A script to measure and limit CPU time and memory consumption of black-box processes in Linux
Switch branches/tags
Nothing to show
Clone or download
pshved Merge pull request #11 from JanKanis/master
Add a note on CGroups to README
Latest commit 1ce1006 Sep 21, 2016



The timeout script is a resource monitoring program for limiting time and memory consumption of black-boxed processes under Linux. It runs a command you specify in the command line and watches for its memory and time consumption, interrupting the process if it goes out of the limits, and notifying the user with the preset message.

The killer feature of this script (and, actually, the reason why it appeared) is that it not only watches the process spawned directly, but also keeps track of its subsequently forked children. You may choose if the scope of the watched processes is constrained by process group or by the process tree.

timeout may optionally detect hangups, or print time consumption breakdown.

Note: CGroups

Linux now supports the CGroups feature, which is a much better method to track memory and time usage and not limited by the issues listed below. This timeout script does not use CGroups. While this script continues to work just fine, if you are on Linux and need a more robust monitoring method search for something based on CGroups. For system services, have a look at [available systemd options] (https://www.freedesktop.org/software/systemd/man/systemd.resource-control.html). For a simple command-line script to limit memory usage you could for example use this script based on CGManager.


Installation is neither required nor supported. Just place the script wherever you feel convenient and invoke it as a usual Linux command.

You will need Perl 5 to run the script, and the /proc filesystem mounted.


Like most of such wrapping scripts (nice, ionice, nohup), invocation is:

timeout [options] command [arguments]

The basic options are:

  • -t T - set up CPU+SYS time limit to T seconds
  • -m M - set up virtual memory limit to M kilobytes
  • TIMEOUT_IDSTR environment variable - a custom string prepended to the message about resource violation (to distinguish from the lines printed by the command itself). The message itself may be:
    • TIMEOUT - time limit is exhausted
    • MEM - memory limit is exhausted
    • HANGUP - hangup detected (see below)
    • SIGNAL - the timeout process was killed by a signal

After the message the number of seconds the process has been running for is printed.

Advanced options:

  • -p .*regexp1.*,NAME1;.*regexp2.*,NAME2 - collect statistics for children with specified commands. NAMEs define buckets, and regexps (Perl format) define matching children that fall into these buckets.

    If a pattern begins with CHILD:, then the runtime of the children of the matching process (match being performed with the rest of the pattern) is collected under this category. Note that this is an only way to collect statistics of time consumed by the children that last for fractions of a second only.

  • -o outfile - a file to dump bucket statistics collected by -p option.

  • --detect-hangups - enable hangup detection. If you have specified buckets through the -p option, then if the CPU time in any of the buckets does not increase during some time, the timeout script reasons that the controlled process hanged up, and terminates it.

  • --no-info-on-success - disable printing usage statistics if the controlled process has been successfully terminated.

  • --confess, -c - when killing the controlled process, return its exit code or signal+128. This also makes timeout to wait until the controlled process is terminated. Without this option, the script returns zero.

  • --memlimit-rss, -s - monitor RSS (resident set size) memory limit

More options may be read in the script itself. More documentation will be added in the future releases!

Exit code of the script is the exit code of the controlled process. If the controlled process was killed by a signal, the exit code is 128+N, where N is the number of the signal. This simulates Bash exit code policy. If the controlled process was terminated by the timeout script itself the script returns zero because having the timeout terminate the child is expected behavior. If you want the child's return code in such a situation (which may be nonzero if the child handles SIGTERM), use --confess option.


Since you already have Perl to run the script itself, the examples will utilize it.

Basic time limiting:

./timeout -t 2 perl -e 'while ($i<100000000) {$i++;}'

Basic memory limiting (100M of virtual memory):

./timeout -m 1000000 perl -e 'while ($i<100000000) {$a->{$i} = $i++;}'
MEM 8.55

Limit both time and memory (adjust number to match the command above):

./timeout -m 1000000 -t 9 perl -e 'while ($i<100000000) {$x->{$i} = $i++;}'
MEM 8.57
./timeout -m 1000000 -t 8 perl -e 'while ($i<100000000) {$x->{$i} = $i++;}'

Limit time with a lot of short child processes:

./timeout -t 2 perl -e 'while(1){ system qw(perl -e while($i<500){$i++;}); }'
Outputs (in 4 seconds):

Collect statistics for `heavy' processes:

./timeout -p '.*perl.*,PERL' perl -e 'for (1..20_000_000) {$i++;}'
<time name="PERL">1400</time>

Collect statistics for `lightweight' children:

./timeout -t 10 -p '.*perl.*,PERL;CHILD:.*perl.*,KIDS' perl -e 'for (1..2_000) {system qw(perl -e while($i<500000){$i++;}); $i++;}'
<time name="PERL">640</time>
<time name="KIDS">10160</time>

Lightweight children should be tracked with special CHILD: prefix in their pattern, compare the above with:

./timeout -t 10 -p '.*perl.*,PERL' perl -e 'for (1..2_000) {system qw(perl -e while($i<500000){$i++;}); $i++;}'
<time name="PERL">830</time>

Why is the rest not shown in the bucket statistics? All processes spawned are Perl-s, but the short-living ones aren't tracked fully, since timeout doesn't wake up often enough.

Detect hangups:

./timeout --detect-hangups -p '.*sleep.*,SLEEP' -t 5 sleep 10000
HANGUP CPU 0.00 MEM 19760 MAXMEM 19760 STALE 6


The script wakes up several times a second and checks if the process tree (or group) controlled does not violate the limits.

More explanations how the script works and why it couldn't be implemented differently may be found here:



The script is slow. It's implemented in Perl, but that's not the reason as itself. Performance of certain portions of it may easily be improved. Our measurements demonstrated that it consumes up to 2% of the CPU time during its work.

Sometimes waitpid call from inside SIGALRM handler returns -1 for no apparent reason. This return value is ignored, and the appropriate warning is printed, but the cause of such a behavior is still unknown.

SIGTERM-sleep-SIGKILL termination sequence is probably implemented poorly, and it sometimes does not get to sending SIGKILL if SIGTERM doesn't kill the process controlled. The reasons are still unknown.

The interface is a mess, as the script had been under requirements-driven development without a specific plan.


The script was initially developed in the Institute for System Programming of Russian Academy of Sciences (http://ispras.ru/en/) for Linux Driver Verification project (http://forge.ispras.ru/projects/ldv) in 2010-2011 by Pavel Shved with some contributions from Alexander Strakh.