Every program that is running is called a process. These processes range from things like the X Window System to system programs (daemons) that are started when the computer boots. Every process runs as a particular user. Processes that are started at boot time usually run as root or nobody. Processes that you start will run as you. Processes started as other users will run as those users.
You have control over all the processes that you start. Additionally, root has control over all processes on the system, including those started by other users. Processes can be controlled and monitored through several programs, as well as some shell commands.
Programs started from the command line start up in the foreground. This allows you to see all the output of the program and interact with it. However, there are several occasions when you'd like the program to run without taking up your terminal. This is called running the program in the background, and there are a few ways to do it.
The first way to background a process is by adding an ampersand to the command line when you start the program. For example, assume you wanted to use the command line mp3 player amp to play a directory full of mp3s, but you needed to do something else on the same terminal. The following command line would start up amp in the background:
% amp *.mp3 &
The program will run as normal, and you are returned to a prompt.
The other way to background a process is to do so while it is running. First, start up a program. While it is running, hit Control+z. This suspends the process. A suspended process is basically paused. It momentarily stops running, but can be started up again at any time. Once you have suspended a process, you are returned to a prompt. You can background the process by typing:
Now the suspended process is running in the background.