NICE(P) POSIX Programmer's Manual NICE(P)
nice - invoke a utility with an altered nice value
nice [-n increment] utility [argument...]
The nice utility shall invoke a utility, requesting that it be run with a different nice
value (see the Base Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Section 3.239, Nice
Value). With no options and only if the user has appropriate privileges, the executed
utility shall be run with a nice value that is some implementation-defined quantity less
than or equal to the nice value of the current process. If the user lacks appropriate
privileges to affect the nice value in the requested manner, the nice utility shall not
affect the nice value; in this case, a warning message may be written to standard error,
but this shall not prevent the invocation of utility or affect the exit status.
The nice utility shall conform to the Base Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001,
Section 12.2, Utility Syntax Guidelines.
The following option is supported:
A positive or negative decimal integer which shall have the same effect on the exe-
cution of the utility as if the utility had called the nice() function with the
numeric value of the increment option-argument.
The following operands shall be supported:
The name of a utility that is to be invoked. If the utility operand names any of
the special built-in utilities in Special Built-In Utilities , the results are
Any string to be supplied as an argument when invoking the utility named by the
The following environment variables shall affect the execution of nice:
LANG Provide a default value for the internationalization variables that are unset or
null. (See the Base Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Section 8.2, Inter-
nationalization Variables for the precedence of internationalization variables used
to determine the values of locale categories.)
LC_ALL If set to a non-empty string value, override the values of all the other interna-
Determine the locale for the interpretation of sequences of bytes of text data as
characters (for example, single-byte as opposed to multi-byte characters in argu-
Determine the locale that should be used to affect the format and contents of diag-
nostic messages written to standard error.
Determine the location of message catalogs for the processing of LC_MESSAGES .
PATH Determine the search path used to locate the utility to be invoked. See the Base
Definitions volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, Chapter 8, Environment Variables.
The standard error shall be used only for diagnostic messages.
If utility is invoked, the exit status of nice shall be the exit status of utility; other-
wise, the nice utility shall exit with one of the following values:
1-125 An error occurred in the nice utility.
126 The utility specified by utility was found but could not be invoked.
127 The utility specified by utility could not be found.
CONSEQUENCES OF ERRORS
The following sections are informative.
The only guaranteed portable uses of this utility are:
Run utility with the default lower nice value.
nice -n <positive integer> utility
Run utility with a lower nice value.
On some implementations they have no discernible effect on the invoked utility and on some
others they are exactly equivalent.
Historical systems have frequently supported the <positive integer> up to 20. Since there
is no error penalty associated with guessing a number that is too high, users without
access to the system conformance document (to see what limits are actually in place) could
use the historical 1 to 20 range or attempt to use very large numbers if the job should be
truly low priority.
The nice value of a process can be displayed using the command:
ps -o nice
The command, env, nice, nohup, time, and xargs utilities have been specified to use exit
code 127 if an error occurs so that applications can distinguish "failure to find a util-
ity" from "invoked utility exited with an error indication". The value 127 was chosen
because it is not commonly used for other meanings; most utilities use small values for
"normal error conditions" and the values above 128 can be confused with termination due to
receipt of a signal. The value 126 was chosen in a similar manner to indicate that the
utility could be found, but not invoked. Some scripts produce meaningful error messages
differentiating the 126 and 127 cases. The distinction between exit codes 126 and 127 is
based on KornShell practice that uses 127 when all attempts to exec the utility fail with
[ENOENT], and uses 126 when any attempt to exec the utility fails for any other reason.
Due to the text about the limits of the nice value being implementation-defined, nice is
not actually required to change the nice value of the executed command; the limits could
be zero differences from the system default, although the implementor is required to docu-
ment this fact in the conformance document.
The 4.3 BSD version of nice does not check whether increment is a valid decimal integer.
The command nice -x utility, for example, would be treated the same as the command nice
--1 utility. If the user does not have appropriate privileges, this results in a "permis-
sion denied" error. This is considered a bug.
When a user without appropriate privileges gives a negative increment, System V treats it
like the command nice -0 utility, while 4.3 BSD writes a "permission denied" message and
does not run the utility. Neither was considered clearly superior, so the behavior was
The C shell has a built-in version of nice that has a different interface from the one
described in this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001.
The term "utility" is used, rather than "command", to highlight the fact that shell com-
pound commands, pipelines, and so on, cannot be used. Special built-ins also cannot be
used. However, "utility" includes user application programs and shell scripts, not just
utilities defined in this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001.
Historical implementations of nice provide a nice value range of 40 or 41 discrete steps,
with the default nice value being the midpoint of that range. By default, they lower the
nice value of the executed utility by 10.
Some historical documentation states that the increment value must be within a fixed
range. This is misleading; the valid increment values on any invocation are determined by
the current process nice value, which is not always the default.
The definition of nice value is not intended to suggest that all processes in a system
have priorities that are comparable. Scheduling policy extensions such as the realtime
priorities in the System Interfaces volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 make the notion of a
single underlying priority for all scheduling policies problematic. Some implementations
may implement the nice-related features to affect all processes on the system, others to
affect just the general time-sharing activities implied by this volume of
IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, and others may have no effect at all. Because of the use of "imple-
mentation-defined" in nice and renice, a wide range of implementation strategies are pos-
Shell Command Language , renice , the System Interfaces volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001,
Portions of this text are reprinted and reproduced in electronic form from IEEE Std
1003.1, 2003 Edition, Standard for Information Technology -- Portable Operating System
Interface (POSIX), The Open Group Base Specifications Issue 6, Copyright (C) 2001-2003 by
the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc and The Open Group. In the
event of any discrepancy between this version and the original IEEE and The Open Group
Standard, the original IEEE and The Open Group Standard is the referee document. The orig-
inal Standard can be obtained online at http://www.opengroup.org/unix/online.html .
IEEE/The Open Group 2003 NICE(P)