[erlang-questions] Erlang's process not killed by exit signalreasoned by "kill"

Robert Virding rvirding@REDACTED
Sat Oct 24 22:10:55 CEST 2009

I just want to clear up one little point: there is in fact only one type of
process, all processes behave in the same way with respect to dying and exit
signals. So what Joe calls "system processes" are just processes started by
the system, nothing more.

That exit(kill) and exit(Self, kill) behave differently is *exactly* as it
should be, they are *defined* to behave differently. exit/2 will *always*
send an exit signal to the process even if the process itself! Its behaviour
is consistent. When sending to itself the process should behave as if the
exit signal came from "outside" the itself. This means that if you are
trapping exits you should also trap the exits from exit/2 to yourself.

Oth an exit/1 works "internally". It should behave in the same way as
erlang:error/1. In fact originally they were the same and there was only
exit/1. Internal errors also looked the same as exit/1. Things started to
drift apart when internal errors got stack traces. Now stack traces are a
Good Thing but it meant that the behaviour of errors and exit/1 diverged.
Unfortunately, instead of fixing exit/1, which would have been the most
sensible thing to do, the split was made permanent by adding error/1.

So exit/1 and error/1 should behave in the same way, which is different to

'kill' is a little special as we felt we needed something which wasn't
trappable but at the same time we realised that if it spread in the same way
as other exit signals then it would be uncontrollable. This is why it was
decided that when a process received an exit 'kill' signal it should always
unconditionally die but only resignal 'killed' to its linked processes.
Whether doing exit(kill) should send a real exit 'kill' signal or only a
'killed' signal is an interesting question which I can't remember now what
we decided. If it sends an exit 'kill' signal then it should behave as a
real 'kill' signal and be non-trappable.

This definitely something for the Erlang Rationale!


2009/10/24 Yan Yan <yan.beijing.china@REDACTED>

> Thanks, Richard
> In fact, I had a very similiar thought with yours as I found b killed when
> b is not a system process but b not killed when b is a system process.
> However, even if exit(kill) acts the same as exit(self(), kill) does, there
> seems to be problems left. For example, if, in this setup, c does want ALL
> linked processes to be killed when c itself exits abnormally, we will want a
> simple code in c() just like exit(kill). In this way, we want all processes
> linked to c will be killed because of c's exit, even if there were any
> system processes among c's linked processes. Currently, if we write
> exit(kill) or exit(self(), kill) in c(), only c and c's linked non-system
> processes will be killed, but all system processed linked will survive,
> which is not correct.
> So far, there seems to be no other ways to let it happen correctly except:
> Code:
> c(......) ->
> blabla...
> %% P1, P2, ..., Pn are linked SYSTEM processes
> exit(P1, kill),
> exit(P2, kill),
> ...
> exit(Pn, kill),
> %%Here c is still alive, and we want c and its linked non-system processes
> also killed, so...
> exit(kill). %% or exit(self(), kill), or exit(anything)..
> End code.
> However, it still demands that programmers know ahead of time how many and
> which system processes are linked to c, which is not a good design pattern.
> Sincerely,
> Yan Yan
> Yan Yan
> 2009-10-24
> From: Richard Carlsson
> Time:  2009-10-24 21:05:05
> To: Yan Yan
> Fw: erlang-questions; erlang-bugs; Bj鰎n_Gustavsson
> Subject: Re: [erlang-questions] Erlang's process not killed by exit
> signalreasoned by "kill"
> Yan Yan wrote:
> > (2)On Page 169,
> (Page 161 in my copy of the book.)
> > Quote:
> >
> > 8> edemo1:start(true, {die,kill}).  Process b received
> > {'EXIT',<0.73.0>,kill} process b (<0.72.0>) is alive process c
> > (<0.73.0>) is dead ok
> >
> > End quote.
> >
> > Here a and b are both system processes, while c is not. When c exits
> > with the reason "kill" (not "killed"), it sends exit signal to b with
> > the reason "kill". Therefore b should be killed and dead, but b is
> > still alive here!
> >
> > (I had thought it was only a small typo in the book. But then I
> > tested by myself and got the same result: b received the exit signal
> > with the reason "kill" and b was not killed but alive.)
> >
> > Why is the system process b not killed by the exit signal with the
> > reason "kill"?
> Interesting. There seems to be a difference in behaviour (probably
> not intentional) between `exit(kill)' and `exit(self(),kill)'.
> A summary of the setup: we have three processes, linked in a chain.
> 'a' is always trapping, 'b' may or may not be trapping, and 'c' is
> the one who dies by calling exit(Reason).
>  1. When 'b' is not trapping, and 'c' does exit(kill), we see a
>     report from 'a' that 'b' died with reason 'killed'.
>  2. When 'b' is trapping, and 'c' does exit(kill), 'b' survives
>     and reports that it sees the exit reason 'kill' from 'c'
>     (not 'killed').
> The question is: in case 2, why didn't 'b' die, when it apparently
> got a 'kill' message. This should be untrappable, which is why it is
> changed to 'killed' when it is propagated. But it was 'c' who died,
> so why wasn't the atom changed to 'killed'?
> If we change `exit(kill)' to `exit(self(),kill)' in 'c', we get the
> effect we expected: 'b' survives and reports that it sees 'killed'
> as the exit reason from 'c'.
> Then, a new question is why 'a' saw 'killed' in case 1 when 'b' is
> non-trapping. If 'c' dies in the same way in both, then doesn't
> 'b' get the same signal from 'c'? Apparently, it does, but since
> 'b' is not trapping, it doesn't matter what the atom is as long
> as it is something else than 'normal'. So 'b' dies due to an
> incoming 'kill', and this is then propagated as 'killed'.
> It seems that when a process does exit(kill) on itself, it causes
> a different outgoing signal than if it does exit(self(),kill).
> The former is not untrappable even though it has the reason 'kill',
> but if that in its turn causes another process to die, the atom
> will _then_ be rewritten to 'killed'.
> To me, it seems that this should be fixed so that exit(kill), even
> if it's an unusual case, should be propagated as 'killed'.
>     /Richard

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