I have a script I execute via cron regularly (every few minutes). However the script should not run multiple times in parallel and it sometimes runs a bit longer, thus I wanted to implement some locking, i.e. making sure the script is terminated early if a previous instance is already running.

Based on various recommendations I have a locking that looks like this:

lock="/run/$(basename "$0").lock"
exec {fd}<>"$lock"
flock -n $fd || exit 1

This should call the exit 1 in case another instance of the script is still running.

Now here's the problem: It seems sometimes a stale lock survives even though the script is already terminated. This effectively means the cron is never executed again (until the next reboot or by deleting the locked file), which of course is not what I want.

I figured out there's the lslocks command that lists existing file locks. It shows this:

(unknown)        2732 FLOCK        WRITE 0     0   0 /run...                                                                 

The process (2732 in this case) no longer exists (e.g. in ps aux). It is also unclear to me why it doesn't show the full filename (i.e. only /run...). lslocks has a parameter --notrucate which sounded to me it may avoid truncating filenames, however that does not change the output, it's still /run...

So I have multiple questions:

  • Why are these locks there and what situation causes a lock from flock to exist beyond the lifetime of the process?
  • Why does lslocks not show the full path/filename?
  • What is a good way to avoid this and make the locking in the script more robust?
  • Is there some way to cleanup stale locks without a reboot?

3 Answers 3


An flock lock is associated with a file description object; it will go away once all file descriptors referring to the file description have been closed (see the flock.2 manpage).

If the file is still locked, then the file descriptor is almost certainly still referenced from either the original process or a child process (assuming that you haven't used things like file descriptor passing to propagate a reference to it outside the original process hierarchy).

I would recommend checking sudo fuser $lock_path.

To work around this issue, there are two methods I know of: Either you prevent the shell from letting child processes inherit the file descriptor, or you kill all the processes still referencing it, e.g. using fuser -k ....

The path you are seeing is incomplete because lslocks uses /proc/locks to gather information; this file contains an identifier for the mountpoint and information on the process that acquired the lock, but not the path to the locked file. If lslocks can't find the file descriptor holding the lock while inspecting that process, it falls back to only printing the mount point.


I ran into this same problem with flock. thejh's suggestion to use fuser helped me track down the problem. It turned out that the command I ran with flock launched a child process that remained in the background. so even though the original command completed, flock wouldn't unlock the file because the child process was holding the lock.

Solution: flock --close

"man flock" says that --close will "Close the file descriptor on which the lock is held before executing command. This is useful if command spawns a child process which should not be holding the lock."

This completely fixed my problem.


I have now solved this by using an entirely different way of making sure the script runs only once. This does not answer my original questions, but I'll share it here in case it's helpful for others:

I'm now checking with pgrep how many processes are running with the same name. This has been pointed out to me as a possibility on Twitter. The only possible downside of this approach I can see is that it would interfere if you have multiple scripts with the same name. But this can be avoided by having sufficiently specific script names.

Here's the code I'm using:

PNAME="$(basename "$0")"
if [[ "$(pgrep -c -u $USER $PNAME )" -ne 1 ]]; then
    exit 1

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