How to Use the ps aux Command in Linux


In the world of Linux, the command-line interface (CLI) is a powerful tool that allows users to interact directly with the operating system. One command that stands out for its utility is the ps aux command. This command provides valuable information about the currently running processes on a Linux system. Whether you're a Linux newbie or a seasoned sysadmin, it's crucial to understand how to use this command effectively.

This comprehensive guide aims to delve into the details of the ps aux command and demonstrate its practical applications. By the end of this guide, you will be equipped with the knowledge to use ps aux to manage and monitor system processes.

Understanding the 'ps aux' Command

The ps command, short for 'process status,' is a command-line utility that provides information about currently running processes. It's a versatile command that can be used with different options for different outputs. The aux options modify the ps command to display all processes on a system.

The aux option is a combination of three flags: a, u, and x.

- The a flag stands for 'all.' When used with ps, it lists processes from all users on the system.

- The u flag stands for 'user.' It provides detailed information about each process, including the user that owns the process.

- The x flag stands for 'extended.' It lists processes not attached to a terminal, such as system services.

Putting it all together, ps aux presents a detailed snapshot of all running processes, making it a valuable tool for system monitoring and debugging.

Interpreting the 'ps aux' Output

When you run ps aux on a Linux terminal, you'll see an output similar to this:

root         1  0.0  0.1  19356  1584 ?        Ss   Jan01   0:01 /sbin/init

Each column in the output provides specific information about each process:

USER: The user that owns the process.

PID: Process ID.

%CPU: The percentage of CPU usage.

%MEM: The percentage of memory usage.

VSZ: Virtual Memory Size in KBs.

RSS: Resident Set Size, the non-swapped physical memory that a task has used in KBs.

TTY: The terminal type that the user logged on.

STAT: Process state codes.

START: The time when the command was initiated.

TIME: Cumulative CPU time.

COMMAND: The command that initiated the process.

Understanding these elements is crucial to interpreting the ps aux output effectively.

Practical Applications of 'ps aux'

The ps aux command is a versatile tool with a wide range of applications, from system monitoring to debugging and process management.

Process Monitoring

By offering a snapshot of all running processes, ps aux is a powerful monitoring tool. For instance, you can use it to check if a certain service is running, or to monitor the resource usage of a process.


When troubleshooting system issues, ps aux can help identify processes that are consuming too many resources. For instance, a process that is using a high percentage of CPU or memory could be a sign of a software problem.

Process Management

The ps aux command can also aid in process management. By identifying a process's PID, you can send signals to the process using commands such as kill or nice.

Advanced Usage and Tips

While ps aux is powerful in its own right, it can be combined with other commands for more advanced usage.

Piping with 'grep'

The grep command can be used to filter ps aux output. For example, ps aux | grep firefox will return all Firefox processes. This can be handy when looking for a specific process among many.

Sorting Output

The sort command can be used to sort ps aux output by a specific column. For example, ps aux --sort=-%mem,%cpu will sort processes by memory and CPU usage.

Formatting Output

The ps command allows for custom formatting using the -o option. For example, ps aux -o pid,user,%cpu,%mem,command will display only the PID, user, CPU usage, memory usage, and command columns.


The ps aux command is a powerful tool in the Linux command-line interface. Whether you're monitoring system processes, debugging software issues, or managing tasks, ps aux offers a wealth of information about your system's operation. By understanding and mastering this command, you can significantly enhance your Linux skills and your abilityto maintain a healthy and efficient system.

Remember, the true strength of the Linux command line lies in the combination of commands. Try piping ps aux output into other commands like grep and sort to refine your results and work more effectively. Practice using different options with the ps command to fine-tune its output to your needs.

In essence, the ps aux command is an essential tool for every Linux user's toolkit. Whether you're a system administrator managing a large server or a casual user interested in understanding your system better, mastering ps aux will undoubtedly serve you well.