systemd
# 2 ?        00:00:00 kthreadd
# 3 ?        00:00:00 ksoftirqd/0
# ...

To resolve this issue, narrow down your query using options like ‘-C’ (filter by command name), ‘-U’ (filter by user), or ‘-p’ (filter by process ID).

Remember that the ‘ps’ command is a powerful tool for monitoring processes in Linux. By understanding its features and how to troubleshoot common issues, you can use it effectively to keep an eye on your system’s activities.

Grasping Linux Process Management

In Linux, a process is an instance of a running program. Each process has a unique process ID (PID) and is managed by the Linux kernel. Understanding the concept of processes is fundamental to using the ‘ps’ command effectively.

What is a Process in Linux?

A process, in the simplest terms, is a running instance of a program. For example, when you run a command like ‘ls’ in your terminal, a process is created, executed, and terminated once it completes its task.


# Output:
# Desktop  Documents  Downloads  Music  Pictures  Public  Templates  Videos

In this example, the ‘ls’ command creates a process that lists the contents of the current directory. This process exists only for the duration of the command’s execution.

Why is Process Monitoring Important?

Monitoring processes in Linux is crucial for several reasons:

  • Performance Monitoring: By monitoring processes, you can identify which processes are consuming the most resources and potentially slowing down your system.

  • System Health: Regular process monitoring can help you identify unusual activity that could indicate a system issue or security breach.

  • Troubleshooting: If a program is not functioning as expected, examining the associated process can provide insights into the issue.

The Role of ‘ps’ Command in Process Monitoring

The ‘ps’ command is a vital tool for process monitoring in Linux. It allows you to view the current processes, along with valuable information such as the PID, user ID, CPU usage, and command line.

ps -u root

# Output:
# PID TTY          TIME CMD
# 1 ?        00:00:02 systemd
# 2 ?        00:00:00 kthreadd
# 3 ?        00:00:00 ksoftirqd/0
# ...

In this example, the ‘ps -u root’ command displays all processes running under the ‘root’ user. This can be useful for identifying any unexpected or resource-intensive processes.

Understanding the fundamentals of process management in Linux and the role of the ‘ps’ command can help you use this tool effectively to monitor and manage your system’s processes.

The Bigger Picture: Process Monitoring in System Administration

Process monitoring is not just a technical task for Linux users; it’s a crucial part of system administration and security. By keeping an eye on your system’s processes, you can ensure optimal performance, identify potential issues, and prevent security breaches.

The Relevance of Process Monitoring in System Administration

System administrators are responsible for managing and maintaining a system’s performance. Process monitoring allows administrators to identify resource-intensive processes, manage system resources effectively, and ensure that all processes are running as expected.

Process Monitoring for Security

From a security perspective, process monitoring can help identify unusual or malicious activity. By regularly checking the processes running on your system, you can detect anomalies that may indicate a security breach or malware infection.

Diving Deeper: Process Scheduling and Priority

Beyond process monitoring, there are other related concepts worth exploring, such as process scheduling and process priority. Process scheduling is the method by which the system determines which process runs at any given time, while process priority determines the order in which processes are scheduled.

Understanding these concepts can help you manage your system’s processes more effectively and ensure optimal performance. For instance, you can adjust the priority of a process to give it more CPU time or limit a resource-intensive process to prevent it from slowing down your system.

# To change the priority of a process, use the 'nice' command:
nice -n 10 ./your-program

# Output:
# 10: command not found

In this example, the ‘nice -n 10’ command changes the priority of ‘your-program’ to 10. The higher the number, the lower the priority, meaning the process will get less CPU time.

Further Resources for Process Monitoring Mastery

To deepen your understanding of process monitoring in Linux, here are some resources worth exploring:

By understanding the importance of process monitoring in system administration and security, and exploring related concepts like process scheduling and priority, you can take full control of your Linux system’s processes.

Wrapping Up: Installing the ‘ps’ Command in Linux

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve delved into the ins and outs of installing and using the ‘ps’ command in Linux for effective process monitoring.

We started with the basics, discussing how to install the ‘ps’ command in different Linux distributions and demonstrating its basic use. We then explored more advanced topics, such as installing the ‘ps’ command from the source code, installing specific versions, and using different options and flags for more detailed process information.

We also discussed common issues you might encounter when using the ‘ps’ command and provided solutions to these problems. Additionally, we explored alternative methods for process monitoring in Linux, such as the ‘top’ and ‘htop’ commands, and compared their advantages and disadvantages.

Here’s a quick comparison of the methods we’ve discussed:

‘ps’ commandEasy to use, available by defaultStatic snapshot
‘top’ commandDynamic view, available by defaultCan be overwhelming for beginners
‘htop’ commandUser-friendly, interactive viewNot installed by default

Whether you’re a beginner just starting out with Linux or an experienced system administrator, we hope this guide has given you a deeper understanding of the ‘ps’ command and its role in process monitoring.

With its balance of ease of use and detailed process information, the ‘ps’ command is a powerful tool for managing and monitoring your Linux system’s processes. Happy process monitoring!