13. Systemd

Systemd is an important set ot tools and processes related to booting Linux, starting and stopping of services, mounting filesystems, and various other system tasks.

Most modern Linux systems have switched to using Systemd in recent years, this has resulted in many distributions becoming a lot more like one another, where before there were many variations in startup-, service- and resource-management. So most of this chapter will be relevant for Debian versions 8 and higher, centos and redhat version 7 and up, and ubuntu version 16.x

13.1. Systemd as pid-1

Unix systems usually start a single ‘master’ process, which takes care of starting other processes and services. When this initial process stops, the system becomes unusable. This process was generally named /sbin/init. Systemd also performs the task of the init-process, and you can find it running on any systemd-enabled system with process-id 1.

Systemd’s tasks as init consist of starting processes, keeping track of these processes and any child-processes started from these, killing processes and cleaning up after them, and finally shutting down or restarting the system.

13.2. Systemd as Service Manager

Systemd is also a Service Manager, this means that it will make sure certain services are running, and even restarting these when they fail or exit, or starting specific tasks when an incoming network-connection is detected.

Systemd uses configuration files, named ‘unit-files’, which come in various variants. Each type has it’s own function. A unit file has a name, which can be chosed freely, and an extension, which designates it’s type. Possible extensions are:

Unit file



Determines how to start a specific service


Socket-based activation configuration


Configuration for mounts and filesystems


Timed or recurring jobs


Systemd targets, a collection of tasks


A hierarchical resource limitation

13.3. Systemd Targets

Systemd targets can be seen as a replacement for the runlevels that we had in previous init-systems like sysv-init. They describe groups of services and processes that we want to have available in a specific use-case.

Using the systemctl isolate <target> command, we can ask systemd to switch to a specific target set of services.

The targets available to the current system can be listed using the systemctl list-units | grep target command, and the default target can be queried or configured using systemctl get-default and systemctl set-default <target> commands.