KILL(P) POSIX Programmer's Manual KILL(P)
kill - send a signal to a process or a group of processes
int kill(pid_t pid, int sig);
The kill() function shall send a signal to a process or a group of processes specified by
pid. The signal to be sent is specified by sig and is either one from the list given in
<signal.h> or 0. If sig is 0 (the null signal), error checking is performed but no signal
is actually sent. The null signal can be used to check the validity of pid.
For a process to have permission to send a signal to a process designated by pid, unless
the sending process has appropriate privileges, the real or effective user ID of the send-
ing process shall match the real or saved set-user-ID of the receiving process.
If pid is greater than 0, sig shall be sent to the process whose process ID is equal to
If pid is 0, sig shall be sent to all processes (excluding an unspecified set of system
processes) whose process group ID is equal to the process group ID of the sender, and for
which the process has permission to send a signal.
If pid is -1, sig shall be sent to all processes (excluding an unspecified set of system
processes) for which the process has permission to send that signal.
If pid is negative, but not -1, sig shall be sent to all processes (excluding an unspeci-
fied set of system processes) whose process group ID is equal to the absolute value of
pid, and for which the process has permission to send a signal.
If the value of pid causes sig to be generated for the sending process, and if sig is not
blocked for the calling thread and if no other thread has sig unblocked or is waiting in a
sigwait() function for sig, either sig or at least one pending unblocked signal shall be
delivered to the sending thread before kill() returns.
The user ID tests described above shall not be applied when sending SIGCONT to a process
that is a member of the same session as the sending process.
An implementation that provides extended security controls may impose further implementa-
tion-defined restrictions on the sending of signals, including the null signal. In partic-
ular, the system may deny the existence of some or all of the processes specified by pid.
The kill() function is successful if the process has permission to send sig to any of the
processes specified by pid. If kill() fails, no signal shall be sent.
Upon successful completion, 0 shall be returned. Otherwise, -1 shall be returned and errno
set to indicate the error.
The kill() function shall fail if:
EINVAL The value of the sig argument is an invalid or unsupported signal number.
EPERM The process does not have permission to send the signal to any receiving process.
ESRCH No process or process group can be found corresponding to that specified by pid.
The following sections are informative.
The semantics for permission checking for kill() differed between System V and most other
implementations, such as Version 7 or 4.3 BSD. The semantics chosen for this volume of
IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 agree with System V. Specifically, a set-user-ID process cannot pro-
tect itself against signals (or at least not against SIGKILL) unless it changes its real
user ID. This choice allows the user who starts an application to send it signals even if
it changes its effective user ID. The other semantics give more power to an application
that wants to protect itself from the user who ran it.
Some implementations provide semantic extensions to the kill() function when the absolute
value of pid is greater than some maximum, or otherwise special, value. Negative values
are a flag to kill(). Since most implementations return [ESRCH] in this case, this behav-
ior is not included in this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, although a conforming imple-
mentation could provide such an extension.
The implementation-defined processes to which a signal cannot be sent may include the
scheduler or init.
There was initially strong sentiment to specify that, if pid specifies that a signal be
sent to the calling process and that signal is not blocked, that signal would be delivered
before kill() returns. This would permit a process to call kill() and be guaranteed that
the call never return. However, historical implementations that provide only the signal()
function make only the weaker guarantee in this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, because
they only deliver one signal each time a process enters the kernel. Modifications to such
implementations to support the sigaction() function generally require entry to the kernel
following return from a signal-catching function, in order to restore the signal mask.
Such modifications have the effect of satisfying the stronger requirement, at least when
sigaction() is used, but not necessarily when signal() is used. The developers of this
volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001 considered making the stronger requirement except when sig-
nal() is used, but felt this would be unnecessarily complex. Implementors are encouraged
to meet the stronger requirement whenever possible. In practice, the weaker requirement is
the same, except in the rare case when two signals arrive during a very short window. This
reasoning also applies to a similar requirement for sigprocmask().
In 4.2 BSD, the SIGCONT signal can be sent to any descendant process regardless of user-ID
security checks. This allows a job control shell to continue a job even if processes in
the job have altered their user IDs (as in the su command). In keeping with the addition
of the concept of sessions, similar functionality is provided by allowing the SIGCONT sig-
nal to be sent to any process in the same session regardless of user ID security checks.
This is less restrictive than BSD in the sense that ancestor processes (in the same ses-
sion) can now be the recipient. It is more restrictive than BSD in the sense that descen-
dant processes that form new sessions are now subject to the user ID checks. A similar
relaxation of security is not necessary for the other job control signals since those sig-
nals are typically sent by the terminal driver in recognition of special characters being
typed; the terminal driver bypasses all security checks.
In secure implementations, a process may be restricted from sending a signal to a process
having a different security label. In order to prevent the existence or nonexistence of a
process from being used as a covert channel, such processes should appear nonexistent to
the sender; that is, [ESRCH] should be returned, rather than [EPERM], if pid refers only
to such processes.
Existing implementations vary on the result of a kill() with pid indicating an inactive
process (a terminated process that has not been waited for by its parent). Some indicate
success on such a call (subject to permission checking), while others give an error of
[ESRCH]. Since the definition of process lifetime in this volume of IEEE Std 1003.1-2001
covers inactive processes, the [ESRCH] error as described is inappropriate in this case.
In particular, this means that an application cannot have a parent process check for ter-
mination of a particular child with kill(). (Usually this is done with the null signal;
this can be done reliably with waitpid().)
There is some belief that the name kill() is misleading, since the function is not always
intended to cause process termination. However, the name is common to all historical
implementations, and any change would be in conflict with the goal of minimal changes to
existing application code.
getpid() , raise() , setsid() , sigaction() , sigqueue() , the Base Definitions volume of
IEEE Std 1003.1-2001, <signal.h>, <sys/types.h>
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 KILL(P)