I am trying to figure out a way through the Windows command line to determine if a process has no parent.

I know all processes technically have a parent that is controlled by the OS or whatever, but for the sake of simplicity it "has no parent". For instance, if you open an explorer window, it will show up in Process Explorer at the top of its process tree.

When I do a wmic query on the process, however, I get a PID for 'parentProcessPID'. When I try and look up that PID using tasklist, it says that PID is not recognized. I have looked at a couple of processes like this and they seem to have different parent processes that are all inaccessible through tasklist. If a process has a parent process that is inaccessible through tasklist, does that mean it is at the "top" of its process tree?

I am asking because I am trying to differentiate between a program running by itself and the same program running as a child process of another program.

For example:

Let's say I go into the Windows start menu and open up an explorer window. Then, I open up a cmd window and type: explorer.exe. I now have two explorer.exe processes. One is a child process of cmd.exe and one is a stand alone process. I want to be able, through a wmic or tasklist query, to single out all explorer.exe processes that are a stand-alone process. So, the process I started through the Windows start menu should be returned and not the process started by cmd.exe.

I am running into the issue that every process has a parent process ID, and I do not know how to differentiate between a parent process coming from a program or the parent process coming from a process related to the OS. If I can do the following, that would be great:


wmic process where name=explorer.exe get parentProcessID,processID
tasklist /fi "PID eq <parentProcessID>" 2>&1> log.txt
if(log.txt contains "INFO: No tasks are running which match the specified criteria."){
    // Parent PID is not recognized by tasklist
    // Do something

But I am unsure if my logic is correct.

1 Answer 1


I am not sure how to do it from command line, but I wrote this to do some filtering of OS related processes from PowerShell. Maybe it will give you an idea. It skips items owned by service, system and null.

gwmi win32_process |select ProcessID,ParentProcessID,Name, @{l="Username";e={$_.getowner().user}}|where {$_.Username -ne "SYSTEM"} | where {$_.Username -ne "LOCAL SERVICE"} | where {$_.Username -ne "NETWORK SERVICE"} | where {$_.Username -ne $null} |Sort-Object ProcessID | ft -AutoSize


    ProcessID ParentProcessID Name            Username
    --------- --------------- ----            --------
     2136     3460            notepad.exe     KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     2504     3460            firefox.exe     KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     2792      700            dllhost.exe     KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     2816     4232            conhost.exe     KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     2916     3460            powershell.exe  KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     3128     3460            notepad.exe     KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     3180      576            taskhost.exe    KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     3196     4308            vmware-tray.exe KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     3460     4392            explorer.exe    KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     3644     4636            vmware-vmx.exe  KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     3696     3460            mplayerc.exe    KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     4636     3196            vmware.exe      KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
     4828     3460            notepad.exe     KNUCKLE-DRAGGER
  • and you can see most items in the list are owned by 3460 which is my explorer.exe Dec 16, 2013 at 17:41
  • I guess in my example, all processes would not be owned by system, local service, or network service. But, all processes I am trying to look at have actually been created by a Windows service running under the LOCAL SYSTEM user. So the differentiation have to work for both types of processes started in session 0 under the local system user.
    – user972276
    Dec 16, 2013 at 17:51
  • You need to look at which processes have a parent process ID that doesn't exist. I.e., if explorer.exe's parent process is listed as PPID 5072, but there is no process with a PID of 5072 running on the system, then you have an unparented process. Dec 16, 2013 at 18:38
  • so create one GWMI of parent id's filtering just the processes you want to check, then run a second GWMI of all pids and foreach on the list of parent id's from the first query. The ones that don't have match are $profit. Dec 17, 2013 at 6:28

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