sigaction() - Unix, Linux System Call
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sigaction() - Unix, Linux System Call

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sigaction - examine and change a signal action


#include <signal.h>

int sigaction(int signum, const struct sigaction *act, struct sigaction *oldact);


The sigaction() system call is used to change the action taken by a process on receipt of a specific signal.

signum specifies the signal and can be any valid signal except SIGKILL and SIGSTOP.

If act is non-null, the new action for signal signum is installed from act. If oldact is non-null, the previous action is saved in oldact.

The sigaction structure is defined as something like

struct sigaction {
    void (*sa_handler)(int);
    void (*sa_sigaction)(int, siginfo_t *, void *);
    sigset_t sa_mask;
    int sa_flags;
    void (*sa_restorer)(void);

On some architectures a union is involved: do not assign to both sa_handler and sa_sigaction.

The sa_restorer element is obsolete and should not be used. POSIX does not specify a sa_restorer element.

sa_handler specifies the action to be associated with signum and may be SIG_DFL for the default action, SIG_IGN to ignore this signal, or a pointer to a signal handling function. This function receives the signal number as its only argument.

If SA_SIGINFO is specified in sa_flags, then sa_sigaction (instead of sa_handler) specifies the signal-handling function for signum. This function receives the signal number as its first argument, a pointer to a siginfo_t as its second argument and a pointer to a ucontext_t (cast to void *) as its third argument.

sa_mask gives a mask of signals which should be blocked during execution of the signal handler. In addition, the signal which triggered the handler will be blocked, unless the SA_NODEFER flag is used.

sa_flags specifies a set of flags which modify the behaviour of the signal handling process. It is formed by the bitwise OR of zero or more of the following:

  If signum is SIGCHLD, do not receive notification when child processes stop (i.e., when they receive one of SIGSTOP, SIGTSTP, SIGTTIN or SIGTTOU) or resume (i.e., they receive SIGCONT) (see wait(2)).
  (Linux 2.6 and later) If signum is SIGCHLD, do not transform children into zombies when they terminate. See also waitpid(2).
  Restore the signal action to the default state once the signal handler has been called. SA_ONESHOT is an obsolete, non-standard synonym for this flag.
  Call the signal handler on an alternate signal stack provided by sigaltstack(2). If an alternate stack is not available, the default stack will be used.
  Provide behaviour compatible with BSD signal semantics by making certain system calls restartable across signals.
  Do not prevent the signal from being received from within its own signal handler. SA_NOMASK is an obsolete, non-standard synonym for this flag.
  The signal handler takes 3 arguments, not one. In this case, sa_sigaction should be set instead of sa_handler. (The sa_sigaction field was added in Linux 2.1.86.)

The siginfo_t parameter to sa_sigaction is a struct with the following elements

siginfo_t {
    int      si_signo;  /* Signal number */
    int      si_errno;  /* An errno value */
    int      si_code;   /* Signal code */
    pid_t    si_pid;    /* Sending process ID */
    uid_t    si_uid;    /* Real user ID of sending process */
    int      si_status; /* Exit value or signal */
    clock_t  si_utime;  /* User time consumed */
    clock_t  si_stime;  /* System time consumed */
    sigval_t si_value;  /* Signal value */
    int      si_int;    /* POSIX.1b signal */
    void *   si_ptr;    /* POSIX.1b signal */
    void *   si_addr;   /* Memory location which caused fault */
    int      si_band;   /* Band event */
    int      si_fd;     /* File descriptor */

si_signo, si_errno and si_code are defined for all signals. (si_signo is unused on Linux.) The rest of the struct may be a union, so that one should only read the fields that are meaningful for the given signal. POSIX.1b signals and SIGCHLD fill in si_pid and si_uid. SIGCHLD also fills in si_status, si_utime and si_stime. si_int and si_ptr are specified by the sender of the POSIX.1b signal. SIGILL, SIGFPE, SIGSEGV, and SIGBUS fill in si_addr with the address of the fault. SIGPOLL fills in si_band and si_fd.

si_code indicates why this signal was sent. It is a value, not a bitmask. The values which are possible for any signal are listed in this table:

ValueSignal origin
SI_USERkill(), sigsend(), or raise()
SI_KERNELThe kernel
SI_TIMERPOSIX timer expired
SI_MESGQPOSIX message queue state changed (since Linux 2.6.6)
SI_TKILLtkill() or tgkill() (since Linux 2.4.19)

ILL_ILLOPCillegal opcode
ILL_ILLOPNillegal operand
ILL_ILLADRillegal addressing mode
ILL_ILLTRPillegal trap
ILL_PRVOPCprivileged opcode
ILL_PRVREGprivileged register
ILL_COPROCcoprocessor error
ILL_BADSTKinternal stack error

FPE_INTDIVinteger divide by zero
FPE_INTOVFinteger overflow
FPE_FLTDIVfloating point divide by zero
FPE_FLTOVFfloating point overflow
FPE_FLTUNDfloating point underflow
FPE_FLTRESfloating point inexact result
FPE_FLTINVfloating point invalid operation
FPE_FLTSUBsubscript out of range

SEGV_MAPERRaddress not mapped to object
SEGV_ACCERRinvalid permissions for mapped object

BUS_ADRALNinvalid address alignment
BUS_ADRERRnon-existent physical address
BUS_OBJERRobject specific hardware error

TRAP_BRKPTprocess breakpoint
TRAP_TRACEprocess trace trap

CLD_EXITEDchild has exited
CLD_KILLEDchild was killed
CLD_DUMPEDchild terminated abnormally
CLD_TRAPPEDtraced child has trapped
CLD_STOPPEDchild has stopped
CLD_CONTINUEDstopped child has continued (since Linux 2.6.9)

POLL_INdata input available
POLL_OUToutput buffers available
POLL_MSGinput message available
POLL_ERRi/o error
POLL_PRIhigh priority input available
POLL_HUPdevice disconnected


sigaction() returns 0 on success and -1 on error.


EFAULT act or oldact points to memory which is not a valid part of the process address space.
EINVAL An invalid signal was specified. This will also be generated if an attempt is made to change the action for SIGKILL or SIGSTOP, which cannot be caught or ignored.


According to POSIX, the behaviour of a process is undefined after it ignores a SIGFPE, SIGILL, or SIGSEGV signal that was not generated by kill() or raise(). Integer division by zero has undefined result. On some architectures it will generate a SIGFPE signal. (Also dividing the most negative integer by -1 may generate SIGFPE.) Ignoring this signal might lead to an endless loop.

POSIX.1-1990 disallowed setting the action for SIGCHLD to SIG_IGN. POSIX.1-2001 allows this possibility, so that ignoring SIGCHLD can be used to prevent the creation of zombies (see wait(2)). Nevertheless, the historical BSD and System V behaviours for ignoring SIGCHLD differ, so that the only completely portable method of ensuring that terminated children do not become zombies is to catch the SIGCHLD signal and perform a wait(2) or similar.

POSIX.1-1990 only specified SA_NOCLDSTOP. POSIX.1-2001 added SA_NOCLDWAIT, SA_RESETHAND, SA_NODEFER, and SA_SIGINFO. Use of these latter values in sa_flags may be less portable in applications intended for older Unix implementations.

Support for SA_SIGINFO was added in Linux 2.2.

The SA_RESETHAND flag is compatible with the SVr4 flag of the same name.

The SA_NODEFER flag is compatible with the SVr4 flag of the same name under kernels 1.3.9 and newer. On older kernels the Linux implementation allowed the receipt of any signal, not just the one we are installing (effectively overriding any sa_mask settings).

sigaction() can be called with a null second argument to query the current signal handler. It can also be used to check whether a given signal is valid for the current machine by calling it with null second and third arguments.

It is not possible to block SIGKILL or SIGSTOP (by specifying them in sa_mask). Attempts to do so are silently ignored.

See sigsetops(3) for details on manipulating signal sets.


In kernels up to and including 2.6.13, specifying SA_NODEFER in sa_flags preventing not only the delivered signal from being masked during execution of the handler, but also the signals specified in sa_mask. This bug is was fixed in kernel 2.6.14.


POSIX.1-2001, SVr4.


Before the introduction of SA_SIGINFO it was also possible to get some additional information, namely by using a sa_handler with second argument of type struct sigcontext. See the relevant kernel sources for details. This use is obsolete now.


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