I am looking for a reliable way to find out the location in the filesystem of the program that runs when I enter a command.

ps -ef gives me list of all currently running processes (-e means every ; -f means full list with relevant parameters).

So, to find the location of the uname program, I tried

grep `uname -n &` `ps -ef`

I'm trying to catch uname -n's process ID (PID) and forward it to grep, which should return the line which contains that PID, so I could see which command is running at the moment.

I know there are commands like tee, pipes... but I haven't succeeded in combining them to achieve my goal.

I suppose there is some shell function which returns stdout of called function, something like:


so I could call:

grep stdout(uname -n &)  stdout(ps -ef).

What am I missing here?

  • 2
    I think you misunderstood the meaning of backticks aka Command Substitution. `uname -n &` gets replaced by the output of that very command, i.e. by job started (or something similar).
    – PerlDuck
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 17:50
  • 1
    Don't you really just want to know the commands that are called? If so asking for the PID just complicates the issue. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 0:37
  • 1
    When you do foo &, bash prints the PID, to stderr, not the command foo. What are you trying to accomplish here? This sounds like an XY problem.
    – muru
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 0:41
  • 1
    @Zanna Is this an XY problem where as the title says OP wants to know names of commands called but complicates the issue thinking it needs to be reverse engineered from PID's? Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 0:41
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Shell command for outputting absolute path of binary
    – Olorin
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


If all you want to know is the command location

If you want to know what directory the top level command is stored in you have a number of options:

$ which uname

$ type -a uname
uname is /bin/uname

$ locate uname
    (... SNIP dozens of Windows files on C & D ...)

The last option locate returns all files containing uname not just the program that is run from the command prompt.

strace - trace system calls and interrupts

You don't need the pid of commands called in order to find the names of various commands that are called by a function. With strace all the command names are displayed directly.

For your uname -n example the output is:

$ strace uname -n
execve("/bin/uname", ["uname", "-n"], [/* 62 vars */]) = 0
brk(NULL)                               = 0x2356000
access("/etc/ld.so.nohwcap", F_OK)      = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
access("/etc/ld.so.preload", R_OK)      = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
open("/etc/ld.so.cache", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = 3
fstat(3, {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=109073, ...}) = 0
mmap(NULL, 109073, PROT_READ, MAP_PRIVATE, 3, 0) = 0x7ff2f9a9f000
close(3)                                = 0
access("/etc/ld.so.nohwcap", F_OK)      = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
open("/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = 3
read(3, "\177ELF\2\1\1\3\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\3\0>\0\1\0\0\0P\t\2\0\0\0\0\0"..., 832) = 832
fstat(3, {st_mode=S_IFREG|0755, st_size=1868984, ...}) = 0
mmap(NULL, 4096, PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE, MAP_PRIVATE|MAP_ANONYMOUS, -1, 0) = 0x7ff2f9a9e000
mmap(NULL, 3971488, PROT_READ|PROT_EXEC, MAP_PRIVATE|MAP_DENYWRITE, 3, 0) = 0x7ff2f94cb000
mprotect(0x7ff2f968b000, 2097152, PROT_NONE) = 0
mmap(0x7ff2f988b000, 24576, PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE, MAP_PRIVATE|MAP_FIXED|MAP_DENYWRITE, 3, 0x1c0000) = 0x7ff2f988b000
mmap(0x7ff2f9891000, 14752, PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE, MAP_PRIVATE|MAP_FIXED|MAP_ANONYMOUS, -1, 0) = 0x7ff2f9891000
close(3)                                = 0
mmap(NULL, 4096, PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE, MAP_PRIVATE|MAP_ANONYMOUS, -1, 0) = 0x7ff2f9a9d000
mmap(NULL, 4096, PROT_READ|PROT_WRITE, MAP_PRIVATE|MAP_ANONYMOUS, -1, 0) = 0x7ff2f9a9c000
arch_prctl(ARCH_SET_FS, 0x7ff2f9a9d700) = 0
mprotect(0x7ff2f988b000, 16384, PROT_READ) = 0
mprotect(0x606000, 4096, PROT_READ)     = 0
mprotect(0x7ff2f9aba000, 4096, PROT_READ) = 0
munmap(0x7ff2f9a9f000, 109073)          = 0
brk(NULL)                               = 0x2356000
brk(0x2377000)                          = 0x2377000
open("/usr/lib/locale/locale-archive", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = 3
fstat(3, {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=10219008, ...}) = 0
mmap(NULL, 10219008, PROT_READ, MAP_PRIVATE, 3, 0) = 0x7ff2f8b0c000
close(3)                                = 0
uname({sysname="Linux", nodename="alien", ...}) = 0
fstat(1, {st_mode=S_IFCHR|0620, st_rdev=makedev(136, 2), ...}) = 0
write(1, "alien\n", 6alien
)                  = 6
close(1)                                = 0
close(2)                                = 0
exit_group(0)                           = ?
+++ exited with 0 +++

For more information refer to man strace:

STRACE(1)                           General Commands Manual                           STRACE(1)

       strace - trace system calls and signals

       strace  [-CdffhikqrtttTvVxxy]  [-In] [-bexecve] [-eexpr]...  [-acolumn] [-ofile] [-sstr‐
       size] [-Ppath]... -ppid... / [-D] [-Evar[=val]]... [-uusername] command [args]

       strace -c[df] [-In] [-bexecve] [-eexpr]...   [-Ooverhead]  [-Ssortby]  -ppid...  /  [-D]
       [-Evar[=val]]... [-uusername] command [args]

       In  the  simplest  case strace runs the specified command until it exits.  It intercepts
       and records the system calls which are called by a process and  the  signals  which  are
       received by a process.  The name of each system call, its arguments and its return value
       are printed on standard error or to the file specified with the -o option.

       strace is a useful diagnostic, instructional, and debugging  tool.   System  administra‐
       tors,  diagnosticians  and trouble-shooters will find it invaluable for solving problems
       with programs for which the source is not readily available since they do not need to be
       recompiled  in  order to trace them.  Students, hackers and the overly-curious will find
       that a great deal can be learned about a system and its system  calls  by  tracing  even
       ordinary  programs.   And  programmers will find that since system calls and signals are
       events that happen at the user/kernel interface, a close examination of this boundary is
       very  useful  for  bug  isolation, sanity checking and attempting to capture race condi‐

Above is just the beginning of manpage for strace

  • Thank you very much! I was trying to find out first line in strace uname -a command, and you were right that PID and grep just confuse folk.
    – mk1024
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 2:43
  • 2
    @MilosKalicanin what exactly in the first line did you want to know? It would be great if we could clarify the question to help people find this useful answer. (PS If this answer helped you, you can upvote and/or accept it.)
    – Zanna
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 8:34
  • 2
    @MilosKalicanin Zanna's suggestion to clarify your question also means it could be reopened and/or likely upvoted. Clarification could also result in different answers being posted that might be more helpful or shorter to the point. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 10:23
  • 3
    OK, all this story was about finding which command from filesystem runs when I type 'uname -a' in terminal. I just forgot that there is 'which' function has been already implemented in UNIX. Sorry about disturbing and my ignorance.
    – mk1024
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 12:34
  • @MilosKalicanin I appreciate your apology but I don't think it's necessary. Having worked with constantly changing computers for thirty+ years, I have learned and then forgotten more than I now know. Your question was not disturbing at all. In fact it helped some of us think about when questions should be reopened. Your question was closed and I see now it's been reopened (before I got a chance to vote to reopen). Also your question was negative voted at one time but is now at neutral zero. So please don't feel bad. Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 23:57

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