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perlfork - Perl's fork() emulation


NOTE:  As of the 5.8.0 release, fork() emulation has considerably
matured.  However, there are still a few known bugs and differences
from real fork() that might affect you.  See the "BUGS" and

Perl provides a fork() keyword that corresponds to the Unix system call of the same name. On most Unix-like platforms where the fork() system call is available, Perl's fork() simply calls it.

On some platforms such as Windows where the fork() system call is not available, Perl can be built to emulate fork() at the interpreter level. While the emulation is designed to be as compatible as possible with the real fork() at the level of the Perl program, there are certain important differences that stem from the fact that all the pseudo child "processes" created this way live in the same real process as far as the operating system is concerned.

This document provides a general overview of the capabilities and limitations of the fork() emulation. Note that the issues discussed here are not applicable to platforms where a real fork() is available and Perl has been configured to use it.


The fork() emulation is implemented at the level of the Perl interpreter. What this means in general is that running fork() will actually clone the running interpreter and all its state, and run the cloned interpreter in a separate thread, beginning execution in the new thread just after the point where the fork() was called in the parent. We will refer to the thread that implements this child "process" as the pseudo-process.

To the Perl program that called fork(), all this is designed to be transparent. The parent returns from the fork() with a pseudo-process ID that can be subsequently used in any process-manipulation functions; the child returns from the fork() with a value of 0 to signify that it is the child pseudo-process.

Behavior of other Perl features in forked pseudo-processes

Most Perl features behave in a natural way within pseudo-processes.

Resource limits

In the eyes of the operating system, pseudo-processes created via the fork() emulation are simply threads in the same process. This means that any process-level limits imposed by the operating system apply to all pseudo-processes taken together. This includes any limits imposed by the operating system on the number of open file, directory and socket handles, limits on disk space usage, limits on memory size, limits on CPU utilization etc.

Killing the parent process

If the parent process is killed (either using Perl's kill() builtin, or using some external means) all the pseudo-processes are killed as well, and the whole process exits.

Lifetime of the parent process and pseudo-processes

During the normal course of events, the parent process and every pseudo-process started by it will wait for their respective pseudo-children to complete before they exit. This means that the parent and every pseudo-child created by it that is also a pseudo-parent will only exit after their pseudo-children have exited.

Starting with Perl 5.14 a parent will not wait() automatically for any child that has been signalled with kill('TERM', ...) to avoid a deadlock in case the child is blocking on I/O and never receives the signal.



In portable Perl code, kill(9, $child) must not be used on forked processes. Killing a forked process is unsafe and has unpredictable results. See "kill()", above.



Support for concurrent interpreters and the fork() emulation was implemented by ActiveState, with funding from Microsoft Corporation.

This document is authored and maintained by Gurusamy Sarathy <>.


"fork" in perlfunc, perlipc