procps 3.3.12

The procps developers are happy to announce that version 3.3.12 of procps was released today. This version has a mixture of bug fixes and enhancements. This unfortunately means another API bump but we are hoping this will be fixed with the new library API coming soon.

procps is developed on gitlab and the new version of procps can be found at

procps 3.3.12 can be found at

Read more procps 3.3.12

Displaying Linux Memory

Memory management is hard, but RAM management may be even harder.

Most people know the vague overall concept of how memory usage is displayed within Linux. You have your total memory which is everything inside the box; then there is used and free which is what the system is or is not using respectively. Some people might know that not all used is used and some of it actually is free.  It can be very confusing to understand, even for a someone who maintains procps (the package that contains top and free, two programs that display memory usage).

So, how does the memory display work?

Read more Displaying Linux Memory

ps standards and locales

I looked at two interesting issues today around the ps program in the procps project. One had a solution and the other I’m puzzled about.

ps User-defined Format

Issue #9 was quite the puzzle. The output of ps changed depending if a different option had a hyphen before it or not.

First, the expected output

$ ps p $$ -o pid=pid,comm=comm
 pid comm
31612 bash

Next, the unusual output.

$ ps -p $$ -o pid=pid,comm=comm

Read more ps standards and locales

procps 3.3.11

I have updated NEWS, bumped the API and tagged in git; procps version 3.3.11 is now released!

This release we have fixed many bugs and made procps more robust for those odd corner cases. See the NEWS file for details.  The most significant new feature in this release is the support for LXC containers in both ps and top.

The source files can be found at both sourceforge and gitlab at:

My thanks to the procps co-maintainers, bug reporters and merge/patch authors.

What’s Next?

There has been a large amount of work on the library API. This is not visible to this release as it is on a different git branch called newlib. The library is getting a complete overhaul and will look completely different to the old libproc/libprocps set. A decision hasn’t been made when newlib branch will merge into master, but we will do it once we’re happy the library and its API have settled. This change will be the largest change to procps’ library in its 20-odd year history but will mean the library will use common modern practices for libraries.

Be careful with errno

I’m getting close to releasing version 3.3.11 of procps.  When it gets near that time, I generally browse again the Debian Bug Tracker for procps bugs. Bug number #733758 caught my eye.  With the free command if you used the s option before the c option, the s option failed, “seconds argument ‘N’ failed” where N was the number you typed in. The error should be for you trying to type letters for number of seconds. Seemed reasonably simple to test and simple to fix.

Take me to the code

The relevant code looks like this:

   case 's':
            flags |= FREE_REPEAT;
            args.repeat_interval = (1000000 * strtof(optarg, &endptr));
            if (errno || optarg == endptr || (endptr && *endptr))
                xerrx(EXIT_FAILURE, _("seconds argument `%s' failed"), optarg);

Seems pretty stock-standard sort of function. Use strtof() to convert the string into the float.

You need to check both errno AND optarg == endptr because:

  • A valid but large float means errno = ERANGE
  • A invalid float (e.g. “FOO”) means optarg == endptr

At first I thought the logic was wrong, but tracing through it was fine.  I then compiled free using the upstream git source, the program worked fine with s flag with no c flag. Doing a diff between the upstream HEAD and Debian’s 3.3.10 source showed nothing obvious.

I then shifted the upstream git to 3.3.10 too and re-compiled. The Debian source failed, the upstream parsed the s flag fine. I ran diff, no change. I ran md5sum, the hashes matched; what is going on here?

I’ll set when I want

The man page says in the case of under/overflow “ERANGE is stored in errno”. What this means is if there isn’t and under/overflow then errno is NOT set to 0, but its just not set at all. This is quite useful when you have a chain of functions and you just want to know something failed, but don’t care what.

Most of the time, you generally would have a “Have I failed?” test and then check errno for why. A typical example is socket calls where anything less than 0 means failure. You check the return value first and then errno. strtof() is one of those funny ones where most people check errno directly; its simpler than checking for +/- HUGE_VAL. You can see though that there are traps.

What’s the difference?

OK, so a simple errno=0 above the call fixes it, but why would the Debian source tree have this failure and the upstream not? Even with the same code? The difference is how they are compiled.

The upstream compiles free like this:

gcc -std=gnu99 -DHAVE_CONFIG_H -I. -include ./config.h -I./include -DLOCALEDIR=\"/usr/local/share/locale\" -Iproc -g -O2 -MT free.o -MD -MP -MF .deps/free.Tpo -c -o free.o free.c
mv -f .deps/free.Tpo .deps/free.Po
/bin/bash ./libtool --tag=CC --mode=link gcc -std=gnu99 -Iproc -g -O2 ./proc/ -o free free.o strutils.o fileutils.o -ldl
libtool: link: gcc -std=gnu99 -Iproc -g -O2 -o .libs/free free.o strutils.o fileutils.o ./proc/.libs/ -ldl


While Debian has some hardening flags:

gcc -std=gnu99 -DHAVE_CONFIG_H -I. -include ./config.h -I./include -DLOCALEDIR=\"/usr/share/locale\" -D_FORTIFY_SOURCE=2 -Iproc -g -O2 -fstack-protector-strong -Wformat -Werror=format-security -MT free.o -MD -MP -MF .deps/free.Tpo -c -o free.o free.c
mv -f .deps/free.Tpo .deps/free.Po
/bin/bash ./libtool --tag=CC --mode=link gcc -std=gnu99 -Iproc -g -O2 -fstack-protector-strong -Wformat -Werror=format-security ./proc/ -Wl,-z,relro -o free free.o strutils.o fileutils.o -ldl
libtool: link: gcc -std=gnu99 -Iproc -g -O2 -fstack-protector-strong -Wformat -Werror=format-security -Wl,-z -Wl,relro -o .libs/free free.o strutils.o fileutils.o ./proc/.libs/ -ldl

It’s not the compiling of free itself that is doing it, but the library. Most likely something that is called before the strtof() is setting errno which this code then falls into. In fact if you run the upstream free linked to the Debian procps library it fails.

Moral of the story is to set errno before the function is called if you are going to depend on it for checking if the function succeeded.