The Open Group Base Specifications Issue 7
IEEE Std 1003.1, 2013 Edition
Copyright © 2001-2013 The IEEE and The Open Group


nice - invoke a utility with an altered nice value


nice [-n increment] utility [argument...]


The nice utility shall invoke a utility, requesting that it be run with a different nice value (see XBD Nice Value). With no options, the executed utility shall be run with a nice value that is some implementation-defined quantity greater than or equal to the nice value of the current process. If the user lacks appropriate privileges to affect the nice value in the requested manner, the nice utility shall not affect the nice value; in this case, a warning message may be written to standard error, but this shall not prevent the invocation of utility or affect the exit status.


The nice utility shall conform to XBD Utility Syntax Guidelines .

The following option is supported:

-n  increment
A positive or negative decimal integer which shall have the same effect on the execution of the utility as if the utility had called the nice() function with the numeric value of the increment option-argument.


The following operands shall be supported:

The name of a utility that is to be invoked. If the utility operand names any of the special built-in utilities in Special Built-In Utilities, the results are undefined.
Any string to be supplied as an argument when invoking the utility named by the utility operand.


Not used.




The following environment variables shall affect the execution of nice:

Provide a default value for the internationalization variables that are unset or null. (See XBD Internationalization Variables for the precedence of internationalization variables used to determine the values of locale categories.)
If set to a non-empty string value, override the values of all the other internationalization variables.
Determine the locale for the interpretation of sequences of bytes of text data as characters (for example, single-byte as opposed to multi-byte characters in arguments).
Determine the locale that should be used to affect the format and contents of diagnostic messages written to standard error.
[XSI] [Option Start] Determine the location of message catalogs for the processing of LC_MESSAGES. [Option End]
Determine the search path used to locate the utility to be invoked. See XBD Environment Variables.




Not used.


The standard error shall be used only for diagnostic messages.






If utility is invoked, the exit status of nice shall be the exit status of utility; otherwise, the nice utility shall exit with one of the following values:

An error occurred in the nice utility.
The utility specified by utility was found but could not be invoked.
The utility specified by utility could not be found.



The following sections are informative.


The only guaranteed portable uses of this utility are:

nice utility
Run utility with the default higher or equal nice value.
nice  -n  <positive integer> utility
Run utility with a higher nice value.

On some implementations they have no discernible effect on the invoked utility and on some others they are exactly equivalent.

Historical systems have frequently supported the <positive integer> up to 20. Since there is no error penalty associated with guessing a number that is too high, users without access to the system conformance document (to see what limits are actually in place) could use the historical 1 to 20 range or attempt to use very large numbers if the job should be truly low priority.

The nice value of a process can be displayed using the command:

ps -o nice

The command, env, nice, nohup, time, and xargs utilities have been specified to use exit code 127 if an error occurs so that applications can distinguish "failure to find a utility" from "invoked utility exited with an error indication". The value 127 was chosen because it is not commonly used for other meanings; most utilities use small values for "normal error conditions" and the values above 128 can be confused with termination due to receipt of a signal. The value 126 was chosen in a similar manner to indicate that the utility could be found, but not invoked. Some scripts produce meaningful error messages differentiating the 126 and 127 cases. The distinction between exit codes 126 and 127 is based on KornShell practice that uses 127 when all attempts to exec the utility fail with [ENOENT], and uses 126 when any attempt to exec the utility fails for any other reason.




The 4.3 BSD version of nice does not check whether increment is a valid decimal integer. The command nice -x utility, for example, would be treated the same as the command nice --1 utility. If the user does not have appropriate privileges, this results in a "permission denied" error. This is considered a bug.

When a user without appropriate privileges gives a negative increment, System V treats it like the command nice -0 utility, while 4.3 BSD writes a "permission denied" message and does not run the utility. The standard specifies the System V behavior together with an optional BSD-style "permission denied" message.

The C shell has a built-in version of nice that has a different interface from the one described in this volume of POSIX.1-2008.

The term "utility" is used, rather than "command", to highlight the fact that shell compound commands, pipelines, and so on, cannot be used. Special built-ins also cannot be used. However, "utility" includes user application programs and shell scripts, not just utilities defined in this volume of POSIX.1-2008.

Historical implementations of nice provide a nice value range of 40 or 41 discrete steps, with the default nice value being the midpoint of that range. By default, they raise the nice value of the executed utility by 10.

Some historical documentation states that the increment value must be within a fixed range. This is misleading; the valid increment values on any invocation are determined by the current process nice value, which is not always the default.

The definition of nice value is not intended to suggest that all processes in a system have priorities that are comparable. Scheduling policy extensions such as the realtime priorities in the System Interfaces volume of POSIX.1-2008 make the notion of a single underlying priority for all scheduling policies problematic. Some implementations may implement the nice-related features to affect all processes on the system, others to affect just the general time-sharing activities implied by this volume of POSIX.1-2008, and others may have no effect at all. Because of the use of "implementation-defined" in nice and renice, a wide range of implementation strategies are possible.

Earlier versions of this standard allowed a - increment option. This form is no longer specified by POSIX.1-2008 but may be present in some implementations.




Shell Command Language, renice

XBD Nice Value, Environment Variables, Utility Syntax Guidelines

XSH nice


First released in Issue 4.

Issue 6

This utility is marked as part of the User Portability Utilities option.

The obsolescent SYNOPSIS is removed.

IEEE Std 1003.1-2001/Cor 2-2004, item XCU/TC2/D6/18 is applied, deleting a paragraph of RATIONALE that referred to text no longer in the standard.

Issue 7

Austin Group Interpretation 1003.1-2001 #027 is applied.

SD5-XCU-ERN-32 and SD5-XCU-ERN-33 are applied, updating the DESCRIPTION, APPLICATION USAGE, and RATIONALE sections.

The nice utility is moved from the User Portability Utilities option to the Base. User Portability Utilities is now an option for interactive utilities.

End of informative text.


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