Jun 192013

Sometimes it’s useful to write a bash script that do something like “Do this job, if it’s still running after XX second kill it”, how to implement this in a normal bash environment ?

Nothing simpler: Use the timeout shell command to achieve this.
From its info page:

timeout runs the given COMMAND and kills it if it is still running after the specified time interval

Let’s see how to use it.


If you have a system recent enough you should have the command timeout that is part of the coreutils package, for sure it’s not present on Centos 5/Rhel 5 so if you are still using these distributions or another “old” distribution, move to the second part of this article “What to do if you don’t have the timeout command”

Basic Usage

The basic usage of this command is:


timeout will run COMMAND (with its ARG) and if it’s still alive after DURATION it will send a TERM signal to it.

OPTION could be:

-k DURATION, –kill-after=DURATION:
Ensure the monitored COMMAND is killed by also sending a `KILL’ signal, after the specified DURATION. Without this option, if the selected signal proves not to be fatal, `timeout’ does not kill the COMMAND.

-s SIGNAL, –signal=SIGNAL:
Send this SIGNAL to COMMAND on timeout, rather than the default `TERM’ signal. SIGNAL may be a name like `HUP’ or a number.

DURATION is a floating point number followed by an optional unit:
`s’ for seconds (the default)
`m’ for minutes
`h’ for hours
`d’ for days
A duration of 0 disables the associated timeout


This is a simple example that print the date, run sleep for 10 seconds but with a timeout of 1 second and than run date again:

date; timeout 1 sleep 10; date
Wed Jun 19 23:04:31 CEST 2013
Wed Jun 19 23:04:32 CEST 2013

This simple output shows that the system “sleep” for just 1 second and not 10.

You can watch more examples in the following video:

What to do if you don’t have the timeout command

The best alternative that I’ve found at the moment is the bash script published at this link: http://www.bashcookbook.com/bashinfo/source/bash-4.0/examples/scripts/timeout3

This Bash shell script executes a command with a time-out. Upon time-out expiration SIGTERM (15) is sent to the process. If the signal
is blocked, then the subsequent SIGKILL (9) terminates it.

This should work on any Linux distribution with Bash.

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  3 Responses to “Linux Shell:Timeout”

  1. Hi,
    Can you please give example which uses -s Signal feature of timeout command.
    I am not able to find any.

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