lsof Command: Tutorial & Examples

List Open Files

Have you ever wondered which files are currently open on your Linux server? Or perhaps you've encountered a problem like a locked file that you can't delete or a process that refuses to terminate? Fear not! The lsof command is here to save the day. lsof (short for "list open files") is a powerful utility that allows you to explore the open files and processes on your system. It provides valuable insights into what files are in use, which processes have them open, and various other details that can help you diagnose and troubleshoot issues.

What does it do and how does it work?

lsof stands as a window into the inner workings of your Linux server. By default, it displays a comprehensive list of all open files in the system, including regular files, directories, network sockets, devices, and more. It extracts information from the /proc directory, which contains a wealth of information about running processes.

Not only does lsof show you which files are open, but it also reveals which processes have them open. This can be immensely helpful when you need to identify a misbehaving process or track down the culprit responsible for a file lock. It displays the process ID (PID) and user associated with each open file, allowing you to pinpoint the exact processes involved.

Why is it important?

Imagine you encounter a scenario where you're unable to unmount a filesystem because it's busy, and you're left scratching your head as to which process is causing the issue. This is where lsof comes to the rescue! By running lsof on the mountpoint, you can quickly identify which processes are accessing files within that filesystem, enabling you to take appropriate action. It provides an essential tool for system administrators, developers, and anyone seeking insights into file usage and process activity.

How to use it?

Using lsof is straightforward. Let's explore a few examples that demonstrate its power and versatility.

Example 1: List all open files

To get a comprehensive overview of all open files on your system, simply run the lsof command without any arguments:


This will display a long list of open files, including their associated processes, PIDs, and other details.

Example 2: Show files opened by a specific process

If you want to focus on a specific process, you can filter the output of lsof to display only the files opened by that process. Replace PID in the following command with the actual process ID:

lsof -p PID

This command will reveal all the files opened by the process identified by the given PID.

Example 3: Find processes using a specific file

Let's say you suspect a file is causing a problem, such as being locked or preventing unmounting. You can use lsof to identify the processes that have that file open:

lsof /path/to/file

Replace /path/to/file with the actual path to the file you're investigating. This command will show you all the processes that currently have the file open.

These are just a few examples of what lsof can do. It supports a wide range of options and filters, allowing you to fine-tune your queries and extract precisely the information you need.


lsof is an indispensable tool in the Linux system administrator's toolbox. Whether you're troubleshooting issues, monitoring file activity, or simply curious about the inner workings of your server, lsof provides a wealth of information about open files and processes. By leveraging its capabilities, you can diagnose and resolve problems with ease, ensuring the smooth operation of your server.

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