FreeKB - How to troubleshoot high CPU in Linux
How to troubleshoot high CPU in Linux

The top and sar commands are your best friends when attempting to determine what processes are using the majority of the CPU. By default, top is real time, meaning that the top output will refresh every few seconds. The -n 1 option can be used to display a snap shot of top.

top -n 1


Sometimes, simply issuing the top command will spot one or more processings using the majority of the CPU. In this example, a Java process is using 90% of the CPU.

PID    User   PR  NI     VIRT     RES     SHR   S  %CPU  %MEM    TIME+   COMMANDS
4594   root   20   0   417768  144754    5803   S  90.0   5.2  0:41:49       Java


By default, top will only return the results that fit the current console window. The -b (batch) flag can be used to return the full top output.

top -b -n 1


Additionally, the -o option can be used to sort the output on a specific column. In this example, the output will be sorted on the %CPU column (which is the default anyways).

top -b -n 1 -o %CPU


If you need to capture the CPU over a period of time, such as over a 24 hour period, a script could be invoked once every minute, where the script outputs the overall CPU average to a file. In this example, a BASH shell script will output the CPU average to a file named cpu.txt.

date=$(date +%Y%m%d)
time=$(date +%H%M%S)
cpu=$(top -b -n 1 | grep ^%Cpu | awk '{print $2}')
echo [$date.$time] CPU Usage = ${cpu}% | tee -a cpu.txt


Running this script will produce a TXT file that contains something like this.

[20210708.214739] CPU Usage = 60.0%
[20210708.214746] CPU Usage = 70.4%


Better yet, this BASH script will also output the processes using more than 0.0% CPU.

date=$(date +%Y%m%d)
time=$(date +%H%M%S)
cpu=$(top -b -n 1 | grep ^%Cpu | awk '{print $2}')
topprocesses=$(top -b -n 1 | egrep -v '^(Tasks|%Cpu|KiB|   PID)' | sed '/^$/d' | sed '/^top/d' | awk '{print $9 " " $12}' | grep -v ^0.0 | awk '{print $2 "="$1"%"}' | grep -v ^top | sed ':label; N; $! b label; s|\n| |g')
echo "[$date.$time] CPU Average = ${cpu}% ($topprocesses)" | tee -a cpu.txt


This script could then be scheduled to run once every minute via a crontab job, something like this.

* * * * * bash /path/to/


One common cause of high CPU is a cron job that runs commands that cause high CPU. Check your cron table (crontab) to see if a scheduled job correlates to the time when there is high CPU. For example, perhaps a crontab job is creating gzip or bzip2 compressed archives of a certain directory, such as /etc, which may cause high CPU while the job is running.

Another cause of high CPU is an application that is doing something to use a lot of CPU. For example, if you have a web server (apache httpd ngnix) or an application server (tomcat websphere) installed on the system, the web app may be using excessive CPU.

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