What's the difference between nohup and a daemon?


Unix Problem Overview

What are the implications of running a script as a daemon versus using nohup?

I know what the difference is in terms of forking processes etc., but what impact does that have on my script?

Unix Solutions

Solution 1 - Unix

The nohup command is the poor man's way of running a process as a daemon. As Bruno Ranschaert noted, when you run a command in an interactive shell, it has a controlling terminal and will receive a SIGHUP (hangup) signal when the controlling process (typically your login shell) exits. The nohup command arranges for input to come from /dev/null, and for both output and errors to go to nohup.out, and for the program to ignore interrupts, quit signals, and hangups. It actually still has the same controlling terminal - it just ignores the terminals controls. Note that if you want the process to run in the background, you have to tell the shell to run it in the background - at least on Solaris (that is, you type 'nohup sleep 20 &'; without the ampersand, the process runs synchronously in the foreground).

Typically, a process run via nohup is something that takes time, but which does not hang around waiting for interaction from elsewhere.

Typically (which means if you try hard, you can find exceptions to these rules), a daemon process is something which lurks in the background, disconnected from any terminal, but waiting to respond to some input of some sort. Network daemons wait for connection requests or UDP messages to arrive over the network, do the appropriate work and send a response back again. Think of a web server, for example, or a DBMS.

When a process fully daemonizes itself, it goes through some of the steps that the nohup code goes through; it rearranges its I/O so it is not connected to any terminal, detaches itself from the process group, ignores appropriate signals (which might mean it doesn't ignore any signals, since there is no terminal to send it any of the signals generated via a terminal). Typically, it forks once, and the parent exits successfully. The child process usually forks a second time, after fixing its process group and session ID and so on; the child then exits too. The grandchild process is now autonomous and won't show up in the ps output for the the terminal where it was launched.

You can look at Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment, 3rd Edn by W Richard Stevens and Stephen A Rago, or at Advanced Unix Programming, 2nd Edn by Marc J Rochkind for discussions of daemonization.

I have a program daemonize which will daemonize a program that doesn't know how to daemonize itself (properly). It was written to work around the defects in a program which was supposed to daemonize itself but didn't do the job properly. Contact me if you want it - see my profile.

Solution 2 - Unix

Becoming a daemon

This link has a good list of steps a process should take in becoming a daemon:


I can't copy the list verbatim because of copyright (see the About section), but here's the summary:

  1. fork (first time) -- so we aren't a group leader, and let the parent exit.
  2. call setsid() -- to become leader of a new session. This call only works if we are not a group leader. This new session has no controlling terminal.
  3. fork (second time) -- so we aren't a session leader (and thus can't regain a controlling terminal), and let the parent exit.
  4. cd to root directory -- so we don't prevent other directories from being umount-ed.
  5. set umask to desired value (optional) -- because we could've inherited a mask we didn't want.
  6. close stdin, stdout, stderr (or just reopen them to point elsewhere)


What nohup does:

  • If stdout and stderr are connected to a terminal, redirects them to nohup.out
  • ignores SIGHUP

Similarities and Differences

Notice how the only common actions are redirecting stdout and stderr. To be a daemon doesn't even require ignoring SIGHUP.

nohup doesn't require you to use '&' to background the process - meaning you can still use ctrl-c to send SIGINT. The process still responds to keyboard input. It also doesn't change stdin automatically, so it's recommended that you do it yourself via "< /dev/null".

Please do not confuse nohup with other features normally used with it (e.g. backgrounding). The OP asked specifically about nohup.

In Practice

In terms of practicality, when you want to start a one-time long-running process which should continue when the shell exits, you'll want to use nohup, but you'll also want to combine it with backgrounding and redirecting of stdin. A one-time job isn't worth making a daemon, but some of the properties of a daemon can still be useful with a nohup job, like "cd /".

Periodic tasks on a regular schedule are best run via cron (or some other scheduler).

Daemons are best suited for overseeing repeated tasks that don't have a predictable start time. There normally is no definite end time for the daemon process (it's explicitly stopped by a user/another process or by system shutdown). Often daemons are services that respond to applications (clients) or other conditions (e.g. incoming data via on an IO device via unix select()). Other daemons poll for a condition and perform an action in response.

Addendum about controlling terminal

See this page. A quick summary is that a controlling terminal grants unlimited access to its stdin, stdout, stderr. Only one process group may have access to stdin. By default, background process groups can also write to stdout and stderr.

Also, it seems that keyboard signals sent to a terminal are only sent to the process group which has it as a controlling terminal.

Solution 3 - Unix

In UNIX variants, a process is associated with a terminal process (login shell). So when the terminal process exits, the process is halted as well, because of this association. The nohup prevents a process from exiting when the terminal stops.

A daemon or demon is a process that is started by the system when it starts up, it runs till shutdown, no user asked for it explicitly. So by definition it is not part of a user interaction but belongs to the system.

If you have access to the system as a user, you can use nohup. If you are sysadmin, you can install a deamon process. For the process it does not matter.

Solution 4 - Unix

A daemon can't be initiated, while nohup is initiated by the user.


All content for this solution is sourced from the original question on Stackoverflow.

The content on this page is licensed under the Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.

Content TypeOriginal AuthorOriginal Content on Stackoverflow
QuestionHortitudeView Question on Stackoverflow
Solution 1 - UnixJonathan LefflerView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 2 - UnixKelvinView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 3 - UnixBruno RanschaertView Answer on Stackoverflow
Solution 4 - UnixswarnaView Answer on Stackoverflow