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How do I detach a process from Terminal, entirely?

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Tags: bash linux command-line processes
Clipped on: 2017-04-24

I use Tilda (drop-down terminal) on Ubuntu as my "command central" - pretty much the way others might use GNOME Do, Quicksilver or Launchy.

However, I'm struggling with how to completely detach a process (e.g. Firefox) from the terminal it's been launched from - i.e. prevent that such a (non-)child process

  • is terminated when closing the originating terminal
  • "pollutes" the originating terminal via STDOUT/STDERR

For example, in order to start Vim in a "proper" terminal window, I have tried a simple script like the following:

exec gnome-terminal -e "vim $@" &> /dev/null &

However, that still causes pollution (also, passing a file name doesn't seem to work).

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Some additional info:

nohup is a program you can use to run your application with such that its stdout/stderr can be sent to a file instead and such that closing the parent script won't SIGHUP the child. However, you need to have had the foresight to have used it before you started the application. Because of the way nohup works, you can't just apply it to a running process.

disown is a bash builtin that removes a shell job from the shell's job list. What this basically means is that you can't use fg, bg on it anymore, but more importantly, when you close your shell it won't hang or send a SIGHUP to that child anymore. Unlike nohup, disown is used after the process has been launched and backgrounded.

What you can't do, is change the stdout/stderr/stdin of a process after having launched it. At least not from the shell. If you launch your process and tell it that its stdout is your terminal (which is what you do by default), then that process is configured to output to your terminal. Your shell has no business with the processes' FD setup, that's purely something the process itself manages. The process itself can decide whether to close its stdout/stderr/stdin or not, but you can't use your shell to force it to do so.

To manage a background process' output, you have plenty of options from scripts, "nohup" probably being the first to come to mind. But for interactive processes you start but forgot to silence (firefox < /dev/null &>/dev/null &) you can't do much, really.

I recommend you get GNU screen. With screen you can just close your running shell when the process' output becomes a bother and open a new one (^Ac).

Oh, and by the way, don't use "$@" where you're using it.

$@ means, $1, $2, $3 ..., which would turn your command into:

gnome-terminal -e "vim $1" "$2" "$3" ...

That's probably not what you want because -e only takes one argument. Use $1 to show that your script can only handle one argument.

It's really difficult to get multiple arguments working properly in the scenario that you gave (with the gnome-terminal -e) because -e takes only one argument, which is a shell command string. You'd have to encode your arguments into one. The best and most robust, but rather cludgy, way is like so:

gnome-terminal -e "vim $(printf "%q " "$@")"
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disown is a shell builtin in bash, zsh, and ksh93,

<command> &


<command> &; disown

if you prefer one-liners. This has the generally desirable effect of removing the subprocess from the jobs table. This allows you to exit the terminal emulator without accidentally signaling the child process at all. No matter what the SIGHUP handler looks like, this should not kill your child process.

After the disown, the process is still a child of your terminal emulator (play with pstree if you want to watch this in action), but after the terminal emulator exits, you should see it attached to the init process. In other words, everything is as it should be, and as you presumably want it to be.

What to do if your shell does not support disown? I'd strongly advocate switching to one that does, but in the absence of that option, you have a few choices.

  1. screen and tmux can solve this problem, but they are much heavier weight solutions, and I dislike having to run them for such a simple task. They are much more suitable for situations in which you want to maintain a tty, typically on a remote machine.
  2. For many users, it may be desirable to see if your shell supports a capability like zsh's setopt nohup. This can be used to specify that SIGHUP should not be sent to the jobs in the jobs table when the shell exits. You can either apply this just before exiting the shell, or add it to shell configuration like ~/.zshrc if you always want it on.
  3. Find a way to edit the jobs table. I couldn't find a way to do this in tcsh or csh, which is somewhat disturbing.
  4. Write a small C program to fork off and exec(). This is a very poor solution, but the source should only consist of a couple dozen lines. You can then pass commands as commandline arguments to the C program, and thus avoid a process specific entry in the jobs table.