Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Zombies, Firefox, Chrome, and all That

I've been noticing a lot of defunct or zombie evince processes lately and decided to take a couple minutes figuring out what's going on. In the Linux world, evince is a good PDF reader, certainly better than the one freely-available from Adobe. The problem isn't with evince: zombies cannot be held accountable.

All the zombies I had on my system this morning had one of two parent process IDs, that of Firefox (3.6.18) or that of Chrome (13.0.782.56 beta). When a process forks a child, it is supposed to wait() for the child. This can be done asynchronously, so it's little inconvenience for the parent process, and not much for the programmer of the parent process, if said programmer knows what he is doing. The child process, evince in my case, hangs around the process table as a zombie until the parent issues a wait(). This allows a parent process to keep track of the status of its children. Once the parent checks on the child, the child can go away.

Firefox and Chrome are apparently not checking on their children.

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