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Understanding Bash fork() Bomb ~ :(){ :|:& };:

Can you explain the following bash code or bash fork() bomb?
:(){ :|:& };:

The fork bomb is a form of denial-of-service (DoS) attack against a Linux based system. It makes use of the fork operation.

:(){ :|:& };: is nothing but a bash function. This function get executed recursively. It is often used by sys admin to test user process limitations. Linux process limits can be configured via /etc/security/limits.conf and PAM.

Once a successful fork bomb has been activated in a system it may not be possible to resume normal operation without rebooting the system as the only solution to a fork bomb is to destroy all instances of it.

WARNING! These examples may crash your computer if executed.

Understanding :(){ :|:& };: fork() bomb code

:() – Defined the function called :. This function accepts no arguments. The syntax for bash function is as follows:

 echo 'Bar..'
 #do_something on $arg argument

fork() bomb is defined as follows:


:|: – Next it will call itself using programming technique called recursion and pipes the output to another call of the function ‘:’. The worst part is function get called two times to bomb your system.

& – Puts the function call in the background so child cannot die at all and start eating system resources.

; – Terminate the function definition

: – Call (run) the function aka set the fork() bomb.

Here is more human readable code:

bomb() { 
 bomb | bomb &
}; bomb

Properly configured Linux / UNIX box should not go down when fork() bomb sets off.

Related: How to: Prevent a fork bomb by limiting user process under Linux.

Update: Check out comment # 5 for more fork bomb examples under Perl, Windows XP and C.

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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • mastrboy November 26, 2007, 9:53 am

    i tested this on a fresh install of CentOS and it totaly crashed :P

    How about a nice “howto” for protecting against this attacks?

  • raj November 27, 2007, 12:01 am

    I second the vote for a nice howto.


  • queue November 27, 2007, 5:02 pm


    How to prevent a “fork bomb”.

  • Bharat November 28, 2007, 1:19 am

    Yes How to must be started, for the benefits of the innocent users, as the viruses are spread by entities whose brains are configured differently.

  • l33t November 28, 2007, 9:09 am

    Perl exmaple:

    perl -e "fork while fork" &

    Python example:

    import os

    Windows XP / Vista bat file example:

    start %0
    goto bomb

    UNIX style for Windows:


    C program example:

     int main() {   while(1)      fork();  } 

    Plz note that the fork bomb is a form of denial of service, so don’t run on production or unauthorized system.

  • Ofloo November 28, 2007, 11:42 am

    An other one is that when you have set a quota for your mailboxes and crontab is generating mail over and over eventually the quota will exceed, after a while the mailq will fill up with 1000’s of mail and the system will crash.

  • kunal November 28, 2007, 11:52 am


    i run it on my testing server and it start consuming my server process.
    so one thing is clear from this form bomb that it starting issuing new processes rather than threads.

    how we prevent our sites from such fork attacks

    Thanks in advance

    • Toni Kingo January 5, 2013, 6:39 pm

      Yes. And when I don’t tie my shoe laces, I can fall…

      And, and, … And, … when I eat too much, I get stomach ache

  • nixCraft November 28, 2007, 12:56 pm
  • Bash November 28, 2007, 2:27 pm

    I tried this on a virtual instance of SLAX, and it totally killed it.

  • bort December 5, 2007, 4:21 pm

    perl inline…

    perl -e “fork while fork” &

  • ATOzTOA January 30, 2008, 4:15 am

    Sleek code :)

    I tried on FC4. Took only 1 minute as root.

    In WinXP, I waited till 7 minutes. Displayed some errors and all, but was responding. Tried MS Word, Task Manager, nothing could be executed. The machine was useless untill reset.

  • bradley March 31, 2008, 6:06 pm

    This works very quickly on all windows:

    %0 | %0
    goto bomb

  • Joe November 13, 2008, 11:04 pm

    This works faster on all windows:

    start %0
    goto bomb

  • sharfah November 22, 2008, 2:42 pm

    A fork bomb process which can no longer fork exits. The following short Z Shell code will typically get rid of the above fork bomb in about a minute:

    while (sleep 100 &!) do; done

    It keeps trying and will eventually start a new do-nothing process; Each new do-nothing process reduces the number of rampant “fork bomb” processes by one, until eventually all of them are eradicated, at which point the do-nothing processes can exit.

  • stealth August 29, 2009, 9:00 pm

    Use ulimit -u 30 (where 30 it is a max number of process ) to protect yourself from this attack(or config your limits.conf)

  • Peter September 28, 2009, 3:55 pm

    That would make a VERY geeky tattoo.

    :(){ :|:& };:

  • Edward October 17, 2009, 1:20 pm

    This did 100% of nothing on my AuroraUX^[1] machine.
    Load went up for about min to min and a half, then the kernel killed the process for me.
    Silly Linux..
    [1] – http://www.auroraux.org/

    • PyrexKidd June 17, 2010, 6:15 pm

      On my Ubuntu 10.04 LTS the fork bomb launched about 2500 processes and then my kernel killed it. Total time ~< 5 min.

  • Marc November 20, 2009, 6:33 pm

    How would i send a forkbomb/ebomb to an ip without requiring passwords like the ones controled by keys when u stimotaunisusley press keys it opens up stuff on the targets ip.

  • Victor Chaves August 12, 2010, 7:31 pm

    Debian 5 is immune to this fork bomb.

  • newklear November 17, 2010, 8:25 pm

    PCLinuxOS is immune

  • Änönymöüs January 11, 2011, 4:26 pm

    WARNING! These examples may crash your computer if executed.

    They WILL crash your comp.
    Win7 – batch WILL kill (also input lag)

  • Ellisgeek March 4, 2011, 1:22 am

    try this on for (lack) of size:


    Very tiny fork bomb :D

  • modchan October 7, 2011, 10:47 am

    Tried on Mac OS X 10.7.1 from root, bomb was killed in 0.003 s.

  • Tryme December 1, 2011, 3:52 pm
    :(){ : | : & }; : 
    • :() is a function name with the open and close parenthesis representing no parameters. The body of this function is within the braces {}.
    • : | : is a recursive call since : is the name of the function. The function gets called twice and is piping input from one call to the other.
    • & backgrounds the previous function call so that it will not die.
    • ; finishes the function declaration.
    • : Calls the function just defined.
  • StarDust January 6, 2012, 11:52 am

    I did the %0|%0 command in Windows XP. Type into Notepad and saved as FORKBOMB.BAT then double-clicked. Fortunately, I already had task manager running, so I right-clicked explorer and hit “end process tree” which left me with a blank desktop. I then used Alt+Ctrl+Del to reopen Task Manager and from there, typed explorer.exe in the RUN dialog to get Windows back up without rebooting.

    If you add an additional command, for example:

    PING [insert url of hated website]

    you can spam out DOS attacks as well while you watch your computer crash. Seriously people, don’t do that…

  • Stephen Wood July 24, 2012, 11:15 pm

    It’s almost a right-of-passage to get tricked into running this command when you get your first system. Part of unwinding why your system just crashed actually teaches you quite a bit about unix pipes.

    For that reason I’m partly sad that in at least Ubuntu 12.04, the default ulimit setting prevents the bomb from taking down the system.

  • mark February 25, 2014, 10:36 pm

    There is a minimal “cure” for this.

    Classic REISUB Linux magic key combo always works for rebooting computer, however, using Alt+SysRq+K will stop all processes on current tty. In the case it doesn’t work, probably you’re on X server and need to use Alt+SysRq+RK.

  • sugatang itlog July 22, 2014, 3:18 pm

    Ahihi! CoreOS is immune. Though the system was unresponsive for 2 minutes.

    • sugatang itlog July 22, 2014, 3:33 pm

      Ooops! Totally crashed. fork: Cannot allocate memory. Then Call Trace. Then, not responding to anything, just call trace. Awesome! Is this second to vmsplice?

      More power nixCraft!

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