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4<TITLE>Proper handling of SIGINT/SIGQUIT []</TITLE>
5<!-- Created by: GNU m4 using $Revision: 1.20 $ of crawww.m4lib on 11-Feb-2005 -->
6<BODY BGCOLOR="#fff8e1">
7<CENTER><H2>Proper handling of SIGINT/SIGQUIT</H2></CENTER>
8<img src=linie.png width="100%" alt=" ">
11<table border=1 cellpadding=4>
12<tr><th valign=top align=left>Abstract: </th>
13<td valign=top align=left>
14In UNIX terminal sessions, you usually have a key like
15<code>C-c</code> (Control-C) to immediately end whatever program you
16have running in the foreground. This should work even when the program
17you called has called other programs in turn. Everything should be
18aborted, giving you your command prompt back, no matter how deep the
19call stack is.
21<p>Basically, it's trivial. But the existence of interactive
22applications that use SIGINT and/or SIGQUIT for other purposes than a
23complete immediate abort make matters complicated, and - as was to
24expect - left us with several ways to solve the problems. Of course,
25existing shells and applications follow different ways.
27<P>This Web pages outlines different ways to solve the problem and
28argues that only one of them can do everything right, although it
29means that we have to fix some existing software.
33</td></tr><tr><th valign=top align=left>Intended audience: </th>
34<td valign=top align=left>Programmers who implement programs that catch SIGINT/SIGQUIT.
35<BR>Programmers who implements shells or shell-like programs that
36execute batches of programs.
38<p>Users who have problems problems getting rid of runaway shell
39scripts using <code>Control-C</code>. Or have interactive applications
40that don't behave right when sending SIGINT. Examples are emacs'es
41that die on Control-g or shellscript statements that sometimes are
42executed and sometimes not, apparently not determined by the user's
46</td></tr><tr><th valign=top align=left>Required knowledge: </th>
47<td valign=top align=left>You have to know what it means to catch SIGINT or SIGQUIT and how
48processes are waiting for other processes (childs) they spawned.
52<img src=linie.png width="100%" alt=" ">
55<H3>Basic concepts</H3>
57What technically happens when you press Control-C is that all programs
58running in the foreground in your current terminal (or virtual
59terminal) get the signal SIGINT sent.
61<p>You may change the key that triggers the signal using
62<code>stty</code> and running programs may remap the SIGINT-sending
63key at any time they like, without your intervention and without
64asking you first.
66<p>The usual reaction of a running program to SIGINT is to exit.
67However, not all program do an exit on SIGINT, programs are free to
68use the signal for other actions or to ignore it at all.
70<p>All programs running in the foreground receive the signal. This may
71be a nested "stack" of programs: You started a program that started
72another and the outer is waiting for the inner to exit. This nesting
73may be arbitrarily deep.
75<p>The innermost program is the one that decides what to do on SIGINT.
76It may exit, do something else or do nothing. Still, when the user hit
77SIGINT, all the outer programs are awaken, get the signal and may
78react on it.
80<H3>What we try to achieve</H3>
82The problem is with shell scripts (or similar programs that call
83several subprograms one after another).
85<p>Let us consider the most basic script:
87#! /bin/sh
91and the usual run looks like this:
93$ sh myscript
94[output of program1]
95[output of program2]
99<p>Let us assume that both programs do nothing special on SIGINT, they
100just exit.
102<p>Now imagine the user hits C-c while a shellscript is executing its
103first program. The following programs receive SIGINT: program1 and
104also the shell executing the script. program1 exits.
106<p>But what should the shell do? If we say that it is only the
107innermost's programs business to react on SIGINT, the shell will do
108nothing special (not exit) and it will continue the execution of the
109script and run program2. But this is wrong: The user's intention in
110hitting C-c is to abort the whole script, to get his prompt back. If
111he hits C-c while the first program is running, he does not want
112program2 to be even started.
114<p>here is what would happen if the shell doesn't do anything:
116$ sh myscript
117[first half of program1's output]
118C-c   [users presses C-c]
119[second half of program1's output will not be displayed]
120[output of program2 will appear]
124<p>Consider a more annoying example:
126#! /bin/sh
127# let's assume there are 300 *.dat files
128for file in *.dat ; do
129    dat2ascii $dat
133If your shell wouldn't end if the user hits <code>C-c</code>,
134<code>C-c</code> would just end <strong>one</strong> dat2ascii run and
135the script would continue. Thus, you had to hit <code>C-c</code> up to
136300 times to end this script.
138<H3>Alternatives to do so</H3>
140<p>There are several ways to handle abortion of shell scripts when
141SIGINT is received while a foreground child runs:
145<li>As just outlined, the shellscript may just continue, ignoring the
146fact that the user hit <code>C-c</code>. That way, your shellscript -
147including any loops - would continue and you had no chance of aborting
148it except using the kill command after finding out the outermost
149shell's PID. This "solution" will not be discussed further, as it is
150obviously not desirable.
152<p><li>The shell itself exits immediately when it receives SIGINT. Not
153only the program called will exit, but the calling (the
154script-executing) shell. The first variant is to exit the shell (and
155therefore discontinuing execution of the script) immediately, while
156the background program may still be executing (remember that although
157the shell is just waiting for the called program to exit, it is woken
158up and may act). I will call the way of doing things the "IUE" (for
159"immediate unconditional exit") for the rest of this document.
161<p><li>As a variant of the former, when the shell receives SIGINT
162while it is waiting for a child to exit, the shell does not exit
163immediately. but it remembers the fact that a SIGINT happened. After
164the called program exits and the shell's wait ends, the shell will
165exit itself and hence discontinue the script. I will call the way of
166doing things the "WUE" (for "wait and unconditional exit") for the
167rest of this document.
169<p><li>There is also a way that the calling shell can tell whether the
170called program exited on SIGINT and if it ignored SIGINT (or used it
171for other purposes). As in the <sl>WUE</sl> way, the shell waits for
172the child to complete. It figures whether the program was ended on
173SIGINT and if so, it discontinue the script. If the program did any
174other exit, the script will be continued. I will call the way of doing
175things the "WCE" (for "wait and cooperative exit") for the rest of
176this document.
180<H3>The problem</H3>
182On first sight, all three solutions (IUE, WUE and WCE) all seem to do
183what we want: If C-c is hit while the first program of the shell
184script runs, the script is discontinued. The user gets his prompt back
185immediately. So what are the difference between these way of handling
188<p>There are programs that use the signal SIGINT for other purposes
189than exiting. They use it as a normal keystroke. The user is expected
190to use the key that sends SIGINT during a perfectly normal program
191run. As a result, the user sends SIGINT in situations where he/she
192does not want the program or the script to end.
194<p>The primary example is the emacs editor: C-g does what ESC does in
195other applications: It cancels a partially executed or prepared
196operation. Technically, emacs remaps the key that sends SIGINT from
197C-c to C-g and catches SIGINT.
199<p>Remember that the SIGINT is sent to all programs running in the
200foreground. If emacs is executing from a shell script, both emacs and
201the shell get SIGINT. emacs is the program that decides what to do:
202Exit on SIGINT or not. emacs decides not to exit. The problem arises
203when the shell draws its own conclusions from receiving SIGINT without
204consulting emacs for its opinion.
206<p>Consider this script:
208#! /bin/sh
209emacs /tmp/foo
210cp /tmp/foo /home/user/mail/sent
213<p>If C-g is used in emacs, both the shell and emacs will received
214SIGINT. Emacs will not exit, the user used C-g as a normal editing
215keystroke, he/she does not want the script to be aborted on C-g.
217<p>The central problem is that the second command (cp) may
218unintentionally be killed when the shell draws its own conclusion
219about the user's intention. The innermost program is the only one to
222<H3>One more example</H3>
224<p>Imagine a mail session using a curses mailer in a tty. You called
225your mailer and started to compose a message. Your mailer calls emacs.
226<code>C-g</code> is a normal editing key in emacs. Technically it
227sends SIGINT (it was <code>C-c</code>, but emacs remapped the key) to
230<li>the shell between your mailer and emacs, the one from your mailers
231    system("emacs /tmp/bla.44") command
232<li>the mailer itself
233<li>possibly another shell if your mailer was called by a shell script
234or from another application using system(3)
235<li>your interactive shell (which ignores it since it is interactive
236and hence is not relevant to this discussion)
239<p>If everyone just exits on SIGINT, you will be left with nothing but
240your login shell, without asking.
242<p>But for sure you don't want to be dropped out of your editor and
243out of your mailer back to the commandline, having your edited data
244and mailer status deleted.
246<p>Understand the difference: While <code>C-g</code> is used an a kind
247of abort key in emacs, it isn't the major "abort everything" key. When
248you use <code>C-g</code> in emacs, you want to end some internal emacs
249command. You don't want your whole emacs and mailer session to end.
251<p>So, if the shell exits immediately if the user sends SIGINT (the
252second of the four ways shown above), the parent of emacs would die,
253leaving emacs without the controlling tty. The user will lose it's
254editing session immediately and unrecoverable. If the "main" shell of
255the operating system defaults to this behavior, every editor session
256that is spawned from a mailer or such will break (because it is
257usually executed by system(3), which calls /bin/sh). This was the case
258in FreeBSD before I and Bruce Evans changed it in 1998.
260<p>If the shell recognized that SIGINT was sent and exits after the
261current foreground process exited (the third way of the four), the
262editor session will not be disturbed, but things will still not work
265<H3>A further look at the alternatives</H3>
267<p>Still considering this script to examine the shell's actions in the
268IUE, WUE and ICE way of handling SIGINT:
270#! /bin/sh
271emacs /tmp/foo
272cp /tmp/foo /home/user/mail/sent
275<p>The IUE ("immediate unconditional exit") way does not work at all:
276emacs wants to survive the SIGINT (it's a normal editing key for
277emacs), but its parent shell unconditionally thinks "We received
278SIGINT. Abort everything. Now.". The shell will exit even before emacs
279exits. But this will leave emacs in an unusable state, since the death
280of its calling shell will leave it without required resources (file
281descriptors). This way does not work at all for shellscripts that call
282programs that use SIGINT for other purposes than immediate exit. Even
283for programs that exit on SIGINT, but want to do some cleanup between
284the signal and the exit, may fail before they complete their cleanup.
286<p>It should be noted that this way has one advantage: If a child
287blocks SIGINT and does not exit at all, this way will get control back
288to the user's terminal. Since such programs should be banned from your
289system anyway, I don't think that weighs against the disadvantages.
291<p>WUE ("wait and unconditional exit") is a little more clever: If C-g
292was used in emacs, the shell will get SIGINT. It will not immediately
293exit, but remember the fact that a SIGINT happened. When emacs ends
294(maybe a long time after the SIGINT), it will say "Ok, a SIGINT
295happened sometime while the child was executing, the user wants the
296script to be discontinued". It will then exit. The cp will not be
297executed. But that's bad. The "cp" will be executed when the emacs
298session ended without the C-g key ever used, but it will not be
299executed when the user used C-g at least one time. That is clearly not
300desired. Since C-g is a normal editing key in emacs, the user expects
301the rest of the script to behave identically no matter what keys he
304<p>As a result, the "WUE" way is better than the "IUE" way in that it
305does not break SIGINT-using programs completely. The emacs session
306will end undisturbed. But it still does not support scripts where
307other actions should be performed after a program that use SIGINT for
308non-exit purposes. Since the behavior is basically undeterminable for
309the user, this can lead to nasty surprises.
311<p>The "WCE" way fixes this by "asking" the called program whether it
312exited on SIGINT or not. While emacs receives SIGINT, it does not exit
313on it and a calling shell waiting for its exit will not be told that
314it exited on SIGINT. (Although it receives SIGINT at some point in
315time, the system does not enforce that emacs will exit with
316"I-exited-on-SIGINT" status. This is under emacs' control, see below).
318<p>this still work for the normal script without SIGINT-using
321#! /bin/sh
326Unless program1 and program2 mess around with signal handling, the
327system will tell the calling shell whether the programs exited
328normally or as a result of SIGINT.
330<p>The "WCE" way then has an easy way to things right: When one called
331program exited with "I-exited-on-SIGINT" status, it will discontinue
332the script after this program. If the program ends without this
333status, the next command in the script is started.
335<p>It is important to understand that a shell in "WCE" modus does not
336need to listen to the SIGINT signal at all. Both in the
337"emacs-then-cp" script and in the "several-normal-programs" script, it
338will be woken up and receive SIGINT when the user hits the
339corresponding key. But the shell does not need to react on this event
340and it doesn't need to remember the event of any SIGINT, either.
341Telling whether the user wants to end a script is done by asking that
342program that has to decide, that program that interprets keystrokes
343from the user, the innermost program.
345<H3>So everything is well with WCE?</H3>
347Well, almost.
349<p>The problem with the "WCE" modus is that there are broken programs
350that do not properly communicate the required information up to the
351calling program.
353<p>Unless a program messes with signal handling, the system does this
356<p>There are programs that want to exit on SIGINT, but they don't let
357the system do the automatic exit, because they want to do some
358cleanup. To do so, they catch SIGINT, do the cleanup and then exit by
361<p>And here is where the problem arises: Once they catch the signal,
362the system will no longer communicate the "I-exited-on-SIGINT" status
363to the calling program automatically. Even if the program exit
364immediately in the signal handler of SIGINT. Once it catches the
365signal, it has to take care of communicating the signal status
368<p>Some programs don't do this. On SIGINT, they do cleanup and exit
369immediatly, but the calling shell isn't told about the non-normal exit
370and it will call the next program in the script.
372<p>As a result, the user hits SIGINT and while one program exits, the
373shellscript continues. To him/her it looks like the shell fails to
374obey to his abortion command.
376<p>Both IUE or WUE shell would not have this problem, since they
377discontinue the script on their own. But as I said, they don't support
378programs using SIGINT for non-exiting purposes, no matter whether
379these programs properly communicate their signal status to the calling
380shell or not.
382<p>Since some shell in wide use implement the WUE way (and some even
383IUE), there is a considerable number of broken programs out there that
384break WCE shells. The programmers just don't recognize it if their
385shell isn't WCE.
387<H3>How to be a proper program</H3>
389<p>(Short note in advance: What you need to achieve is that
390WIFSIGNALED(status) is true in the calling program and that
391WTERMSIG(status) returns SIGINT.)
393<p>If you don't catch SIGINT, the system automatically does the right
394thing for you: Your program exits and the calling program gets the
395right "I-exited-on-SIGINT" status after waiting for your exit.
397<p>But once you catch SIGINT, you have to act.
399<p>Decide whether the SIGINT is used for exit/abort purposes and hence
400a shellscript calling this program should discontinue. This is
401hopefully obvious. If you just need to do some cleanup on SIGINT, but
402then exit immediately, the answer is "yes".
404<p>If so, you have to tell the calling program about it by exiting
405with the "I-exited-on-SIGINT" status.
407<p>There is no other way of doing this than to kill yourself with a
408SIGINT signal. Do it by resetting the SIGINT handler to SIG_DFL, then
409send yourself the signal.
412void sigint_handler(int sig)
414    <do some cleanup>
415    signal(SIGINT, SIG_DFL);
416    kill(getpid(), SIGINT);
424<LI>You cannot "fake" the proper exit status by an exit(3) with a
425special numeric value. People often assume this since the manuals for
426shells often list some return value for exactly this. But this is just
427a convention for your shell script. It does not work from one UNIX API
428program to another.
430<P>All that happens is that the shell sets the "$?" variable to a
431special numeric value for the convenience of your script, because your
432script does not have access to the lower-lever UNIX status evaluation
433functions. This is just an agreement between your script and the
434executing shell, it does not have any meaning in other contexts.
436<P><LI>Do not use kill(0, SIGINT) without consulting the manul for
437your OS implementation. I.e. on BSD, this would not send the signal to
438the current process, but to all processes in the group.
440<P><LI>POSIX 1003.1 allows all these calls to appear in signal
441handlers, so it is portable.
445<p>In a bourne shell script, you can catch signals using the
446<code>trap</code> command. Here, the same as for C programs apply.  If
447the intention of SIGINT is to end your program, you have to exit in a
448way that the calling programs "sees" that you have been killed.  If
449you don't catch SIGINT, this happend automatically, but of you catch
450SIGINT, i.e. to do cleanup work, you have to end the program by
451killing yourself, not by calling exit.
453<p>Consider this example from FreeBSD's <code>mkdep</code>, which is a
454bourne shell script.
458trap 'rm -f $TMP ; trap 2 ; kill -2 $$' 1 2 3 13 15
461Yes, you have to do it the hard way. It's even more annoying in shell
462scripts than in C programs since you can't "pre-delete" temporary
463files (which isn't really portable in C, though).
465<P>All this applies to programs in all languages, not only C and
466bourne shell. Every language implementation that lets you catch SIGINT
467should also give you the option to reset the signal and kill yourself.
469<P>It is always desireable to exit the right way, even if you don't
470expect your usual callers to depend on it, some unusual one will come
471along. This proper exit status will be needed for WCE and will not
472hurt when the calling shell uses IUE or WUE.
474<H3>How to be a proper shell</H3>
476All this applies only for the script-executing case. Most shells will
477also have interactive modes where things are different.
481<LI>Do nothing special when SIGINT appears while you wait for a child.
482You don't even have to remember that one happened.
484<P><LI>Wait for child to exit, get the exit status. Do not truncate it
485to type char.
487<P><LI>Look at WIFSIGNALED(status) and WTERMSIG(status) to tell
488whether the child says "I exited on SIGINT: in my opinion the user
489wants the shellscript to be discontinued".
491<P><LI>If the latter applies, discontinue the script.
493<P><LI>Exit. But since a shellscript may in turn be called by a
494shellscript, you need to make sure that you properly communicate the
495discontinue intention to the calling program. As in any other program
496(see above), do
499    signal(SIGINT, SIG_DFL);
500    kill(getpid(), SIGINT);
505<H3>Other remarks</H3>
507Although this web page talks about SIGINT only, almost the same issues
508apply to SIGQUIT, including proper exiting by killing yourself after
509catching the signal and proper reaction on the WIFSIGNALED(status)
510value. One notable difference for SIGQUIT is that you have to make
511sure that not the whole call tree dumps core.
513<H3>What to fight</H3>
515Make sure all programs <em>really</em> kill themselves if they react
516to SIGINT or SIGQUIT and intend to abort their operation as a result
517of this signal. Programs that don't use SIGINT/SIGQUIT as a
518termination trigger - but as part of normal operation - don't kill
519themselves, but do a normal exit instead.
521<p>Make sure people understand why you can't fake an exit-on-signal by
522doing exit(...) using any numerical status.
524<p>Make sure you use a shell that behaves right. Especially if you
525develop programs, since it will help seeing problems.
527<H3>Concrete examples how to fix programs:</H3>
530<li>The fix for FreeBSD's
531<A HREF="">time(1)</A>. This fix is the best example, it's quite short and clear and
532it fixes a case where someone tried to fake signal exit status by a
533numerical value. And the complete program is small.
535<p><li>Fix for FreeBSD's
536<A HREF="">truss(1)</A>.
538<p><li>The fix for FreeBSD's
539<A HREF="">mkdep(1)</A>, a shell script.
542<p><li>Fix for FreeBSD's make(1), <A HREF="">part 1</A>,
543<A HREF="">part 2</A>.
547<H3>Testsuite for shells</H3>
549I have a collection of shellscripts that test shells for the
550behavior. See my <A HREF="download/">download dir</A> to get the newest
551"sh-interrupt" files, either as a tarfile or as individual file for
552online browsing. This isn't really documented, besides from the
553comments the scripts echo.
555<H3>Appendix 1 - table of implementation choices</H3>
557<table border cellpadding=2>
559<tr valign=top>
560<th>Method sign</th>
561<th>Does what?</th>
562<th>Example shells that implement it:</th>
563<th>What happens when a shellscript called emacs, the user used
564<code>C-g</code> and the script has additional commands in it?</th>
565<th>What happens when a shellscript called emacs, the user did not use
566<code>C-c</code> and the script has additional commands in it?</th>
567<th>What happens if a non-interactive child catches SIGINT?</th>
568<th>To behave properly, childs must do what?</th>
571<tr valign=top align=left>
573<td>The shell executing a script exits immediately if it receives
575<td>4.4BSD ash (ash), NetBSD, FreeBSD prior to 3.0/22.8</td>
576<td>The editor session is lost and subsequent commands are not
578<td>The editor continues as normal and the subsequent commands are
579executed. </td>
580<td>The scripts ends immediately, returning to the caller even before
581the current foreground child of the shell exits. </td>
582<td>It doesn't matter what the child does or how it exits, even if the
583child continues to operate, the shell returns. </td>
586<tr valign=top align=left>
588<td>If the shell executing a script received SIGINT while a foreground
589process was running, it will exit after that child's exit.</td>
590<td>pdksh (OpenBSD /bin/sh)</td>
591<td>The editor continues as normal, but subsequent commands from the
592script are not executed.</td>
593<td>The editor continues as normal and subsequent commands are
594executed. </td>
595<td>The scripts returns to its caller after the current foreground
596child exits, no matter how the child exited. </td>
597<td>It doesn't matter how the child exits (signal status or not), but
598if it doesn't return at all, the shell will not return. In no case
599will further commands from the script be executed. </td>
602<tr valign=top align=left>
604<td>The shell exits if a child signaled that it was killed on a
605signal (either it had the default handler for SIGINT or it killed
606itself).  </td>
607<td>bash (Linux /bin/sh), most commercial /bin/sh, FreeBSD /bin/sh
608from 3.0/2.2.8.</td>
609<td>The editor continues as normal and subsequent commands are
610executed. </td>
611<td>The editor continues as normal and subsequent commands are
612executed. </td>
613<td>The scripts returns to its caller after the current foreground
614child exits, but only if the child exited with signal status. If
615the child did a normal exit (even if it received SIGINT, but catches
616it), the script will continue. </td>
617<td>The child must be implemented right, or the user will not be able
618to break shell scripts reliably.</td>
623<P><img src=linie.png width="100%" alt=" ">
624<BR>&copy;2005 Martin Cracauer &lt;cracauer @;
625<A HREF=""></A>
626<BR>Last changed: $Date: 2005/02/11 21:44:43 $
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