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Zombie process

From Academic Kids

On Unix operating systems, a zombie process is a process that has completed execution but still has an entry in the process table, allowing the process that started it to read its exit status. In the term's colorful metaphor, the child process has died but has not yet been reaped.

When a process ends, all of the memory and resources associated with it are deallocated so they can be used by other processes. However, the process's entry in the process table remains. The parent is sent a SIGCHLD signal indicating that a child has died; the handler for this signal will typically execute the wait system call, which reads the exit status and removes the zombie. The zombie's process ID and entry in the process table can then be reused.

A zombie process is not the same as an orphan process. Orphan processes don't become zombie processes; instead, they are adopted by init (process ID 1), which waits on its children.

The term zombie process derives from the common definition of zombie—an undead person.

Zombies can be identified in the output from the Unix ps command by the presence of a "Z" in the STAT column. Zombies that exist for more than a short period of time typically indicate a bug in the parent program. As with other leaks, the presence of a few zombies isn't worrisome in itself, but may indicate a problem that would grow serious under heavier loads.

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