I executed some commands with nice -20 but in htop the NI appears in red and as 19, why is this?


  • Note that I executed a script with parallel and I also used nice -20 on it, as well as commands in the script
    – Dominique
    Apr 9, 2014 at 0:21
  • what was the command you used to set niceness?
    – cristi
    Nov 17, 2015 at 14:43
  • nice -20 vi shows as green 20 in htop on MacOS Sierra. Apr 7, 2017 at 10:12

2 Answers 2


The “nice” value ranges from -20 (top priority, not nice at all to other processes) to 19 (least priority, very nice to others). When you run nice -20 (equivalent to nice -n 20) or sudo nice -n -42 (equivalent to sudo nice --42) or any other value out of bounds, the nice value is moved to the bound.

The red is simply coloring applied to negative values in that column, indicating high-priority (“not nice”) processes. Positive values are green, indicating low-priority (“nice”) processes.

  • So since I used nice -20 it defaulted to least priority?
    – Dominique
    Apr 9, 2014 at 0:26
  • 1
    Yes, nice -20 or nice -19 or nice -99999999 means the least priority which is 19. Apr 9, 2014 at 0:31
  • 1
    Only root can increase the priority of a process. Nov 17, 2015 at 13:55
  • 2
    @cristi I'm confused, what is not correct? Are you confusing nice -20 and nice -n -20? nice -20 is equivalent to nice -n 20. Yes, it's a bit confusing to have the - sign switch from being an option marker to a minus sign. Nov 18, 2015 at 0:30
  • 2
    nice -X is equivalent to nice -n X, where X is the nice value. To have max priority, i.e. a nice-value of -20, you can use nice --20 or nice -n -20. Min priority, i.e. a nice-value of +19, you can achieve with nice -19 or nice -n 19. It is confusing as long as one understands that the first - denotes just a command line option to nice and is not a sign for the number. The second -, if present, is the minus sign for the number. Apr 19, 2016 at 11:09

You probably are mistaken and didn't set niceness to -20.

If you executed the command as a normal user, for -x you will get 0 instead. For values >20 you will get 20.

If running as root, for values <-20, you will get -20.

Testing as normal user:

$ nice -n -20 sleep 100
nice: cannot set niceness: Permission denied

# ps ax -o pid,ni,cmd | grep "sleep 100"
26349   0 sleep 100

Testing as root:

$ sudo nice -n -200 sleep 100

# ps ax -o pid,ni,cmd | grep "sleep 100"
28118   0 sudo nice -n -200 sleep 100
28119 -20 sleep 100
  • The question stated nice -20, which is the opposite of nice -n 20. Nov 18, 2015 at 0:30
  • @Gilles -n adjusts the Nice value by the amount following it, so nice -n 20 adds, just like nice -20 does (the - denotes a parameter there, not a negative value). Apr 7, 2017 at 10:32
  • A red value in htop means it's negative, so either the "red 19" was green (as indicated by the Unix nice range), OP used nice -n -20, or MacOS Sierra has different nice and/or htop behavior (-20 to 20 nice values is one). Apr 7, 2017 at 10:38

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