A background process is a computer process that runs "behind the scenes" (i.e. in the background) and without user intervention. Typical tasks for these processes include logging, system monitoring, scheduling, and user notification.
On a Windows system, this term may be used to either refer to a computer program that does not create a user interface, or a Windows service. The former are started just as any other program is started, e.g. via Start menu. Windows services, on the other hand, are started by Service Control Manager. In Windows Vista and later, are run in a separate session. There is no limit on how much a system service or background process can use system resources. Indeed in Windows Server family of Microsoft operating systems, background processes are expected to be the principle consumers.
On a Unix or Unix-like system, a background process or job can be further identified as one whose group ID differs from its terminal group ID. This type of process is unable to receive keyboard signals from and typically will not send output to its parent terminal. This more technical definition does not distinguish between whether or not the process can receive user intervention. Although background processes are typically used for purposes requiring few resources, any process can be run in the background, and even though the process is running in the background, where it can't be seen, it behaves like any other process.
In Windows NT family of operating systems, a Windows service is a dedicated background process. A Windows service must conform to the interface rules and protocols of the Service Control Manager, the component responsible for managing Windows services.
Windows services can be configured to start when the operating system is started and run in the background as long as Windows is running. Alternatively, they can be started manually or by an event. Windows NT operating systems include numerous services which run in context of three user accounts:
Network Service and
Local Service. These Windows components are often associated with Host Process for Windows Services. Since Windows services operate in the context of their own dedicated user accounts, they can operate when a user is not logged on.
Prior to Windows Vista services installed as "interactive services" could interact with Windows desktop and show a graphical user interface. With Windows Vista, however, interactive services are deprecated and may not operate properly, as a result of Windows Service Hardening.
The three principal means of managing Windows services are:
A daemon is a type of background process designed to run continually in the background, waiting for event(s) to occur or condition(s) to be met. These processes typically use minimal system resources and perform tasks which require little to no input from the user. When launched with the daemon function, daemons are disassociated from their parent terminal.
Launch & resumption on Unix
From a Unix command line, a background process can be launched using the "&" operator. The bg utility can resume a suspended job, running it in the background. Using the fg utility will associate a background process with its parent terminal, bringing it into the foreground. The jobs utility will list all processes associated with the current terminal and can be used to bring background processes into the foreground.
In this example running on GNU/Linux, the sleep utility was launched into the background. Afterward, the ps tool was run in the foreground, where it output the below text. Both were launched from an instance of the bash shell. The TPGID header indicates the foreground process group of the listed process, and the PGID is the process' group ID.
PPID PID PGID SID TTY TPGID STAT UID TIME COMMAND ... 1 3537 3537 3537 tty2 1311 Ss 0 0:00 /bin/login -- 3537 463 463 3537 tty2 1311 R 1000 0:00 \_ -bash 463 1245 1245 3537 tty2 1311 S 1000 0:00 \_ sleep 300 463 1311 1311 3537 tty2 1311 R+ 1000 0:00 \_ ps axjf ...
Many newer versions of smartphone & PDA operating systems now include the ability to start background processes. Due to hardware constraints, background processes on mobile operating systems are often restricted to certain tasks or consumption levels. On Android, CPU usage for background processes is bounded at 5 - 10%. Third-party applications on Apple's iOS are limited to a certain set of functions while running in the background. On both iOS and Android, background processes can be killed by the system if they are using too much of the system's memory.
- "What is an Operating System?, Processes". The Linux Tutorial. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
- Michele Cyran (December 1993). Oracle Database Concepts, 10g Release 1. Oracle Corporation. B10743-01. Retrieved 12 November 2010.
- Jesus Diaz (8 April 2010). "How Multitasking Works in the New iPhone OS 4.0". Gizmodo. Archived from the original on 2 November 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
- GNU Bash Reference Manual, Edition 4.1, Job Control Basics. Free Software Foundation, Inc. 23 December 2009. Archived from the original on 3 December 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
- "Services overview". TechNet. Microsoft. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "Services". Microsoft Developer Network. Microsoft. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
- "New Elevation PowerToys for Windows Vista". TechNet Magazine. Microsoft. June 2008. Retrieved 21 June 2013. "The service CmdAsSystem is configured as interactive whose support is being deprecated. The service may not function properly. The problem is that this script tries to create and start an interactive service. Interactive services will not function correctly due to Session 0 Isolation in Windows Vista."
- "Services in Windows". MSDN. Microsoft. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- Eric S. Raymond (1 October 2004). The Jargon File, version 4.4.8, "daemon". Archived from the original on 3 November 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
- raf (12 June 2010). Linux User's Manual, "daemon". Archived from the original on 21 October 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
- Åke Nordlund (7 February 2007). "Background Processes in Unix/Linux". Retrieved 10 November 2010.
- Branko Lankester, Michael Shields (28 July 2004). Linux User's Manual, "ps". Retrieved 10 November 2010.
- Matt Buchanan (2010-04-29). "Giz Explains: How Multitasking Works on a Phone". Gizmodo. Archived from the original on 17 October 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2010.