How to run a command with time limit in Linux

Posted January 7, 2020 1.7k views
UbuntuLinux Commands

I recently was asked if there is an option to execute a command but also to specify a time limit (timeout) so the command can be executed for a certain amount of time.

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This is possible with the build-in command timeout. Linux has a command-line utility called a timeout, which enables you to execute a command with a time limit.

The syntax is as follows.


An example is using a timeout for the with the ping command:

timeout 5  X.X.X.X

You can also use other options like minutes, hours and so on. It is also recommended to use the --kill-after option as sometimes the commands may continue to run even after timeout sends the initial signal.

timeout --kill-after=5 2s ping X.X.X.X

Other options:

The –preserve-status option allows timeout to exit with the same status as COMMAND, even when the command times out.
timeout –preserve-status 10s ping X.X.X.X

The –foreground option when not running timeout directly from a shell prompt, allow COMMAND to read from the TTY and get TTY signals; in this mode, children of COMMAND will not be timed out:

For example you can ssh to a remote server and execute the top/htop command and then when the timeout is reached you will get back to the foreground:

timeout --foreground 30s ssh -t user@server htop


timeout --foreground 30s ssh -t user@server top

The timeout command is a simple way to let a command run for a given amount of time.

Hope this briefly explains the usage and the advantage of the timeout command.