There are some fancy process monitoring TUI programs these days. Aside from the venerable htop there are also upstarts like glances and vtop and numerous others.
But what about poor old neglected top? It may look like a bag of trowels out-of-the-box, but with a little care and attention it can look pretty cool, too. Here’s mine:
And it does it without needing a huge scripting language to run; its
only real dependency is
ncurses and you can pretty much
guarantee it’ll be preinstalled on any machine you use, regardless of
the flavour of Unix it’s running.
And being a proper Unixy thing, with top you can do things like:
top | grep firefox
Can those fancy monitors do that? Can they fuck as like.
But how can I make my top look fly like yours?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
Top’s documentation is excellent – both the manpage and the
in-application help which is accessed by pressing
h. If you
enjoy figuring stuff out yourself then the latter is all you really need
– you can close this right now, press
h and get
At any time while customising your top you can press
to save your settings.
Now let’s get some nice CPU bars. Press
1 to expand the
CPU info thing at the top to show all cores. The default is to show
text-based stats so press
t to get pretty bars. You can
t a few more times if you’d like to see your other
You can do the same with the memory usage summary by pressing
m – cycle through the options and use what you prefer.
Personally, for memory, I prefer the full stats.
0 to omit numerical fields with zeroed values from
the process list if you think that looks nicer/clearer as I do. Then
J to justify numbers.
If you only want to show tasks for your user, type
then enter your username.
z to get some colour and
highlight the sorted column with bold.
Some optional stuff:
cto toggle between just task names and full paths
Eto cycle through scales of memory units – i.e. bytes, KiB, MiB etc. – in the task list and memory area respectively.
Vto view processes as a tree
Okay, so that’s a good start. All we’ve done so far is press
1t0Jzx and now we have this:
W to save your hard work.
Top’s big secret is that it comes with four windows
defined (that’s what it calls them). By default you’re in Single
Window Mode – Press
A to switch to Multiple Window
Unfortunately these new windows are ugly. We can switch
between windows by pressing
w, so let’s
pretty them up by pressing
a1t0Jzx three times.
Now we have four windows each with the same settings, like so:
You can use as many of these four windows as you like, each with its own fields and settings. I like to have two – one ordered by CPU usage and the other by memory. Adjust to taste, obviously.
First of all let’s hide the bottom two windows. Move to them using
w and press
- to hide them.
you can tell what window is currently selected by looking at the number
in the very top left (if you don’t see that, press
being the summary back).
You can also switch windows by pressing
g then the
number of the window you want to select.
g1 to select the first window then
and name this window as you please. Now press
This screen allows you to customise which fields are displayed in the
currently selected window. Use cursor keys (or
k) to move up and down this list,
d to toggle whether a field is displayed and
to choose the field by which the window is sorted.
To move fields around, press right cursor (or
l) to select an item for move, then just move it up and
down the list as you like. Press left cursor (or
Enter to complete the move.
q when you’re done.
Z so we can make the colours pretty.
This window explains itself very well so take some time to read it.
At the top is a preview of how the selected window will look. Press the
7 to change the colour of the
currently selected element. Select an element by pressing
Summary Data, Message Prompts, Column Heads
and Task Information respectively.
Colour all the things until they sparkle then press
Enter to commit your changes and return to top. Be careful
here, unlike on the previous screen pressing
q will abort
Repeat these steps until the windows you want to use have all the fields and colours you want.
And you’re done!
Don’t forget to press
W to save your customisations!
Now my top looks dope but how do I actually use it?
Top can do a lot of clever stuff but let’s be honest, as desktop users all we really want a process monitor for is generally keeping an eye on things and killing anything that misbehaves. If you’re a sysadmin you no doubt know what you’re doing much better than I do.
So I’ll just explain how to filter your process list and kill anything that’s being naughty.
First of all, select the window that best represents what you’re
interested in (i.e. CPU usage, RAM usage etc.) then press
to make things clearer.
To filter this list press
O if you
wish your filter to be case-sensitive) then type, for example:
COMMAND=firefoxto show processes whose COMMAND field contains
!COMMAND=firefoxto show processes which don’t contain
%CPU>3.0to filter to processes whose %CPU field is greater than 3.0
For more info on filters do a
Okay, let’s clear those filters by pressing
To kill a task you simply press
k then type the PID of
the process you wish to kill. This will default to the process at the
top of the current list, which is usually what you want – i.e. if you
wanted to kill the process with the highest CPU use, you’d choose your
CPU usage window and then press
k. If that’s not the case
then filtering, as described above, can make it easier to spot the PID
of the process you wish to kill.
After choosing a PID you’ll be asked which signal to send. The
default is SIGTERM (signal number 15) which tells the process to exit in
a seemly manner. If you want to send the “fuck you, close” SIGKILL
practise as it may be, enter
And that’s it. Top may not be the prettiest of all the task managers but it’s extremely powerful and customisable and, to my mind, just looks and feels more unixy and thus, obviously, cooler…