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ps and top for Human Beings

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ps and top for Human Beings

See below for how to install.

ptop is what I usually use when Bubblemon shows something unexpected is going on.

px I use for figuring out things like “do I still have any Flutter processes running in the background”?



If you’re coming from htop or some other top variant, here’s what to expect from ptop, with explanations below the screenshot:

ptop screenshot

  • Note the core count right next to the system load number, for easy comparison.

  • Note the load history graph next to the load numbers. On this system the load has been high for the last 15 minutes. This is a visualization of the numbers you get from uptime.

  • Note the bars showing which programs / users are using your memory below the memory numbers

  • Note the IO Load number, showing which IO device had the highest average throughput since ptop launched.

  • Note how the default sort order of CPUTIME-since-ptop-started makes the display mostly stable and enables you to sort by CPU usage.

  • Note that binaries launched while ptop is running are listed at the bottom of the display.

  • Note how the Python program on the second to last line is shown as (the program) rather than python3 (the runtime). This support is available for many VMs like Java, Node, …

  • Selecting a process with Enter will offer you to see detailed information about that process, in $PAGER, moar or less. Or to kill it.

  • After you press q to quit, the display is retained and some lines at the bottom are removed to prevent the information you want from scrolling out of view.

  • A help text on the bottom hints you how to search / filter (interactively), change sort order or how to pick processes for further inspection or killing.


Running just px lists all running processes, with the most interesting ones last. Output truncated for brevity.

  PID COMMAND                           USERNAME           CPU CPUTIME RAM COMMANDLINE
    0 kernel                            root                --      --  -- kernel PID 0
  273 SandboxHelper                     _coreaudiod         0%   0.01s  0% /System/Library/Frameworks/AudioToolbox.framework/XPCServices/
  596 installerdiagd                    root                0%   0.01s  0% /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/InstallerDiagnostics.framework/Versions/A/Resources/installerdiagd
  983 periodic-wrapper                  root                0%   0.01s  0% /usr/libexec/periodic-wrapper daily
57417 Google Chrome Helper              johan               0%   1m03s  2% /Applications/Google Chrome Chrome Helper --type=renderer --field-trial-handle=5536258455526146518,14669732848005555331,131072 --service-pipe-token=7224348701576210538 --lang=sv --metrics-client-id=576E1A60-CA59-34F4-6C0C-57F64BD5F01C --enable-offline-auto-reload --enable-offline-auto-reload-visible-only --num-raster-threads=4 --enable-zero-copy --enable-gpu-memory-buffer-compositor-resources --enable-main-frame-before-activation --service-request-channel-token=7224348701576210538 --renderer-client-id=1119 --no-v8-untrusted-code-mitigations --seatbelt-client=418
14983 studio                            johan               0%   1h22m 14% /Applications/Android
57993 kcm                               root                0%   0.02s  0% /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Heimdal.framework/Helpers/kcm --launchd
57602 Code Helper                       johan               0%  12.73s  2% /private/var/folders/cg/d7qzk4s13s9c8t49t3txdjpr0000gn/T/AppTranslocation/B5DDDD81-5A91-4961-B18B-20DAB3925EB0/d/Visual Studio Helper --type=renderer --js-flags=--nolazy --no-sandbox --primordial-pipe-token=570B948A976AACDA8EBB532E5680C83E --lang=sv --app-path=/private/var/folders/cg/d7qzk4s13s9c8t49t3txdjpr0000gn/T/AppTranslocation/B5DDDD81-5A91-4961-B18B-20DAB3925EB0/d/Visual Studio --node-integration=true --webview-tag=true --no-sandbox --background-color=#171717 --disable-blink-features=Auxclick --enable-pinch --num-raster-threads=4 --enable-zero-copy --enable-gpu-memory-buffer-compositor-resources --enable-main-frame-before-activation --content-image-texture-target=0,0,3553;0,1,3553;0,2,3553;0,3,3553;0,4,3553;0,5,3553;0,6,3553;0,7,3553;0,8,3553;0,9,3553;0,10,34037;0,11,34037;0,12,34037;0,13,3553;0,14,3553;0,15,3553;1,0,3553;1,1,3553;1,2,3553;1,3,3553;1,4,3553;1,5,3553;1,6,3553;1,7,3553;1,8,3553;1,9,3553;1,10,34037;1,11,34037;1,12,34037;1,13,3553;1,14,3553;1,15,3553;2,0,3553;2,1,3553;2,2,3553;2,3,3553;2,4,3553;2,5,3553;2,6,3553;2,7,3553;2,8,3553;2,9,3553;2,10,34037;2,11,34037;2,12,34037;2,13,3553;2,14,3553;2,15,3553;3,0,3553;3,1,3553;3,2,3553;3,3,3553;3,4,3553;3,5,34037;3,6,3553;3,7,3553;3,8,3553;3,9,3553;3,10,3553;3,11,3553;3,12,34037;3,13,3553;3,14,34037;3,15,34037;4,0,3553;4,1,3553;4,2,3553;4,3,3553;4,4,3553;4,5,34037;4,6,3553;4,7,3553;4,8,3553;4,9,3553;4,10,3553;4,11,3553;4,12,34037;4,13,3553;4,14,34037;4,15,34037 --service-request-channel-token=570B948A976AACDA8EBB532E5680C83E --renderer-client-id=110
57996 cat                               johan               0%    0.0s  0% cat
57745 GradleDaemon                      johan               0%  32.75s  3% /Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/jdk1.8.0_60.jdk/Contents/Home/bin/java -Xmx1536m -Dfile.encoding=UTF-8 -Duser.language=sv -Duser.variant -cp /Users/johan/.gradle/wrapper/dists/gradle-4.6-all/bcst21l2brirad8k2ben1letg/gradle-4.6/lib/gradle-launcher-4.6.jar org.gradle.launcher.daemon.bootstrap.GradleDaemon 4.6
  • To give you the most interesting processes close to your next prompt, px puts last in its output processes that:

    • Have been started recently (can be seen in the list as high PIDs)

    • Are using lots of memory

    • Have used lots of CPU time

  • Java processes are presented as their main class (GradleDaemon) rather than as their executable (java). This support is available for many VMs.

px java

This lists all Java processes. Note how they are presented as their main class (GradleDaemon) rather than as their executable (java). This support is available for many VMs.

57745 GradleDaemon johan     0%  35.09s  3% /Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/jdk1.8.0_60.jdk/Contents/Home/bin/java -Xmx1536m -Dfile.encoding=UTF-8 -Dus

px _coreaudiod

This lists all processes owned by the _coreaudiod user.

273 SandboxHelper _coreaudiod  0%   0.01s  0% /System/Library/Frameworks/AudioToolbox.framework/XPCServices/
190 DriverHelper  _coreaudiod  0%    0.3s  0% /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreAudio.framework/Versions/A/XPCServices/
182 coreaudiod    _coreaudiod  0%  11m28s  0% /usr/sbin/coreaudiod

sudo px 80727

This shows detailed info about PID 80727.


kernel(0)                root
  launchd(1)             root
--> GradleDaemon(80727)  johan

31m33s ago GradleDaemon was started, at 2017-06-18T13:47:53+02:00.
7.6% has been its average CPU usage since then, or 2m22s/31m33s

Other processes started close to GradleDaemon(80727):
  -fish(80678) was started 9.0s before GradleDaemon(80727)
  iTerm2(80676) was started 9.0s before GradleDaemon(80727)
  login(80677) was started 9.0s before GradleDaemon(80727)
  mdworker(80729) was started just after GradleDaemon(80727)
  mdworker(80776) was started 21.0s after GradleDaemon(80727)

Users logged in when GradleDaemon(80727) started:

2017-06-18T14:19:26.521988: Now invoking lsof, this can take over a minute on a big system...
2017-06-18T14:19:27.070396: lsof done, proceeding.

Others sharing this process' working directory (/)
  Working directory too common, never mind.

File descriptors:
  stdin : [PIPE] <not connected> (0x17d7619d3ae04819)
  stdout: [CHR] /dev/null
  stderr: [CHR] /dev/null

Network connections:
  [IPv6] *:56789 (LISTEN)
  [IPv6] *:62498 (LISTEN)

Inter Process Communication:
  mDNSResponder(201): [unix] ->0xe32cbd7be6021f1f

For a list of all open files, do "sudo lsof -p 80727", or "sudo watch lsof -p 80727" for a live view.
  • The command line has been split with one argument per line. This makes long command lines readable.

  • The process tree shows how the Gradle Daemon relates to other processes.

  • Details on how long ago Gradle Daemon was started, and how much CPU it has been using since.

  • A list of other processes started around the same time as Gradle Daemon.

  • A section describing where the standard file descriptors of the process go.

  • A list of users logged in when the Gradle Daemon was started.

  • A list of other processes with the same working directory as this one.

  • A list of network connections the process has open.

  • The IPC section shows that the Gradle Daemon is talking to mDNSResponder using Unix domain sockets.

The IPC data comes from lsof. sudo helps lsof get more detailed information; the command will work without it but might miss some information.

Killing processes

If you want an interactive process killer using px and fzf, you can make a shell alias out of this:

px --sort=cpupercent | fzf --bind 'ctrl-r:reload(px --sort=cpupercent)' --height=20 --no-hscroll --tac --no-sort --header-lines=1 | awk '{print $1}' | xargs kill -9

Type for fuzzy process search, use arrow keys to pick a process, Enter to kill, CTRL-R to refresh the process list.

Or with previews for the currently selected process:

px --sort=cpupercent --no-username | fzf --preview='px --color {1}' --bind 'ctrl-r:reload(px --sort=cpupercent --no-username)' --height=20 --no-hscroll --tac --no-sort --header-lines=1 | awk '{print $1}' | xargs kill -9


On Debian 10 Buster or later, and on Ubuntu 19.04 Disco and later, install using:

sudo apt install px

If you have Homebrew on your system (likely on macOS):

brew install px

On Arch Linux:

paru -S px_ptop

On other systems, install into /usr/local/bin by copy / pasting this command into a terminal:

curl -Ls | bash

Or you can install from Pypi. At least on macOS this can be problematic however, so brew or the above install script is still preferred:

sudo pip install --upgrade pxpx

After installing you should be able to run px, px --help or ptop from the command line. Otherwise please verify that /usr/local/bin is in your $PATH.

To try px without installing it, just download the latest px.pex, chmod a+x px.pex, then run ./px.pex.


Just type px or ptop, that’s a good start!

To exit ptop, press “q”.

Also try px --help to see what else px can do except for just listing all processes.

If you run into problems, try running with the --debug switch, it will print debug logging output after px/ptop is done.



  • A Python 3.6+ version

  • tox

Building and Running

Note that before editing any code, you need to run once to create the px/ file.

Note that the build infrastructure here is designed to create a px.pex file that works on “all” machines with Python 3 interpreters (tested on Linux and macOS).

  • Clone: git clone ; cd px

  • Build and test: ./

  • Run: ./px.pex

  • To add dependencies, edit requirements.txt

You can also run ./devbin/, which can be used to run Linux tests on a Mac.

Releasing a new Version

To release a new version, run ./devbin/ and follow instructions.

Performance testing

  • Store the output of lsof -F fnaptd0i from a big system in lsof.txt.

  • ./devbin/ lsof.txt

Keeping this benchmark performant is important to be able to use px on big systems.

To run it in a profiler, install pyinstrument and:

  • python3 -m pyinstrument ./devbin/ lsof.txt

Or, to benchmark process listing:

  • pyinstrument -r html ./devbin/

TODO top replacement

  • Disable terminal line wrapping for smoother handling of terminal window resizes.

TODO iotop replacement

  • When given the --top flag and enough permissions, record per process IO usage and present that in one or more columns.

TODO misc

  • Details: When no users were found to be logged in at process start, automatically detect whether it’s because we don’t have history that far back or whether it seems to be that nobody was actually logged in. Inform the user about the outcome.

  • In the px / top views, in the process owner column, maybe print other non-root process owners of parent processes inside parentheses?

  • Ignore -E switch on Python command lines


  • Make px list all processes with PID, owner, memory usage (in % of available RAM), used CPU time, full command line

  • Output should be in table format just like top or ps.

  • Output should be truncated at the rightmost column of the terminal window

  • Output should be sorted by score, with score being (used CPU time) * (memory usage). The intention here is to put the most interesting processes on top.

  • Each column should be wide enough to fit its widest value

  • Add a section about installation instructions to this document.

  • Add making-a-release instructions to this document

  • Add a .travis.yml config to the project that:

    • OK: Runs flake8 on the code

    • OK: Tests the code on OS X

    • OK: Tests the code on Linux

  • When piping to some other command, don’t truncate lines to terminal width

  • If we get one command line argument, only show processes matching that string as either a user or the name of an executable.

  • If we get something looking like a PID as a command line argument, show that PID process in a tree with all parents up to the top and all children down. This would replace pstree.

  • If we get something looking like a PID as a command line argument, for that PID show:

    • A list of all open files, pipes and sockets

    • For each pipe / domain socket, print the process at the other end

    • For each socket, print where it’s going

  • Doing px --version prints a git describe version string.

  • Add a column with the name of each running process

  • Put column headings at the top of each column

  • In the details view, list processes as Name(PID) rather than PID:Name. To humans the name is more important than the PID, so it should be first.

  • In the details view, list a number of processes that were created around the same time as the one we’re currently looking at.

  • Implement support for px --top

  • If the user launches px through a symlink that’s called something ending in top, enter top mode.

  • top: On pressing “q” to exit, redraw the screen one last time with a few less rows than usual before exiting.

  • top: Print system load before the process listing.

  • Parse Java and Python command lines and print the name of the program being executed rather than the VM.

  • In the details view, list users that were logged in when the process was started.

  • In the details tree view, print process owners for each line

  • Print $SUDO_USER value with process details, if set

  • Run CI on both Python 2 and Python 3

  • In the details report, if the current process has a working directory that isn’t /, list all other processes that have the same working directory.

  • ptop: Load bar: Set foreground color in green section to black, white on green is hard to read.

  • ptop: Let user switch between CPU time sort and memory sort

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