Linux ‘top’ Commands

As a sysadmin working with Linux PCs I often need real time data on the status of the systems I manage. For example I might need to know what is using up all the bandwidth on an interface, whats taking up  all the memory or why my X displays are running sluggish. The impromptu
standard for naming these commands is to add the ‘top’ suffix. Here is a list of my favorite 8 ‘top’ commands.


Top, the grandaddy of all the Linux top commands, is most useful for  monitoring tasks running on your system. On my Fedora system its contained in package procps which on Fedora 11 was 3.2.7. Top has many keybindings to change its behaviour, for example ‘f’ is used to add and remove fields, ‘o’ will help you reorder those fields and the lesser-than and greater-than keys move the search field. You can type ‘h’ for a bigger list.


You caught me! This one doesn’t end with top, but I put it here because on Fedora it comes as part of the procps packages with top, slabtop and others. tload is a good application to have in a small terminal in the background.  It comes packaged along with top. It displays a histogram of the current load for the system. I like to have it running in a transparent terminal that I leave open on my laptop.


An improved, menu driven and colourised version of normal top. Htop allows you to get information on each thread of a program or combine all thread like normal top does. Some would argue that its more powerful, but others simply say its bloated. Whatever you believe, it has some nice features that any sysadmin will appreciate and you’ll soon be wishing htop was avaliable


top is to cputime what iftop is to your network interfaces. It displays a list of the top servers that are exchanging data over the selected interface. Because of the way it captures packets from the interface it needs root privleges to run.


iotop displays live system IO statistics. Like top it lists the top applications that are using IO. It can be toggled with the ‘o’ key to only
display programs currently performing IO, which is useful on large servers. You can read more about its keybindings on its manpage.


slabtop is especially useful for kernel developers and pedantic system tuners. It displays a summary of all the slab objects allocated in the kernel. I can take options to tell it how to display its information, but only has two keybindings, spacebar is to refresh the screen and ‘q’ is to quit. You can see its options on its manpage.


For X developers there is a utility called xrestop. xrestop displays a list of X server resources allocated. It can be useful to see if your application, or your X server is leaking resources. While it only accepts the ‘q’ key to exit it does accept a few options.


Built by Intel to help tune laptops to get the best performance out of your battery. It shows the percentage time spent in each CPU state and lists the programs and devices that caused the most wake ups from idle mode. Its most useful feature though is that it will analyse your system and give a suggestion on action to be taken to save just that little bit more power.