How to Kill a Process in Linux Command Line [5 Best Methods]

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Last updated: July 26, 2023

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To kill a process in Linux, you can try these methods:

  1. Kill Command: Gracefully terminates a process by sending a SIGTERM signal.
  2. Killall Command: Forcefully terminates all instances of a process by sending a SIGKILL signal.
  3. pkill Command: Sends a SIGTERM or SIGKILL signal to processes based on specific attributes.
  4. killall5 Command: Sends a SIGTERM signal to all non-essential processes.
  5. xkill Command: Forces-closes unresponsive graphical processes by clicking on them with an X cursor.

Killing processes in Linux can have pitfalls. Common errors include using SIGKILL unnecessarily, terminating critical system processes, insufficient permissions, improper process identification, and neglecting zombie processes. Be cautious to ensure smooth system management.

Discover different methods to kill a process in Linux in the guide below. Also, learn about common errors that can occur when c the process in Linux.

In Linux system administration, managing processes effectively is essential to maintain system stability and optimize resource utilization. Occasionally, there may be instances where it becomes necessary to terminate processes that are causing issues or consuming excessive resources. In this comprehensive guide, I will explore various methods to kill a process in Linux command line and common errors that can occur during the process.

How to Kill a Process in Linux

To kill a process in Linux, you have various methods at your disposal, including the Kill Command for graceful termination, the Killall Command for forceful termination by name, the pkill Command for targeting processes based on attributes, the killall5 Command for system-level termination, and the xkill Command for handling unresponsive graphical processes. 

1. Kill Command

The kill command is an essential tool for gracefully terminating processes in a Linux environment. This method is best used when you want to end a process smoothly, giving it a chance to handle any ongoing tasks and release resources gracefully. Follow these steps:

Identify the process to be terminated:

  1. Open a Terminal window.
opening terminal 34
  1. Use the ps command to list all processes currently running on the system. Note the PID (Process ID) of the process you want to terminate.
listing active processes
  1. Execute the following command:
<strong>kill -15 PID</strong>

Replace PID with the actual Process ID of the target process.

  1. This sends a SIGTERM signal to the process, allowing it to clean up before termination. Check if the process has been terminated by using the ps command.
killing specific process

2. Killall Command

The killall command provides a forceful approach to terminate processes based on their names. It is useful when you need to deal with multiple instances of the same process quickly. Here is the step-by-step guide to it:

  1. Launch the Terminal and identify the process name to be terminated:
  2. Run the following command (with sudo, if necessary):
<strong>sudo killall -9 process_name</strong>

Replace process_name with the name of the target process.

  1. Be cautious when using -9 (SIGKILL) as it terminates the process immediately without allowing cleanup. Check if all instances of the process have been terminated using the ps command or monitoring tools.
killing all instances of a process

3. pkill Command

The pkill command is a versatile tool that allows you to target processes based on specific attributes such as process names or user ownership. It provides a more granular approach to process termination and is best used when you want to terminate specific processes efficiently and in a controlled manner. Follow these steps:

  1. Identify the processes to be terminated based on specific attributes:
  2. Access the command window and determine the attributes (e.g., process name, user) of the target processes. Enter the following command:
<strong>pkill -u username process_name</strong>

Replace username with the name of the user owning the target processes and replace process_name with the name of the target process.

killing process based on attributes

4. killall5 Command

The killall5 command is a powerful tool to initiate system-level termination by sending a SIGTERM signal to all non-essential processes. It should be used with utmost care, primarily during system shutdown or in critical situations, to avoid disrupting essential system operations and ensure a smooth shutdown process. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the command prompt and use the killall5 command to initiate system-level termination.
  2. Execute the following command (with sudo, if necessary):
<strong>sudo killall5 -15</strong>
  1. This sends a SIGTERM signal to all non-essential processes, allowing them to clean up before termination.
terminating processes on system level

5. xkill Command

When graphical applications become unresponsive and fail to close through conventional means, the xkill command comes to the rescue. This method is ideal for dealing with unresponsive applications on the graphical user interface (GUI) without resorting to Terminal-based solutions. Follow these steps:

  1. Enter your Terminal window and execute the following command:
  1. The cursor will change to an X symbol. Click on the unresponsive graphical window to force-close it.
killing unresponsive window

5 Common Errors When Killing a Process in Linux

Killing processes in Linux can be a powerful and necessary action, but it comes with its share of potential pitfalls. Understanding these common errors will help you avoid unintended consequences and ensure smooth system management. Here are the five most common errors encountered when terminating processes in Linux.

  • Using SIGKILL (kill -9) Unnecessarily: Using the SIGKILL signal (kill -9) should be a last resort when other methods fail to terminate a process gracefully. SIGKILL forcibly terminates the process without allowing cleanup, which can lead to data corruption or inconsistent system state. Always try SIGTERM (kill -15) first to give the process a chance to handle termination tasks before resorting to SIGKILL. Remember, forcefully killing a process should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
  • Terminating Essential System Processes: Terminating critical system processes can have severe consequences, including system crashes or loss of important data. Before killing any process, ensure that it is non-essential and won’t disrupt vital system operations. Verify the process’s purpose and potential impact before proceeding with termination commands. Remember, a mistake in terminating essential processes can bring the entire system down.
  • Insufficient Permissions for Process Termination: Some processes may require root privileges for termination, especially if they belong to other users or involve system-level operations. Attempting to kill such processes without the necessary permissions will result in “Permission Denied” errors. Always check your privileges before attempting to terminate processes. Remember, ensure you have the appropriate permissions to avoid encountering permission-related errors during process termination.
  • Improper Process Identification: Incorrectly identifying the target process by PID or name can lead to unintended terminations, affecting the wrong processes or causing unexpected consequences. Double-check the process details before using kill commands to avoid accidentally terminating critical or unrelated processes. Remember to verify the process details accurately to prevent erroneous termination and potential disruptions.
  • 🧟Neglecting Zombie Processes: Zombie processes are not actively running but still occupy system resources until their parent process retrieves their exit status. Neglecting zombie processes may lead to resource wastage and potential performance issues. Identifying and terminating the parent process of zombies will ensure the proper cleanup of these idle resources. Remember, pay attention to zombie processes and handle them promptly to maintain system efficiency and resource optimization.

In Conclusion

I have discussed various methods to kill a process in Linux, including graceful termination using the kill command, forceful termination with the killall command, targeted termination using pkill, system-level termination with killall5, and handling unresponsive processes with xkill. While these methods are powerful tools for managing processes, it’s essential to be mindful of common errors that may arise.

To deepen your knowledge of Linux process management, consider exploring advanced process monitoring techniques, optimizing process priority, and learning more about the intricacies of system-level process termination. Continuous learning and staying up-to-date with Linux developments will equip you to handle diverse process management challenges and maintain a stable and well-performing Linux environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I kill a process running under another user’s account?

Killing a process owned by another user usually requires root privileges. You can use the sudo command with kill or pkill to terminate processes belonging to other users. However, exercise caution as this action can impact system stability. Granting root access to process termination should be done judiciously to avoid unintended consequences and potential security risks.

What is the difference between SIGTERM and SIGKILL signals, and when should I use them?

SIGTERM allows processes to perform cleanup tasks before termination, providing a graceful exit. In contrast, SIGKILL forcefully terminates the process without any opportunity for cleanup. Use SIGTERM when you want the process to handle termination tasks before closing, especially for critical processes. Reserve SIGKILL as a last resort if a process becomes unresponsive to SIGTERM or poses a serious threat to the system’s stability.

Can killing critical system processes cause data corruption or system instability?

Yes, terminating critical system processes can lead to data corruption, system instability, and even system crashes. Critical processes are essential for the proper functioning of the operating system and other applications. Terminating them abruptly can disrupt critical services and cause unintended consequences. Exercise extreme caution when terminating processes and avoid killing essential system services unless it’s absolutely necessary for system troubleshooting or recovery.

How can I prioritize process termination to prevent essential services from getting killed?

Prioritize process termination by specifying the appropriate signal. Use SIGTERM (kill -15) for graceful termination, giving the process a chance to clean up before exiting. This allows essential services to shut down properly and prevent data loss or corruption. Only resort to SIGKILL (kill -9) as a last resort when a process becomes unresponsive to SIGTERM or poses an immediate threat to the system’s stability. Properly managing process termination ensures a smooth and stable system operation.



Ojash is a skilled Linux expert and tech writer with over a decade of experience. He has extensive knowledge of Linux's file system, command-line interface, and software installations. Ojash is also an expert in shell scripting and automation, with experience in Bash, Python, and Perl. He has published numerous articles on Linux in various online publications, making him a valuable resource for both seasoned Linux users and beginners. Ojash is also an active member of the Linux community and participates in Linux forums.



Akshat is a software engineer, product designer and the co-founder of Scrutify. He's an experienced Linux professional and the senior editor of this blog. He is also an open-source contributor to many projects on Github and has written several technical guides on Linux. Apart from that, he’s also actively sharing his ideas and tutorials on Medium and Attirer. As the editor of this blog, Akshat brings his wealth of knowledge and experience to provide readers with valuable insights and advice on a wide range of Linux-related topics.

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