I have a master process (run-jobs below) that starts other jobs as its sub-processes. When the master process fails (e.g. database failure), it exits with a non-0 status code, which is good, and can be verified by looking into $? variable (echo $?).

However, I'd also like to inspect the exit codes of the sub-processes in case the master job fails. Is there a convenient way to check the exit code of process_1 and process_2 below, once the master process is gone?

This is simplified output of ps auxf:

vagrant 5167 | \_ php app/console run-jobs vagrant 5461 | \_ php process_1 vagrant 5517 | \_ php process_2

  • Aren't they called zombies?
    – user147505
    Aug 11, 2016 at 12:02
  • No, the sub-processes would be gone after the master process quits. What I need is the exit codes for the sub processes.
    – luqo33
    Aug 11, 2016 at 12:06
  • Are you asking how php can get the exit status of children process (like php -r 'system("exit 12", $ret); echo $ret;') or how the parent of run-jobs can also get the exit status of the (now orphaned) children of run-jobs once they exit? Aug 11, 2016 at 12:11
  • @StéphaneChazelas It's about getting the exit status of process_1 and process_2 once all of them exit - the children all exit when run-jobs exits, there are no orphans here. I should also add that process_1 and process_2 are background processes created by run-jobs
    – luqo33
    Aug 11, 2016 at 12:30
  • 1
    Either they exit before run-jobs and they may return their status to it, or they exit after it (possibly as a result of run-jobs dying via a mechanism you've not described) and then they'll be orphan (if only for a very short time). Aug 11, 2016 at 12:34

1 Answer 1


Processes report their exit status to their parent and if their parent is dead to the process of id 1 (init), though with recent versions of Linux (3.4 or above), you can designate another ancestor as the child subreaper for that role (using prctl(PR_SET_CHILD_SUBREAPER)).

Actually, after they die, processes become zombies until their parent (or init) retrieves their exit status (with waitpid() or other).

In your case, you're saying the children are dying after (as a result of?) run-jobs dying. That means they'll report their exit status to init or to the process designated as child sub-reaper.

If init doesn't log that (and it generally doesn't) and if you don't use auditing or process accounting, that exit status will be lost.

If on a recent version of Linux, you can create your own sub-reaper to get the pid and exit status of those orphan processes. Like with perl:

$ perl -MPOSIX -le '
  require "syscall.ph";
  syscall(&SYS_prctl,36,1) >= 0 or die "cannot set subreaper: $!";

  # example running 1 child and 2 grand children:
  if (!fork) {
    # There, you would run:
    # exec("php", "run-jobs");
    if (!fork) {exec "sleep 1; exit 12"};
    if (!fork) {exec "sleep 2; exit 123"};
  # now reporting on all children and grand-children:
  while (($pid = wait) > 0) {
   print "$pid: " . WEXITSTATUS($?)
22425: 88
22426: 12
22427: 123

If you wanted to retrieve information on the dying processes (like command line, user, ppid...), you'd need to do that while they're still in the zombie state, that is before you've done a wait() on them.

To do that you'd need to use the waitid() API with the WNOWAIT option (and then get the information from /proc or the ps command). I don't think perl has an interface to that though, so you'd need to write it in another language like C.


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