DEV Community

Cover image for Mastering the Linux htop Command
Karandeep Singh
Karandeep Singh

Posted on

Mastering the Linux htop Command

In the world of Linux system management, monitoring your system's resources is as crucial as having a good internet connection for browsing. Among the several tools available, htop stands out as a superior alternative to the traditional top command. With its user-friendly interface and real-time system metrics, htop offers a comprehensive overview of your system’s health at a glance.

Imagine being a doctor who needs to understand a patient's symptoms quickly and accurately; htop provides similar insights into your system, allowing you to diagnose issues effectively and efficiently. Whether you're a system administrator or just a Linux enthusiast, mastering htop will enhance your ability to monitor and manage your system's performance.

By the end of this article, you will not only be familiar with htop’s basic and advanced features but also be equipped with practical examples to apply this knowledge effectively. Let's dive in and start by setting up htop on your system.

Getting Started with htop

Installation Instructions

Before we can master htop, we first need to install it. Fortunately, installing htop is straightforward across various Linux distributions.

For Ubuntu and Debian-based systems:

Open your terminal and enter the following command:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install htop
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

This command updates your package list and installs htop.

For Fedora and other RHEL-based systems:

Use this command in your terminal:

sudo dnf install htop
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Fedora uses dnf as its package manager, which makes installing software a breeze.

For Arch Linux:

Arch users can install htop using:

sudo pacman -S htop
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

pacman is the package manager used by Arch Linux, known for its efficiency.

Launching htop

To launch htop, simply open your terminal and type:

Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

This command will open the htop interface, displaying various system metrics in real-time.

Navigating htop

Navigating through htop is primarily done through your keyboard. Here are some essential keys:

  • Arrow keys: Move the selection up and down.
  • F10: Exits htop.
  • F6: Sort processes. You can choose what parameter to sort by (e.g., CPU, memory).

Practical Example: Understanding the Interface

Let's walk through a basic example. After launching htop, you'll see a colorful display showing CPU, memory, and swap usage at the top, followed by a list of running processes. Here’s how to interpret some of the key data:

  • CPU usage: Indicated by bars or numbers, showing how much of your CPU is currently in use.
  • Memory and swap: Displayed similar to CPU usage, these tell you how much of your system’s RAM and swap space are being used.

Suppose your system is running slow. Open htop and observe the CPU and memory bars. Are they frequently hitting high percentages? This could indicate that certain processes are consuming too many resources. Use the arrow keys to navigate through the process list and observe which processes have the highest CPU or memory usage. Identifying these can help you decide if something needs to be closed or investigated further.

Exploring htop’s Display and Features

htop provides a detailed and interactive view of your system’s processes, making it easier to understand what’s happening at any given moment. Here’s a breakdown of its key features and how you can use them practically.

Understanding the Interface

Each panel and metric in htop is designed to provide insights into your system’s health:

  • CPU bars: Each core of your CPU has its own bar. A fully saturated bar means the core is fully utilized.
  • Memory and swap bars: These give you a quick glance at your memory usage, helping you monitor your system's load.

Sorting and Managing Processes

One of htop’s strengths is its ability to sort processes based on various criteria like CPU usage, memory usage, and process ID.

Practical Example: Sorting by CPU Usage

If your system is lagging, sorting processes by CPU usage can help identify the culprits. Here’s how:

  1. Launch htop.
  2. Press F6 and select CPU% to sort processes by CPU usage.
  3. Look at the top of the list to see which processes are using the most CPU resources.

This simple step can often reveal if a particular application is consuming disproportionate resources, allowing you to make an informed decision about how to manage it.

Using Filters

Filters are powerful in htop for zeroing in on specific processes.

Practical Example: Filtering to Find a Specific Process

Suppose you want to monitor all instances of Apache on your server:

  1. Open htop.
  2. Press F4 to initiate a filter.
  3. Type apache.
  4. The display will now only show processes that include the word “apache” in their details.

This makes it much easier to monitor specific applications or services without the clutter of other processes.

Advanced Usage of htop

Beyond basic monitoring, htop allows you to perform actions like killing rogue processes or changing their priorities directly from its interface.

Killing Processes

If a process is unresponsive or detrimentally affecting system performance, htop allows you to kill it directly.

Practical Example: Terminating a Stuck Process

Imagine you have a stuck application that’s not responding to normal quit commands:

  1. Identify the process in htop using sorting or filtering.
  2. Select the process by navigating with your arrow keys.
  3. Press F9, select the signal you want to send (e.g., SIGKILL), and execute it.

This immediate action can quickly resolve performance issues caused by rogue processes.

Changing Display Options

htop is highly customizable, allowing you to alter how information is displayed based on your preferences or needs.

Practical Example: Customizing Metrics Display

Customize what you see for a cleaner and more relevant display:

  1. Press F2 to enter the setup menu.
  2. Navigate to Display options.
  3. Enable or disable any metrics, like kernel threads or userland threads.

Tips and Tricks for Power Users

htop is not just a tool for monitoring; it's a powerful utility that can be adapted to fit advanced user needs. Here are some expert tips and practical examples to help you get the most out of htop.

Using htop in Scripts

While htop is primarily an interactive tool, you can also use it to capture data for scripts or automated monitoring tools.

Practical Example: Capturing htop Output for a Log File

Imagine you want to keep a log of CPU and memory usage over time to analyze trends:

  1. Open your terminal.
  2. Use the following command to redirect htop's output to a file:
   htop -b -d 10 | grep "Tasks" > htop_log.txt
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

-b runs htop in batch mode (non-interactive), and -d 10 sets the delay for updating the display to 10 tenths of a second (1 second).

  1. This command filters out and logs only lines containing "Tasks", which include some of the key metrics.

This setup allows you to periodically check system metrics without manual monitoring, ideal for spotting long-term trends or issues.

Remote Monitoring

htop can also be used to monitor remote systems via an SSH connection, which is invaluable for managing server environments.

Practical Example: Monitoring a Remote Server

If you're responsible for a server, remotely monitoring its resources can be done seamlessly:

  1. Connect to your server via SSH:
   ssh user@server-ip-address
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode
  1. Once connected, run htop as you would on your local machine.

This method provides a real-time view of your remote server’s health directly from your local terminal.

Customizing Appearance

htop allows for significant customization of its appearance, which can improve readability or meet specific user preferences.

Practical Example: Changing Themes and Colors

To change the color scheme to make it more visually appealing or clearer:

  1. Open htop.
  2. Press F2 to go to the setup.
  3. Navigate to Colors and choose from one of the available themes or create your own.

Customizing the color scheme can make the data easier to read, especially during extended monitoring sessions.

With these advanced tips and tricks, you can turn htop into not just a monitoring tool, but a robust part of your system administration toolkit. Whether you're writing scripts to capture data, monitoring remote servers, or customizing the interface, htop’s flexibility makes it a powerful ally in managing your Linux systems.


Recap of Major Points

Throughout this article, we've journeyed through the many facets of the htop command, revealing it as more than just a simple tool for monitoring Linux systems. From basic installation and navigation to advanced customization and remote monitoring, htop proves to be a robust, versatile utility that can greatly enhance your ability to manage and understand your system's operations.

  • Installation and Basic Usage: We started with how to install and open htop across different Linux distributions, ensuring you can get up and running regardless of your environment.
  • Navigating and Understanding the Interface: You learned how to interact with the htop interface, sort and manage processes, and utilize filtering to quickly find what you're looking for.
  • Advanced Features: We explored deeper functionalities like killing processes directly from htop, adjusting priorities, and customizing the display settings to suit your preferences.
  • Tips for Power Users: Finally, we discussed how to incorporate htop into scripts for logging, perform remote monitoring, and personalize the appearance to enhance usability and effectiveness.

Encouragement to Practice

The true mastery of htop, like any tool, comes with practice. I encourage you to use htop regularly, experimenting with its various features and configurations. Each system and workload presents unique challenges and opportunities for optimization, and regular use of htop will help you become more adept at quickly diagnosing and resolving system issues.

Resources for Further Learning

To continue expanding your knowledge and proficiency with htop, here are some resources that can be invaluable:

  • Official htop Documentation: Htop Official GitHub — Provides detailed explanations of all features and updates.
  • Linux System Administration Books: Books such as "UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook" offer broader contexts where tools like htop play critical roles.
  • Online Courses: Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and Linux Academy offer courses in Linux performance monitoring and system administration that include modules on htop and similar tools.

Final Thoughts

Mastering htop is an ongoing process of exploration and learning. As you grow more comfortable with the tool, you'll discover even more ways it can help streamline your workflow and enhance your system's performance. Whether you're a seasoned system administrator or a new Linux user, htop is a tool that offers deep insights and robust control over your computing environment.

FAQ: Understanding and Using htop

What is htop?

htop is an interactive system-monitor process-viewer and process-manager. It is designed as an alternative to the Unix program top. htop provides a more user-friendly and visually appealing interface, enhanced features, and the ability to interact with processes in real-time.

How do I install htop on my Linux system?

To install htop, you can use the package manager provided by your Linux distribution:

  • Debian/Ubuntu: sudo apt install htop
  • Fedora: sudo dnf install htop
  • Arch Linux: sudo pacman -S htop

How can I view processes running under a specific user in htop?

To view processes running under a specific user:

  1. Open htop.
  2. Press F4 to activate the filter.
  3. Type the username into the filter bar. This will limit the process view to only those processes run by the specified user.

How do I kill a process using htop?

To kill a process in htop:

  1. Navigate to the process you want to terminate using arrow keys.
  2. Press F9 to open the kill menu.
  3. Select the signal you wish to send to the process (e.g., SIGKILL or SIGTERM).
  4. Press Enter to send the signal. This will terminate the process based on the signal sent.

Can I change the priorities of a process in htop?

Yes, you can change the priorities of a process in htop, which is done by adjusting its "nice" value:

  1. Select the process you want to adjust.
  2. Press F7 to increase the nice value (making the process lower priority) or F8 to decrease it (making it higher priority).
  3. Adjusting the nice value can help manage how CPU time is allocated among processes.

Is it possible to use htop to monitor remote systems?

Yes, htop can be used to monitor remote systems by logging into the remote system via SSH and running htop on that system:

ssh user@remote-system-ip
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

This method provides a real-time view of the remote system’s resource usage.

How do I customize the display settings in htop?

To customize the display in htop:

  1. Press F2 to access the setup menu.
  2. Navigate to the Display options or Colors section.
  3. Here you can choose which elements to show, set up color themes, or change how certain information is displayed.

What does the load average number mean in htop?

The load average numbers represent the average system load over a period of 1, 5, and 15 minutes. These numbers give you an idea of the overall demand being placed on the system resources. A higher number than the number of CPU cores can indicate that the system is overloaded.

How do I sort processes by memory usage in htop?

To sort processes by memory usage in htop:

  1. Open htop.
  2. Press F6 or click on the "MEM%" header.
  3. This will sort the list of processes based on the amount of memory they are using, allowing you to quickly identify high-memory-consuming processes.

Read about Mastering Top

Top comments (0)