Background process

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A background process is a computer process that runs behind the scenes (i.e., in the background) and without user intervention.[1] Typical tasks for these processes include logging, system monitoring, scheduling,[2] and user notification.[3]

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, they 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 the Windows Server family of Microsoft operating systems, background processes are expected to be the principal consumers of system resources.

On a Unix or Unix-like system, a background process or job can be further identified as one whose process group ID differs from its terminal group ID (TGID). (The TGID of a process is the process ID of the process group leader that opened the terminal, which is typically the login shell. The TGID identifies the control terminal of the process group.) This type of process is unable to receive keyboard signals from its parent terminal, and typically will not send output to that terminal.[4] 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 needing few resources, any process can be run in the background, and such a process will behaves like any other process, with the exceptions given above.[1]

Windows services[edit]

In Windows NT family of operating systems, a Windows service is a dedicated background process.[5] A Windows service must conform to the interface rules and protocols of the Service Control Manager, the component responsible for managing Windows services.[6]

Windows services can be configured to start when the operating system starts, and to run in the background as long as Windows runs. Or, they can be started manually or by an event. Windows NT operating systems include numerous services which run in context of three user accounts: System, Network Service and Local Service. These Windows components are often associated with Host Process for Windows Services: svchost.exe. Since Windows services operate in the context of their own dedicated user accounts, they can operate when a user is not logged on.

Before 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.[7][8]

The three principal means of managing Windows services are:

  1. Services snap-in for Microsoft Management Console
  2. sc.exe
  3. Windows PowerShell


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.[9] 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.[10]

Launch and resumption on Unix[edit]

From a Unix command line, a background process can be launched using the "&" operator. The bg utility can resume a suspended job (sending SIGCONT), running it in the background. Using the fg utility will also reconnect standard input 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.[4][11]

When a login session ends, via explicit logout or network disconnection, all processes, including background processes, will by default be terminated, to prevent them from becoming orphan processes. Concretely, when the user exits the launching shell process, as part of shutdown it sends a hangup signal (SIGHUP) to all its jobs, to terminate all the processes in the corresponding process group. To have processes continue to run, one can either not end the session, or end the session without terminating the processes. A terminal multiplexer can be used to leave a session running but detach a virtual terminal from it, leaving processes running as child processes of the session; the user can then reattach session later. Or, termination can be prevented by either starting the process via the nohup command (telling the process to ignore SIGHUP), or by subsequently running disown with the job id, which either removes the job from the job list entirely, or simply prevents SIGHUP from being sent. In the latter case when the session ends, the child processes are not terminated, either because they are not sent SIGHUP or because they ignore it, and thus become orphan processes, which are then adopted by the init process (the kernel sets the init process as their parent), and they continue running without a session, now called daemons.


In this example running on Unix, 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 the shell.[12]

54659 10  S    0:00.06 su (zsh)
54703 10  IN   0:00.00 - sleep 1000
54852 10  R+   0:00.00 - ps -U botty -axd


Many newer versions of smartphone and PDA operating systems now include the ability to start background processes. Due to hardware limits, background processes on mobile operating systems are often restricted to certain tasks or consumption levels. On Android, CPU use for background processes is bounded at 5 - 10%.[13] Third-party applications on Apple's iOS are limited to a subset of functions while running in the background.[3] On both iOS and Android, background processes can be killed by the system if they are using too much memory.[3][13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "What is an Operating System?, Processes". The Linux Tutorial. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Michele Cyran (December 1993). Oracle Database Concepts, 10g Release 1. Oracle Corporation. B10743-01. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c 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. 
  4. ^ a b 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. 
  5. ^ "Services overview". Microsoft TechNet. Microsoft. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Services". Microsoft Developer Network. Microsoft. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "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. 
  8. ^ "Services in Windows". MSDN. Microsoft. 18 October 2010. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ raf (12 June 2010). Linux User's Manual, "daemon". Archived from the original on 21 October 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  11. ^ Åke Nordlund (7 February 2007). "Background Processes in Unix/Linux". Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  12. ^ "POSIX "ps"". IEEE Std 1003.1, 2004 Edition. 
  13. ^ a b 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.