int getpriority(int which, int who);
int setpriority(int which, int who, int prio);
The value which is one of PRIO_PROCESS, PRIO_PGRP, or PRIO_USER, and who is interpreted relative to which (a process identifier for PRIO_PROCESS, process group identifier for PRIO_PGRP, and a user ID for PRIO_USER). A zero value for who denotes (respectively) the calling process, the process group of the calling process, or the real user ID of the calling process. Prio is a value in the range -20 to 19 (but see the Notes below). The default priority is 0; lower priorities cause more favorable scheduling.
The getpriority() call returns the highest priority (lowest numerical value) enjoyed by any of the specified processes. The setpriority() call sets the priorities of all of the specified processes to the specified value. Only the superuser may lower priorities.
In addition to the errors indicated above, setpriority() may fail if:
The degree to which their relative nice value affects the scheduling of processes varies across UNIX systems, and, on Linux, across kernel versions. Starting with kernel 2.6.23, Linux adopted an algorithm that causes relative differences in nice values to have a much stronger effect. This causes very low nice values (+19) to truly provide little CPU to a process whenever there is any other higher priority load on the system, and makes high nice values (-20) deliver most of the CPU to applications that require it (e.g., some audio applications).
The details on the condition for EPERM depend on the system. The above description is what POSIX.1-2001 says, and seems to be followed on all System V-like systems. Linux kernels before 2.6.12 required the real or effective user ID of the caller to match the real user of the process who (instead of its effective user ID). Linux 2.6.12 and later require the effective user ID of the caller to match the real or effective user ID of the process who. All BSD-like systems (SunOS 4.1.3, Ultrix 4.2, 4.3BSD, FreeBSD 4.3, OpenBSD-2.5, ...) behave in the same manner as Linux 2.6.12 and later.
The actual priority range varies between kernel versions. Linux before 1.3.36 had -infinity..15. Since kernel 1.3.43, Linux has the range -20..19. Within the kernel, nice values are actually represented using the corresponding range 40..1 (since negative numbers are error codes) and these are the values employed by the setpriority() and getpriority() system calls. The glibc wrapper functions for these system calls handle the translations between the user-land and kernel representations of the nice value according to the formula unice = 20 - knice.
On some systems, the range of nice values is -20..20.
Including <sys/time.h> is not required these days, but increases portability. (Indeed, <sys/resource.h> defines the rusage structure with fields of type struct timeval defined in <sys/time.h>.)
Documentation/scheduler/sched-nice-design.txt in the Linux kernel source tree (since Linux 2.6.23)