How to Use the timeout Command on Linux

Linux laptop showing a bash promptFatmawati Achmad Zaenuri/

OK, that’s enough computer time. You can give processes time limits, setting a maximum time they can run for with the timeoutcommand. Here’s a tutorial to putting limits on running programs with this command.

What Does timeout Do For You?

The  timeout command allows you to set a limit on the length of time a program will run for. But why would you want to do that?

One case is when you know exactly how long you want a process to run for. A common use-case is to have timeout control a logging or data-capture program so that the log files don’t relentlessly devour your hard drive space.

Another case is when you don’t know how long you want a process to run for, but you do know you don’t want it to run indefinitely. You might have a habit of setting processes running, minimizing the terminal window, and forgetting about them.

Some programs–even simple utilities—can generate network traffic at levels that can impede the performance of your network. Or they can tie up the resources on a target device, slowing down its performance. (ping, I’m looking at you.) Leaving these types of programs running for extended periods while you’re away from your computer is bad practice.

timeout is part of the GNU Core Utils so Linux and Unix-like operating systems such as macOS all have timeout built right in. There’s nothing to install; you can use it right out of the box.

Getting Started With timeout

Here’s a simple example. For example, with its default command-line options, the ping command will run until you stop it by hitting Ctrl+C. If you don’t interrupt it, it’ll just keep going.


ping in a terminal window

By using timeout, we can make sure ping doesn’t run on and on, chewing up network bandwidth and pestering whatever device is being pinged.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Dave McKay

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