Un-killable Process

Scott had a Dolphin instance veg out on him. Not much for it other than killing the process. Except it didn’t kill. Now SIGTERM (15) I don’t expect to kill a vegged out process, but SIGKILL (9)? I’ve never seen that fail. A little research later, and I’ve discovered “uninterruptible sleep”.  Which, at 11PM is starting to sound really good to me. But not something I associate with computer programs. Essentially, processes that are waiting on I/O very briefly pop into this state and pop out of the state when the I/O operation completes. Code needs to have timeouts to prevent the application from getting stuck waiting for I/O. And, evidently, Scott has discovered a scenario in which Dolphin does not have a timeout.

How can you tell that your process is stuck in uninterruptible sleep? Use “ps u” (or “ps aux” for all processes) and check the “STAT” column.

From “man ps”:

PROCESS STATE CODES
Here are the different values that the s, stat and state output
specifiers (header "STAT" or "S") will display to describe the state of
a process:

D uninterruptible sleep (usually IO)
I Idle kernel thread
R running or runnable (on run queue)
S interruptible sleep (waiting for an event to complete)
T stopped by job control signal
t stopped by debugger during the tracing
W paging (not valid since the 2.6.xx kernel)
X dead (should never be seen)
Z defunct ("zombie") process, terminated but not reaped by its parent

For BSD formats and when the stat keyword is used, additional
characters may be displayed:

< high-priority (not nice to other users)
N low-priority (nice to other users)
L has pages locked into memory (for real-time and custom IO)
s is a session leader
l is multi-threaded (using CLONE_THREAD, like NPTL pthreads do)
+ is in the foreground process group

Rebooting clears the process (or sorting whatever is blocking the I/O operation). But there are processes that “kill -9” won’t terminate.

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