Find Top Running Processes by Highest Memory and CPU Usage in Linux

I remember once reading that efficient system administrators are lazy people. The reason is not that they’re not doing their job or wasting their time – it is mostly because they have automated a good deal of their routine tasks. Thus, they don’t have to babysit their servers and can use their time to learn new technologies and always stay at the top of their game.

Part of automating your tasks, is learning how to get a script do what you would have to do yourself otherwise. Continually adding commands to your own knowledge base is just as important.

For that reason, in this article we will share a trick to find out, which processes are consuming lots of Memory and CPU utilization in Linux.

Find Linux Processes By RAM and CPU Usage
Find Linux Processes By RAM and CPU Usage

That said, let’s dive in and get started.

Check Top Processes sorted by RAM or CPU Usage in Linux

The following command will show the list of top processes ordered by RAM and CPU use in descendant form (remove the pipeline and head if you want to see the full list):

# ps -eo pid,ppid,cmd,%mem,%cpu --sort=-%mem | head
Sample Output
PID  	PPID 	CMD                      	%MEM 	%CPU
2591	2113 	/usr/lib/firefox/firefox    7.3 	43.5
2549   2520 	/usr/lib/virtualbox/Virtual 3.4  	8.2
2288       1 	/home/gacanepa/.dropbox-dis	1.4	0.3
1889   1543	c:\TeamViewer\TeamViewer.ex	1.0	0.2
2113	1801	/usr/bin/cinnamon		0.9	3.5
2254	2252	python /usr/bin/linuxmint/m	0.3	0.0
2245	1801	nautilus -n			0.3	0.1
1645	1595	/usr/bin/X :0 -audit 0 -aut	0.3	2.5
Find Top Processes By RAM and CPU Usage
Find Top Processes By RAM and CPU Usage

Brief explanation of above options used in above command.

The -o (or –format) option of ps allows you to specify the output format. A favorite of mine is to show the processes’ PIDs (pid), PPIDs (pid), the name of the executable file associated with the process (cmd), and the RAM and CPU utilization (%mem and %cpu, respectively).

Additionally, I use --sort to sort by either %mem or %cpu. By default, the output will be sorted in ascendant form, but personally I prefer to reverse that order by adding a minus sign in front of the sort criteria.

To add other fields to the output, or change the sort criteria, refer to the OUTPUT FORMAT CONTROL section in the man page of ps command.

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Monitoring process is one of the numerous tasks of a Linux server system administrator, in this tip, we looked at how you list processes on your system and sort them according to RAM and CPU use in descendant form using the ps utility.

Gabriel Cánepa
Gabriel Cánepa is a GNU/Linux sysadmin and web developer from Villa Mercedes, San Luis, Argentina. He works for a worldwide leading consumer product company and takes great pleasure in using FOSS tools to increase productivity in all areas of his daily work.

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17 thoughts on “Find Top Running Processes by Highest Memory and CPU Usage in Linux”

  1. How do I list down the usernames that are consuming high memory/CPU and remove the duplicate names? The names should be separated by ;.

  2. Maybe I am doing something wrong. It seems to be sorting the highest usage to the bottom.

    # ps -eo pid,ppid,cmd,%mem,%cpu --sort=-%mem
  3. Getting below.

    /root% ps -eo pid,ppid,cmd,%mem,%cpu --sort=-%mem | head
    ps: unrecognized option `--sort=-%mem'
    BusyBox v1.21.1 (2014-02-13 02:54:33 CET) multi-call binary.
    Usage: ps [-o COL1,COL2=HEADER]
    Show list of processes
    -o COL1,COL2=HEADER	Select columns for display
  4. I am new for UNIX can you help me for this question please?

    The pointy-haired manager’s good friend in marketing called him and said the system is way to slow today. Mr. Pointy-hair wants you to send him a file ‘right now’ with the top ten CPU using processes.

    Work out a command structure that can be issued to find running processes, sort them by CPU utilization, and return only the top ten CPU utilizing processes to a file called, top_cpu_out.txt.


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