/proc los


This posts is a successor to not knowing the /proc filesystem The aim is to improve on at least one major shortcoming of the code listing from the other post. The major fault with that program is that it does not handle the case where the /proc/$PID disappears between the call to readdir and the call to fopen with the status file. To be honest, I was aware of this possibility while writing writing the other program, but was temporarily uninspired to search for a solution. (“Ideenlos” is German for uninspired, hence the title; I live in Austria, hence the German).

Understanding the problem

In order to better understand the problem, the following script can be used to simulate what happens if a process disappears while we are attempting to perform a read from the associated pseudo filesystem. One of the side effects of my “lazybastarditis” is that I rarely have spent time trying to use error codes that get provided with the system. I followed the graph of header files from <errno.h>, and eventually landed at:

/* excerpt from /usr/include/asm-generic/errno-base.h */
#define	EPERM		 1	/* Operation not permitted */
#define	ENOENT		 2	/* No such file or directory */
#define	ESRCH		 3	/* No such process */

Test runner

In order to simulate the program running into an issue where the process it is trying to gather info about dies while attempting the read, it’s possible to use the following shell script. It basically sets two timers TOUTER and TINNER, the former is passed as an argument to the sleep command in the shell, which runs in the background while proclos is started with the pid (output of $!) and the TINNER timer. Within the c program below, the sleep function is called with the larger time interval, to make sure that the process we are trying to observe has enough time to die.


sleep $TOUTER &
./proclos $! $TINNER

The following listing sha 187e96 is intentionally buggy and used to demonstrate what happens by running the test above. The fopen manpage describes the return value as a FILE pointer on successful completion, otherwise NULL. Furthermore, the errno is set to indicate the error.

/* proclos: test what happens if a process disappears between the call to
 * program will attempt to read /proc/$PID/status file, but the process with
 * $PID will be killed between the call to readdir and the call to fopen on the 
 * /proc/$PID/status file.
#include <dirent.h>
#include <stdarg.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>

#include "adio.h"
#include "cscratch_common.h"

#define MAXLINE 512
#define MAXFNAME 128
#define LPID 5
#define PROC "/proc"

/* check that string s contains only contiguous integer characters */
bool s_isinteger(const char* s) {
    bool result = (*s != '\0');
    while (*s != '\0') {
        if ((*s < '0') || (*s > '9')) {
            return false;
    return result;

int main(int argc, char* argv[]) {
    if (argc != 3) {
        printf("usage: proclos <pid> <t>\n");
    char* pid;
    pid = argv[1];
    if (!s_isinteger(pid)) {
        fprintf(stderr, "Error: invalid pid %s\n", pid);
    /* Otherwise set up the path we want to read */
    char fname[MAXFNAME];
    sprintf(fname, "/proc/%s/status", pid);

    int time;
    time = atoi(argv[2]);
    if (!time) {
        fprintf(stderr, "Error: %s not positive integer\n", argv[2]);

    DIR* dirp;
    struct dirent* dp;
    FILE* fp;
    int fd;
    char* lone;
    struct stat sb;
    int size = 0;

    dirp = opendir(PROC);
    if (dirp) {
        errno = 0;
        if ((dp = readdir(dirp)) != NULL) {
            printf("e1: %d\n", errno);
            sleep(time); /* Sleep while the process gets killed */
            fp = fopen(fname, "r");
            printf("e2: %d\n", errno);
            fd = fileno(fp);
            if (fstat(fd, &sb) == -1) {
                return -1; /* just cheese it! */
            lone = fgetLine(MAXLINE, fp);
            printf("%-24s pid:%-30.30s\n", lone, pid);
    return 0;

Compiling and running this version using the test runner, we can see that fopen sets errno to 2 or ENOENT. Furthermore, we know from the output that the attempted call to fileno causes the program to segfault.

proc % ./proclos-runner.sh                                                                                                                   (proclos◆◆) ~/Code/cscratch/proc
e1: 0
e2: 2
./proclos-runner.sh: line 6: 369159 Segmentation fault      (core dumped) ./proclos $! $TINNER
zsh: exit 139   ./proclos-runner.sh

Cleaning up the code

The minimal viable solution might look something like the following. As soon as fopen returns NULL, the program is in a bad state and we have to act. In the case of this example, we can just print an error message and exit.

            fp = fopen(fname, "r");
            if (fp == NULL) {
                fprintf(stderr, "Error: fopen failed to complete with code %d\n", errno);
                exit(ESRCH); /* Process not found */

Running the test again:

proc % ./proclos-runner.sh                                                                                                                    (proclos◆) ~/Code/cscratch/proc
Error: fopen failed to complete with code 2
zsh: exit 3     ./proclos-runner.sh

Commit sha 95cf741 reflects the updated code.


“Die Lage in Österreich ist hoffnungslos, aber nicht ernst.” - Alfred Polger, 1922

The situation in Austria is hopeless, but not serious.