#include <sys/time.h>

int getitimer(int which, struct itimerval *curr_value);

int setitimer(int which, const struct itimerval *new_value,
              struct itimerval *old_value);


The system provides each process with three interval timers, each decrementing in a distinct time domain. When a timer expires, a signal is sent to the process, and the timer is reset to the specified interval (if nonzero).


decrements in real time, and delivers SIGALRM upon expiration.


decrements only when the process is executing, and delivers SIGVTALRM upon expiration.


decrements both when the process executes and when the system is executing on behalf of the process. Coupled with ITIMER_VIRTUAL, this timer is usually used to profile the time spent by the application in user and kernel space. SIGPROF is delivered upon expiration.

Timer values are defined by the following structures:

struct itimerval {
    struct timeval it_interval; /* Interval for periodic timer */
    struct timeval it_value;    /* Time until next expiration */

struct timeval {
    time_t      tv_sec;         /* seconds */
    suseconds_t tv_usec;        /* microseconds */

The function getitimer() fills the structure pointed to by curr_value with the current value (i.e., the amount of time remaining until the next expiration) of the timer specified by which (one of ITIMER_REAL, ITIMER_VIRTUAL, or ITIMER_PROF). The subfields of the field it_value are set to the amount of time remaining on the timer, or zero if the timer is disabled. The it_interval field is set to the timer interval (period); a value of zero returned in (both subfields of) this field indicates that this is a single-shot timer.

The function setitimer() sets the specified timer to the value in new_value. If old_value is non-NULL, the old value of the timer (i.e., the same information as returned by getitimer()) is stored there.

Timers decrement from it_value to zero, generate a signal, and reset to it_interval. A timer which is set to zero (it_value is zero or the timer expires and it_interval is zero) stops.

Both tv_sec and tv_usec are significant in determining the duration of a timer.

Timers will never expire before the requested time, but may expire some (short) time afterward, which depends on the system timer resolution and on the system load; see time(7). (But see BUGS below.) Upon expiration, a signal will be generated and the timer reset. If the timer expires while the process is active (always true for ITIMER_VIRTUAL), the signal will be delivered immediately when generated. Otherwise, the delivery will be offset by a small time dependent on the system loading.


On success, zero is returned. On error, -1 is returned, and errno is set appropriately.



new_value, old_value, or curr_value is not valid a pointer.


which is not one of ITIMER_REAL, ITIMER_VIRTUAL, or ITIMER_PROF; or (since Linux 2.6.22) one of the tv_usec fields in the structure pointed to by new_value contains a value outside the range 0 to 999999.


POSIX.1-2001, SVr4, 4.4BSD (this call first appeared in 4.2BSD). POSIX.1-2008 marks getitimer() and setitimer() obsolete, recommending the use of the POSIX timers API (timer_gettime(2), timer_settime(2), etc.) instead.


A child created via fork(2) does not inherit its parent's interval timers. Interval timers are preserved across an execve(2).

POSIX.1 leaves the interaction between setitimer() and the three interfaces alarm(2), sleep(3), and usleep(3) unspecified.

The standards are silent on the meaning of the call:

    setitimer(which, NULL, &old_value);

Many systems (Solaris, the BSDs, and perhaps others) treat this as equivalent to:

    getitimer(which, &old_value);

In Linux, this is treated as being equivalent to a call in which the new_value fields are zero; that is, the timer is disabled. Don't use this Linux misfeature: it is nonportable and unnecessary.


The generation and delivery of a signal are distinct, and only one instance of each of the signals listed above may be pending for a process. Under very heavy loading, an ITIMER_REAL timer may expire before the signal from a previous expiration has been delivered. The second signal in such an event will be lost.

On Linux kernels before 2.6.16, timer values are represented in jiffies. If a request is made set a timer with a value whose jiffies representation exceeds MAX_SEC_IN_JIFFIES (defined in include/linux/jiffies.h), then the timer is silently truncated to this ceiling value. On Linux/i386 (where, since Linux 2.6.13, the default jiffy is 0.004 seconds), this means that the ceiling value for a timer is approximately 99.42 days. Since Linux 2.6.16, the kernel uses a different internal representation for times, and this ceiling is removed.

On certain systems (including i386), Linux kernels before version 2.6.12 have a bug which will produce premature timer expirations of up to one jiffy under some circumstances. This bug is fixed in kernel 2.6.12.

POSIX.1-2001 says that setitimer() should fail if a tv_usec value is specified that is outside of the range 0 to 999999. However, in kernels up to and including 2.6.21, Linux does not give an error, but instead silently adjusts the corresponding seconds value for the timer. From kernel 2.6.22 onward, this nonconformance has been repaired: an improper tv_usec value results in an EINVAL error.

RELATED TO getitimer…


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